Flames 3, Sharks 2 post-game embers: Welcome to the NHL, kids

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Neville E. Guard/USA TODAY Sports

It would have been easy to see this game go the same way as the last game against the Blackhawks. Alternatively, that game in Chicago could have gone as this one did, too.

That is to say: the Flames, for the most part, played well. In both cases, they played well enough to win. Luck was with them last night, though; don’t forget just how many almost-sure goals the Sharks fanned on. Any one of those go in, and it’s a different game.

But that didn’t happen. The Flames earned this one, and with a shortened bench, no less. Probably most important of all, though: it was a regulation win in California, and that, more than just about anything else, is what’s going to matter as this season plays out.

If only special teams weren’t a thing

The Flames put themselves in pretty brutal position early on, what with taking a stupid penalty 20 seconds in… and then another one three minutes in… And giving up three powerplays in the first period isn’t really a great way to go about things in general.

The penalty kill came up strong, though; it allowed one goal on five calls. Not all of those calls were, uh, good ones – Sam Bennett did nothing wrong – but the Flames came out of this one having successfully played with fire.

Here’s the difference between even strength and special teams. At even strength, the Sharks won the corsi battle 40-36. In all situations, they dominated it 67-43.

Let’s consider that for a second: with two powerplays (and five penalty kills), the Flames added just seven shot attempts to their totals. The Flames have to stop taking so many penalties – some were warranted, but again, it would help if the officials stopped calling blatant nonsense – but they afforded more scoring chances to the Sharks than they generated themselves on their own powerplays. They somehow don’t have the worst powerplay in the NHL – the Canucks, Bruins, and Coyotes all fare worse – but their 9.3% still sees them in single digits, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting better any time soon.

If this team is going to have a proper turnaround, they need to fix their powerplays as quickly as possible, and hopefully stop taking so many penalties. Because at even strength, they’re fine. It would be better if they didn’t take so much time off during games – they had to work their way back into the second period, and were non-existent throughout much of the third as well – but this is a team that can play five-on-five.

Brett Kulak has to stay in the lineup

At one point, I saw someone whose jersey number started with a six make an excellent defensive play, and thought Michael Frolik was doing a good job. But Johnny Gaudreau was on the ice, so it had to be a line change– except nope, it wasn’t Frolik who made the play, it was Brett Kulak.

Kulak got the short end of the ice time stick with just 13:20 – his partner, Deryk Engelland, was actually right with him, except being on the first penalty kill unit saw him get an extra 6:42 in ice time. Okay, so not Kulak’s fault; fewer special teams and he’d have probably seen the ice more.

When he did see the ice, though? His 59.26% 5v5 CF was third on the Flames. Engelland was at 57.14%. As far as bottom pairing defencemen go, this is a combination that works – we saw as much at the start of the 2015-16 season. There isn’t even any cause for worry when Engelland suddenly rushes up the play – which led to two goals last night, delightfully enough – because it just feels like there’s a little something extra to his game when Kulak is there to back him up.

And with Kulak present, we finally got the correct defence combinations. T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano had their best games of the season; almost as if when Brodie says he prefers to play the right, he should – and alongside his partner of the past several seasons that has proven to be a good combination.

This is how it should be going forward.

The points came for Matthew Tkachuk

In the buildup to Matthew Tkachuk’s 10th NHL game, we’ve had a couple of conversations about him. His underlyings are outstanding; and there’s only reason to expect his scoring to go up.

So, how do two goals suit you? And a beautiful game-winner on the rush in the final five minutes of a tied game, at that. He got the vote of confidence, the first year of his contract has been burned; the time for discussion is over and the time to just sit back and enjoy the start of something new that’s going to last for several years has begun. Sure, the team’s winger depth isn’t great; this kid’s gonna help that, though.

Tkachuk now has three goals and six points in 10 games. That places him in a tie for sixth in scoring, after four different guys who all have seven points each and his linemate Michael Frolik, who now leads the team with nine. (When do we start calling Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik the first line?)

Tkachuk had 16:10 in ice time, including both powerplay and penalty kill time. This is the first time he’s played over 14 minutes. But when you’ve made it…

The points are coming, but you know what else is nice? I can’t remember the last time I saw a rookie of Tkachuk’s caliber play the way he has been. When Brenden Dillon was harassing Frolik in the first period, it was Tkachuk who came in and started whacking away at him. I’d expect that out of a rookie like Garnet Hathaway, because that would be the kind of thing suited for his role; Tkachuk doesn’t need to do stuff like that to get by. He just does. Because that’s how he wants to play. He is wonderfully aggressive. And he’s already loved here because of it.

And the goals. The goals are good, too.

Lineup shakeup

Thanks to Kris Versteeg’s first period injury, the Flames had to juggle their forward lineups. We still saw a lot of the same line combinations, but shakeups were necessary.

Depending on how bad Versteeg’s injury is, they may still be necessary.

Considering how bad the so-called top six has been, they’re absolutely necessary.

We’ve banged on the “split up Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan” drum many times now, and while it’s still something I very much agree with, it doesn’t need to be rehashed again right now. Instead, I want to complain about something else.

Switch Micheal Ferland and Alex Chiasson.

No, Ferland is not a right winger. Yes, Ferland is working very well with Matt Stajan. But, um. How do you have a hole in your top six, and decide that Chiasson is the answer over Ferland? And have it drag on this long?

Ferland is alongside Tkachuk in that little cluster of players who have six points. (Dougie Hamilton is the other one.) Ferland is technically in the top six of scoring. Ferland also had the best corsi numbers of the night. After two periods, one 5v5 corsi event had gone against him. One. He was at 92.31% CF before the Flames imploded in the third period; he finished his night with six events going against him and at 70.00%. The Flames’ current incarnation of a fourth line may not be the typical grinding one, but he is better than that.

And besides, that assist on Troy Brouwer’s goal was awesome – and wouldn’t have happened if Versteeg hadn’t gotten injured. That’s what it took to jump Ferland up in the lineup, and only for a little bit of time, at that.

But if anyone has proven they deserve another audition alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, it’s this year’s Ferland.

Alternatively, play Ferland alongside Bennett and Brouwer, and when healthy, try out Versteeg with Gaudreau and Monahan again. Or if the duo ever do get split up, have Gaudreau with Bennett and Brouwer, and slot Ferland in on Monahan’s left and Versteeg on his right. Bump Chiasson back down to the fourth line.

Ferland is showing a lot. He played 11:03 last night, the least out of all healthy players. That isn’t right.

Yay, goaltending!

Chad Johnson faced 28 shots. He stopped 26 of them. He’s the backup goalie. Having faith in two goalies is fun.

  • JMK

    Bennett did nothing wrong? Then why was he benched for the final period. I’m a big Bennett fan so I’m sure I’m a bit biased but they need to be careful about how much they punish him. Don’t want him to lose his edge or start over thinking the game. I get it if he’s taking stupid penalties but from what I saw he just left his stick on the ice too long.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Totally Agree with you. Benching a player when the reffs are putting their arm up every time a flames player farts too loud as opposed to anything short of a Shark player shooting someone to actually get a call against is a poor time to enforce the don’t take “bad penalties” coaching. Sometimes the coaching needs to stand behind their Players not the Zebras. Last night was one of those games! I was fully expecting SJ to “Magically” get a PP if not a 2-man advantage in the final 3 mins as it was so badly reffed, surprised they didn’t! Cheers!

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      If you looked at the play, you saw Bennett with his stick in his hands after the faceoff. The SJS player skated by him and somehow Sam’s stick caused him to fall? He didn’t hook him, didn’t impede him; he was just there.

      Similarly, Brodie was called when he was exiting the zone and was held up by two Sharks. He pushed off from them and somehow that is a penalty.

      One of the refs had exactly 39 games of experience; I expect he will learn what is a penalty.

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    The kids are alright. MT was born to wear the flaming “C”. Those two goals are gonna give him a big shot of confidence. Not that he really needed it. As soon as the top 6 find their footing, we’ll be in good shape.

    GFG

  • knappsacked

    Matt tkachuk: 10gp. 3G. 3A. 6P. +5
    Jesse puljujarvi: 9gp. 1G. 2A. 3P. +1
    Olli joulevi: ohl
    Pirre luc dubios: qmjhl

    Tell which of those player you think should be drafted highest

    Of course, these stats dont show tkachuks impressive underlyings, or his grit factor.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      They also show he has played a grand total of 10 NHL games and the others fewer or none. Let’s have a look at these players 10 years hence and see who became studs, muds and duds.

      How many unheralded players have had fantastic playoffs which led them to getting a massive contract in the offseason only to return to mediocrity when the regular season began?

      Lesson to be learned: important decisions should never be based on tiny sample sizes.

    • McRib

      The stats also don’t show that Matthew Tkachuk is likely still 10-15 pounds underdeveloped, something that when corrected will certainly only continue to help his skating and strength going forward. The Flames got the third best player in the draft (maybe second depending on how Laine’s game rounds out away from scoring) with Puljujarvi as fourth and Olli Joulevi miles behind likely not even in the Top. 10 once it’s all said and done. Like I said on draft day Vancouver is really going to regret talking Joulevi so high, as he wasn’t even the third best defender on draft day, as I pointed out numerous times here (Sergachyov, Bean, Chychrun).

      Tkachuk led all draft eligibles in NHLe last season, even if he was in a good situation you don’t pass on that at five like Vancouver did. I made plenty of references to the fact that even in Londons potent system Joulevi’s NHLe trailed those other three defenders that I have mentioned above and looking at Joulevi’s numbers they have actually regressed this year in London. I still don’t understand why Tkachuk who put up way better numbers on London was the one being criticized for playing on a strong team, when Joulevi was also a part of that offense and he only put up medicore numbers. Anyway glad no one who mattered listened to me and Tkachuk slid, even after winning the Memorial Cup for London and as has been pointed out here Tkachuk actually drove the bus for London when it mattered most in the playoffs.

      • McRib

        We could also base it on last years NHLe. Matthew Tkachuk had an NHLe of 46.12, Jesse Puljujarvi had an NHLe of what 24.8. Honestly if Puljujarvi didn’t had a good World Juniors (a tournament that greatly overvalues prospects) playing on a line with two very legitimate prospects in Laine and Aho he likely would never have been a Top. 5 pick. Even if Tkachucks numbers were slightly inflated they are still way to good to not think from any statistical standpoint that he wasn’t ahead of Puljujarvi last year.

        • Neddd

          It’s great that Tkachuk is having some early success point wise but Puljujarvi was rated high in the draft consistently by every rating agency for a reason. And to suggest that his point production was inflated by his line mates at the world juniors, and in the same breath discount or ignore the boost that Tkachuk received from who he played with really brings your objectivity into question.

          Obviously several GM’s don’t agree with your assessment based on the draft order who’s judgement I respect much more than yours.

        • Jakethesnail

          Lucic is on pace for 52 points . Gaudreau is on pace for 47 . Monahan is on pace for 27 points. ( did I just say 27?? OUCH)They both make more chedda than Lucic.
          Would you like to make any other points?
          I guess the guys making the point predictions were not wrong when they said Gaudreau would see a regression and Frolik would have more points !

          Have a McDavid day WW!

          • Greatsave

            Lucic is on pace for 52 points . Gaudreau is on pace for 47 . Monahan is on pace for 27 points.

            “On pace. On pace. On pace.” You do realize “on pace” is just fancy-speak for “has done so far”, right?

            I guess the guys making the point predictions were not wrong when they said Gaudreau would see a regression and Frolik would have more points !

            And I guess you didn’t understand what “the guys” were saying about Frolik.

          • Captain Ron

            Gaudreau and Monahan have to create their own offensive production (and are struggling right now under a new coach and different style of play) but will figure it out and have a bright future. Pretty sure they will both outscore Milan Clarkson soon enough.

            What would Lucic’s point pace be without Mc whatshisname driving the bus and bouncing pucks in off his arse? Let’s talk regression when that eventually happens and he is demoted off that line.

            How did Lucic do at the World cup tournament this year? Oh wait….

            Have a Puljujarvi day!!!!

  • cjc

    Somebody needs to ask – what is the plan to fix the powerplay? My thoughts:

    Get Monahan off the top unit. 4 shots in 44 minutes of PP time. Brouwer hasn’t done much either, 1 shot in >41 minutes.

    Get Frolik in there, at least on the second unit. Maintaining possession has been a problem, both in terms of shot attempts and cycling. He’s good at those things.

    Too much shooting from the point. The top 3 in terms of shots are D-men. They need to do more than lob bombs from the point. If they are going to do that, they need more traffic in front.

  • Parallex

    The call to complain about was the Brodie “roughing” call, if that’s roughing then I’m surprised I don’t get charged with assault every other day on the C-train into work.

    Regardless, here is what the Flames should do, presuming that Versteeg is out for a few…

    1: Bump Ferland to be Bennett’s LW

    2: Move Chiasson to Stajan’s RW

    3: Call up Hunter Shinkaruk to be Monahan’s RW

    … Oh and Gulutzan, please keep these D pairings together for an extended period. Brodano works, Dougipakka works, Kulak-Engellend (sry no name mash I can think of for those two yet) works.

  • RedMan

    The reffing is really coming under suspicion, I know how stupid and fanboy that sounds but game after game, it’s a combo of the Phantom calls and no calls that just makes you wonder. And they sure are are allowing a lot of stick abuse against Gaudreau that seems to get called if it’s on someone else.
    It’s a Homer comment I onow but I believe Wideman is costing the team 1 or 2 penalties per night.

  • RedMan

    The maturity of the trolls these days is frightening. My guess is that ghost-train is a mellinial. You can just tell, right?

    Now that Edmonton has started its season ending skid while the flames are getting better game by game, winning even with an awol top line, I expect the whiney troll will soon disappear as she starts planning the next draft party and brainstorming ways to celebrate the new NHL record the team is about to set for most years to miss the playoffs.

  • beloch

    I must confess that I’ve been ignoring the standings for a while now. Too depressing. After last night’s win I gained the courage to take another look.

    The Flames aren’t in a wildcard slot. They’re third in the West! To be fair, almost everyone has a game in hand on the Flames, so they could easily be punted out past the wildcard slot by Saturday. On the other hand, one of the teams above them is the Oilers. I’d like to believe the Oilers have finally ended their wasteland wandering, but we’re talking about the Oilers here! They could plummet back to the basement at any moment.

    Bottom line, the slow start hasn’t killed the Flames playoff hopes.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Regarding the slow starts of Monahan and Gaudreau, maybe they have come to the realization that being young and having a boatload of cash but living in Calgary for at least 8 months of the year isn’t all roses and sunshine.

    Think about your 21 years old and are making $6M a year. Do you really want to be based in Calgary or any other city on the Canadian prairies for 8 months a year–longer if the team makes the big show?

    What’s the point of having a $250,000 Italian convertible in Calgary when you’re likely to be able to go top down for a month in total–a few days in May and a few more in June and July etc.

    Monahan and Gaudreau can’t even go boarding or skiing here lest they hit a patch of black ice and get themselves injured.

    We saw what happened last season when they did another of Calgary’s favourite pastimes–getting pissed up. That did not go well for the lads.

    As I know both lads are single, so unless they start working on the family thing soon, they will struggle with life here. Mind you, either or both could hook up with a Janet Jones redux who makes a term of marriage that the team has 6 months to trade hubby to a team situated in a more desirable location.

    Being young, rich and famous is great, except not in Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg.

    • brodiegio4life

      where do you come up with this garbage… most troll posts are a couple lines of incoherent nonsense but you’ve got an entire intro conclusion and middle of straight trolling trash how much time do you have on your hands?

    • McRib

      More Ex-NHLers choose to retire in Calgary than any other city in North America. Yes you may not believe it, but Calgary does indeed have the largest NHL Alumni representation of anywhere else in the world. Look at Troy Brouwer from Vancouver, even before he signed he was planning on living in Calgary when he retired. Calgary also isn’t in the prairies geographically, we are in the foothills and have some of the most sunniest mild winters and least precipitation in all of Canada. I have lived in Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Regina, Toronto, Halifax (and spent plenty of time in Montreal and Ottawa), Calgary winters are the best I have experienced outside of Victoria.

  • Baalzamon

    Basically, the Flames right now have two lines that work (Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik, Bouma – Stajan – Ferland) and two lines that don’t (Gaudreau – Monahan – Chiasson, Versteeg – Bennett – Brouwer). We know that Bennett posted stupendous underlying results earlier this year (while Tkachuk was on his line, and for a little while afterwards) and we know that Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland can as well (53% CF last year). We also know that Backlund and Frolik can do well with just about anyone (though results vary somewhat; better to have Ferland on the LW than Bouma, for example), and that Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson was a thing earlier this year and worked almost as well as the Ferland version.

    Two things are clear: Gaudreau and Monahan aren’t getting it done, and Bennett needs a LW other than Versteeg.

  • freethe flames

    The problem with trying to juggle what are our top two lines are; is that it like trying to put lipstick on a pig and thinking it is something other than a pig. Unfortunately at the moment we do not have a true RW to play with Johnny and Monny or a true LW to play with Bennett and Brouwer. You could move Johnny to play with Bennet and Brouwer and hope that works but then you have a completely screwed up 4th line with Monahan, Chiasson and Hamilton. Until one or two of the kids in Stockton prove they are NHL ready we are 2 forwards short of being a consistently goof team.

  • Eggs Bennett

    Just wanted to say this for the record to all the Monahan bashers right now…

    Monahan has been historically a streaky player. I remember last year mid-year when people were questioning his talent and whether his 30 goal sophomore year was a fluke when he wasn’t scoring. Then he got hot and almost had 30 goals again and many people were back on the bandwagon saying he’s a top line centre, give him his $6.5 mil. Make no mistake, Monny needs to find his consistency and sitting him/Gaudreau for a game might not be a bad idea. But I don’t think it’s as bad as people are making it out to be on this forum right now… the kid’s young, he will get it turned around. Aside from Scheifele, non of Monahan’s peers who signed big contracts are really performing so far this year either (Barkov, Mackinnon). Do you think they’re all busts too? Just give it some time people…