Let’s face facts here.
The Flames are 5-9-1. Two teams in the west have fewer points than they do, and they’ve played two or three fewer games each. Even when they appear borderline decent for stretches – and mind, this is against a team that’s suffering a fair share of injury troubles, worse than losing Kris Versteeg – they still aren’t getting it done.
It’s time to throw out any expectations for this season. It’s not happening. And trust me, you’ll be much happier watching this team if you don’t go in expecting them to win. You can’t be disappointed, but you can be pleasantly surprised.
Is there any mental fortitude?
I am not a psychologist. I do not know any of the players personally. This is pure speculation.
But it seems as though the second anything goes wrong for this team, they shut down.
Outplay the opposition to start the game, have a couple of fantastic cycling shifts in the offensive zone, but fail to score? That’s it, you’re never scoring, oh look the other team just caught a break and scored, well now you’re going to lose, that’s it, time to pack it in.
The Flames have not been the ones to get the bounces this year, but the second another team does, they quit doing everything they did that made them look good and just disappear.
Tie the game off the back of a rookie defenceman who should have been in the lineup every day from the beginning and the guy who’s supposed to be your top offensive player. Get it going again. Kill a couple of penalties. Give up one powerplay goal, as teams that aren’t the Flames tend to score with the man advantage at some point; suddenly it’s hopeless and over.
I think the 2014-15 team was much more lucky than anything else, but with luck comes confidence. The last time these guys had anything go right for them it was Matthew Tkachuk playing in his 10th game; the last time before that it was because they were facing a completely green goaltender. That’s not a lot. So it kind of turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
… Is there any identity?
Well, part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These guys can’t win so they have no confidence so they give up so they can’t win, and on the cycle goes. That’s part of the story.
The rest is that when I watch this team, I have no clue what it is I’m supposed to be watching.
Are they a possession team? Not really, they don’t control the puck. Are they a physical team? Not particularly, though as the season gets increasingly bleaker we are seeing more physical fights out of these guys. Are they a team that makes a stupid mistake – say, a turnover – and then that one stupid mistake goes against them after a dominating shift? Yeah, that sounds about right.
That’s not an identity. If anything, that’s a lack of one. And I don’t particularly care what “Flames Hockey” is supposed to mean, but if these guys don’t know – or if they do know but can’t execute on it – then that explains what we’ve been watching 15 games into the season now.
A meaningless mess.
Brett Kulak is a top four defenceman
Brett Kulak played 20:32 last night, the second 20-minute game of his career. He was the catalyst for the Flames’ two goals and was compensated with two assists as a result (a little to the right and he could’ve had his first goal). He has stepped right in, he has looked better than just about everybody else, and there is no turning back from him at this point.
Shame about that whole expansion draft thing then, eh?
So listen. While I get that Kulak and Engelland have been working great together – and Engelland himself has been one of the better stories on this team this year (did you see that goal?!) – everything needs to be about the future at this point. Everything.
Kulak is the future. Engelland, 34 years old, is not. And that’s not a slight on him. That’s just how aging works.
Dougie Hamilton is six months older than Kulak.
And I recognize he has not been super fantastic as of late. He was not super fantastic in this game. He is six months older than Kulak, he has played 259 more games than he has, he has 129 more points, and that is not something you throw in the towel on, because, again, he is only six months older and this is about the future.
I would not be giving up on a 23-year-old who is going to hit 300 NHL games this season. He wasn’t a passenger in Boston, he was their leading defensive scorer when he left. At 21.
Everything has to be about the future now.
So put Kulak with Hamilton and see what they can do. The only things left to lose are 67 more games, and who cares at this point? But there could be a lot to gain.
If you go by points per game, then they’re actually now numbers two and three in defencemen scoring. (Number one is Dennis Wideman, but that ship has sailed.) Both can skate. It’s definitely worth exploring.
Fun with point totals
I’m sure nobody really cares at this point, but I would like to note that with his two goals, Johnny Gaudreau has tied Michael Frolik for the lead in team scoring with 10 points. With four goals now to his name, he is tied with Sean Monahan and Troy Brouwer for the second most goals on the team (again, behind Frolik, but at least he got like 43 seconds of powerplay time? The man is only your leading scorer, why would you use him in the situation specifically geared towards you scoring anyway? Mysteries).
(It is kinda funny how people were questioning whether Gaudreau’s contract was getting to his head, but Monahan has six points in 15 games and nobody is wondering the same about him? But I digress.)
Fifteen games into the season, and two players have only just hit double digits in scoring. Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Brouwer are all at seven, though outside of a small flurry of activity – one that coincided with the Flames looking like an actual hockey team for a moment – Bennett has been quiet and floundering. (As Bennett goes, so do the Flames?)
There are a bunch of guys with four points each, but Alex Chiasson is the only one who has recently moved up into said category; everyone else’s numbers came when we were wondering what the hell happened to the top players, but at least the depth guys were producing. We’re past that now.
So what’s next?
Assuming nobody gets fired any time soon, I think getting Bennett back on track has to be the number one priority. Not necessarily for the sake of this season, but because he is 20 years old and everything has to be about the future now.
I would note that Monahan’s line got 100% offensive zone starts at 5v5, while Bennett’s line saw the worst of the bunch. Maybe Bennett needs some lightening up on his starts for the time being; that’s what Matt Stajan and Backlund should be there for, especially now.