There is a time in every hockey fan’s life when their favourite finds a way to sink from immeasurable despair on ice to an other-worldly level of disappointing. Off their remarkably decent showing against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, the Flames reverted back to shades of 2013-14 with what might be regarded as the lowest point of this early season.
And to contrast that display (if we can call it that) on ice, the Los Angeles Kings played a virtually flawless game that resulted in exposing every major defect that exists in this Flames team.
Yes, this is rock bottom and hopefully the only direction now is up. Though it’s incredibly important to keep in mind that it’s likely not going to be easy.
Matthew, Mikael, and Michael – The Stability
We talk a lot about this line, almost an unhealthy amount, really. That said, there is reason behind it. For starters, they often play in the most dire of circumstances on the team, usually with little to no offensive zone starts, and still find results. Inevitably their success of suppressing anything and everything would end: last night it was that exact situation. That said, they were still remarkable relative to their teammates.
For context, coming into last night the Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik line was sporting the following statistical outputs (all data via Corsica.Hockey):
This is impressive and it did continue last night albeit not as well. And that’s okay, because when your on-ice SV% is 100% and your line is shooting 16.67% it’s not going to last. Another underlying impressive feat prior to the loss last night? The line surrendered two scoring chances against.
Two goals against in a game is typically not the ideal situation for any line or for any team, but still, they all managed to play at their same pace: driving play, trying to suppress the opposition the best they could, and being the top line on the ice again.
The trio (the 3M line…?) combined for 10 iCF at 5v5 (individual Corsi-for) events, six of which were shots on net. That’s 30% of the Flames’ shots. Each of them were also above 50% in CF% and FF% for the night, too. The only line to do so.
Brett Kulak: You’re A Good Peach
The need for finding the right mix on the blueline – both composition of the blueline for each game and the pairings – is still a dire problem with this team. Glen Gulutzan’s incessant decision of one step forward, two steps back is a reoccurring theme this season that is more nauseating than new episodes of the Simpsons.
Still, within that cycle of inadmissible decision making there are moments that are worthwhile. Brett Kulak’s play last night was quite nice, even if he did finish the night on the negative differential of shot metrics and scoring chances.
The biggest surprise? Kulak finally got some power play time (2:20 total) and looked comfortable and capable. We know the special teams situation isn’t something remarkable, but the fact that he was used is a huge step forward, even for Gulutzan. There may be grounded optimism on that particular idea, but let’s hope it happens.
Kulak finished the night with 21:33 of ice time (a career high), 45.95% CF (5v5), and 48.39% FF (5v5).
Enough is Enough. Stop Using Grossmann
There isn’t enough care in any fan’s body – bones, flesh, guts, crud, and whatever else is in us – to actually believe for a second that playing Nicklas Grossmann is a lucid idea. There is no way to shelter him enough to maximize any measurable benefits in his game. It’s even more infeasible when you’re on the road against a team like the Kings.
And yet, we’ve hit this point, where again and again the veteran defenseman was exposed which resulted in negative impacts. It may come off callous that he is constantly called out. It may be insidious that this could read as the loss solely being put on his shoulders, but it’s not. Grossmann’s play last night (13:48 total) definitively provided zero benefit to the team.
Even if you can make the case – rightfully too – that Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, etc., etc. have all struggled: there is no sound or logical rationale involved with playing Grossmann. Even if the reasoning comes from Treliving who signed him; it needs to stop.
The desired outcome of the hockey game is to win. You can’t win if the bulk of the team under-performs night in and night out. You also can’t win if the team on ice is not a roster that has a fair enough chance of competing. No one cares that Grossmann is a nice guy in the room. They care about results. There is zero accountability for these decisions that we’ve seen. Zero.
Edit: Thank you @Fl@med for catching the missing stat line: 50% CF (5v5), 44.44% FF (5v5), and 23.08% SF (5v5) in 13:25 played.
Figuring Out Johnny Gaudreau
The pregame lines looked like a step in the right direction. The opportunity of seeing Sam Bennett play along side Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer looked promising. With Sean Monahan’s debilitating play as of late this was a prime opportunity to see if Bennett’s aggressive play could get Gaudreau going. It did not happen.
Instead a noticeable Gaudreau zone entry attempt was picked in the neutral zone that regrettably contributed to more media-driven narratives that Gaudreau is feeling the pressure of his contract. Obviously we’ve hit a fever pitch where the results – as bad as they are – have resulted in inarticulate takes to understand the team’s current situation.
Is it possible that Gaudreau has some sort of pressure on him? Yes, he’s human. Is it accurate reporting and fair to constantly point to that as the cause of his slow start? No, it’s just bad journalism and analysis. The eye test doesn’t scream Gulutzan and the coaching staff have changed the way he plays at even strength.
If anything, you can make the case that the opposition is finding legitimate ways of containing him. He’s having difficulty generating anything from his controlled entries, teams are adjusting their neutral and defensive zone strategies to stifle him, and he’s struggling to circumvent situations that he did previously. He hasn’t forgotten how to play hockey by any stretch, but maybe there is a need to adjust his game.
It shows statistically when you look at his start last season (13GP) and this season’s start (excluding last night as Corsica didn’t have it added yet):
- CF% at 5v5 – 43.45, last season: 50.79%
- FF% at 5v5 – 41.74%, last season: 48.13%
- SF% at 5v5 – 42.14%, last season: 47.52%
Below are Gaudreau’s individual contributions at 5v5 (via Corsica) and his zone entry results via Ryan Pike:
In terms of flat CF%/FF% it’s extremely noticeable and you see it when you watch him play. His individual contributions outside of point totals at 5v5 are not really different at all. Gaudreau’s individual shot contributions and zone entry statistics don’t show any major variance either.
The point totals should come because if there is one thing Gaudreau knows, it’s how to score. This slump – like the bulk of the roster’s slump – is concerning, but he played lights out in the World Cup and he’s played lights out before, so let’s see what happens over the next few games before we admit the sky is falling.
You can live and die on the backs of a Gaudreau, of a Dougie Hamilton, and of a Bennett. They play high-tempo, high-event hockey with results that often benefit the team more than potential ill-effects (turnovers, bad goals against like we saw with Hamilton last night, etc.). Obviously maximizing their results the best you can is key, but more often than not they’re the ones driving the offense.
However, when the offense dries up mistakes are far more noticeable, and everyone’s resounding need to promote their confirmation bias-laden poetics about how Gaudreau doesn’t warrant his contract or the reported asks surfaces. Players go through slumps and by no means is it the best thing for the team currently, but it’s not like he’s the only one who recently got paid and hasn’t performed up to standards.