Flames 1, Wild 0 post-game embers: A unicorn of a game

Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, the least likely game scenario for the Flames I would have guessed could happen would be a 1-0 shutout win, with that one goal coming on the powerplay.

Well… that happened.

The Flames looked less like a disastrous mess, and more like a team you could call halfway respectable.

We have, of course, seen this before. Three weeks ago, after a horrific first six games, the Flames came together to take down the Chicago Blackhawks and then the St. Louis Blues, both on stellar back-to-back goaltending efforts. A week later they were back to being the mess we now know and still don’t understand.

Hopefully this time things stick.

Yes, they scored on the powerplay, but…

Back-to-back games with powerplay goals. Back-to-back games where the only goals they scored came on the powerplay, even.

But the Flames had six powerplays to work with, including what could have been a 49-second five-on-three and a four-on-three right after. They scored one powerplay goal. That’s not acceptable. Their powerplay has crept back into the double digits, with a 10.2% success rate; that is half of where it should be if it was to be considered even remotely good.

The Flames had every chance to make this one not a nail biter. They failed.

Johnny Gaudreau led the way in powerplay time with 5:10, which he should. Mark Giordano was second with 5:07, which is also good. Troy Brouwer was third with 4:44, which works. T.J. Brodie was fourth with 4:15, and that’s where we need to stop and reevaluate player usage.

Brodie is a fantastic defenceman, except in one area: shooting the puck. It’s not a bad thing to have him on the powerplay, but it is a bad thing for him to be one of your top players on the man advantage – especially with Dougie Hamilton (1:47), one of the top offensive defencemen on this team, right there. Hell, even Dennis Wideman (2:55) getting more minutes would have made sense. His shot is the one thing he has going for him; he’s the anti-Brodie.

On the forward front, I understand wanting to have a right shot out there, but needing one so desperately that Alex Chiasson is one of your top powerplay guys? Over Micheal Ferland and especially Michael Frolik (who still leads the Flames in goals scored, though he’s tied with Gaudreau now), who didn’t get a whiff of powerplay time? At what point does one accept that Chiasson simply is not going to happen?

The powerplay did win the Flames the game, but it still wasn’t even close to good enough. (And they almost got scored on shorthanded right before Gaudreau’s goal, too.)

On Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau just about ran himself out of real estate and scored anyway, and that was the difference.

He is now the Flames’ scoring leader, with five goals and 11 points in 17 games. It’s not quite the numbers we’re used to from him, but over these past couple of games he sure looks like he’s waking up. No, the Flames’ money and cap space is not wasted on this one; despite Mikael Backlund and Frolik’s heroics earlier in the season, Gaudreau is still the heartbeat of this team’s offence.

He was even one of the team’s top five-on-five performers, fourth in CF with 55.00%. Granted, that was with a fair amount of sheltering – the top line was given the bulk of the offensive zone starts – but that’s what you do with your top offensive players.

Gaudreau only played 15:11, though, which is unacceptable. He missed the last 12:38 of the game, which is completely unacceptable.

Even if he turns out to be fine and good to go tomorrow, it’s unacceptable. Gaudreau’s hands and wrists were getting whacked at all night. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, either; he missed the first games of his career last season when Duncan Keith took liberties with him in the exact same manner.

A slash is a slash is a slash. Gaudreau did draw one penalty, but it was for interference.

The officials need to call slashes. It is literally their job to do so. Not like the Flames would have scored on the powerplays they should have gotten, but some kind of punishment has to happen for opposing players feeling they can take liberties against someone else, and then get proven right time and time again.

This is beyond embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for opposing teams who feel the only way they can stop this kid is to use illegal tactics on him, and it’s embarrassing officials won’t do their jobs and call this nonsense when it happens. 

I’d say it’s embarrassing the Flames won’t stand up for their guy, but they aren’t the ones being petulant babies. And as Jumping Jack Flash pointed out in last night’s post-game comments, one of the most penalized teams in the league has to fear being the ones to get a penalty instead – especially in the midst of a one-goal game.

That fourth line

Garnet Hathaway: a skating example of why you don’t pay Lance Bouma $2.2 million over three years.

There was a lot to love about his game last night. He crashed, he banged, he skated hard, he drew a penalty. (For that matter, so did both of his linemates.) He was annoying and he looked like he belonged.

I don’t know how long he can keep that up for; whether this game was adrenaline-fuelled – it was his first in the NHL this season – or if this is simply who he is, and what we have to look forward to from here on out. The latter would be nice; Hathaway is a cheap energizer bunny who, if given the green light, is my new favourite to enthusiastically maul somebody in Gaudreau’s honour.

The fourth line was completely buried in zone starts – 0% each – and had the lowest corsi rates, too. Ferland does stand out, though: he’s better than his linemates. The way the lineup shakes out, though, he ends up with the shaft. It’s not entirely fair to him, but it’s still great to have him there, ready to go.

Sam Bennett, winger

Part of the reason Ferland ended up relegated to the fourth line was because Bennett was shifted to the wing. It’s true that he has been struggling; in part due to trying to shelter Sean Monahan, Bennett’s line has ended up heavily targeted and neutralized more often than not.

But hey, the Flames are swimming in centres now. They can afford to move guys around and still not have anybody play out of position.

Here’s the thing with saying that Bennett’s greatest success last season came on the wing: did it come when Markus Granlund was inexplicably his centre, or did it come when it was Backlund?

You know how the Matthew Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik line is working out so well? We saw the exact same thing happen with Bennett in Tkachuk’s place last year. So it’s not just “oh Bennett is better on the wing,” it’s, hey, look at who his linemates were then – two of the best players on the team today. Just wanted to get that off my chest. 

Matt Stajan is no Backlund, but he’s enjoyed his own resurgence this season. He’s kind of like a really poor man’s Backlund. So there’s nothing wrong with having Bennett play alongside him for the time being, especially if it helps stabilize him. Stajan’s biggest contribution to this team as of late has been helping the kids, and here’s another good way of doing that.

Though in this case, it probably did help that his line didn’t get buried; the line had the next best zone starts after the top line, although they did have to face their share of talented players on the Wild, too (Zach Parise was the forward Bennett saw the most).

It’s okay to like both goalies

Chad Johnson was stupendous. Johnson won the Flames a game that could have gone either way. A couple of posts helped, too; sometimes it just comes down to luck.

At the start of this post, I referenced a good set of back-to-backs the Flames had, ones in which it appeared they were turning their season around. Brian Elliott kept them in the game against Chicago, and he nearly got the team’s first shutout of the season against the Blues right after (and only lost it due to a delay of game call, which is pretty much the worst).

When we say the Flames had the best possible offseason they could have in regards to their goalies, it’s because of both guys they got. Both of them have had their stinkers, both of them have had tremendous games. It’s okay to like both of them and feel comfortable with either one of them in net!

And it should be Elliott in net today, because playing the same goalie in a back-to-back is a bad idea most of the time. And because when the Flames have two capable goalies, it makes sense to use both of them.

Johnson was the man in this game. He fully earned his shutout and the win and then some. And for this one, he absolutely deserves all of the credit. Here’s to both of the team’s netminders fulfilling their expectations – because so far we’ve only had flashes, but those flashes have been outstanding.

  • Kensington

    If you go up and down the Flames line up, to me almost every player has been under achieving so far this season. Exceptions would be Kulak, Engelland, Stajan, Ferland, Brower, Frolik and Tkachuk. The rest would be anywhere from some what disappointing to very disappointing with the biggest disappointments being Hamilton, Monahan, Bennett and Elliot

  • MontanaMan

    Three comments on Gaudreau’s situation: 1) the refs should be calling the slashes. They are intent on calling chickensh!t penalties including one handed “hooks” yet miss blatant slashes; 2) Johnny needs to toughen up. Some of the slashes he is complaining about are pretty minor in nature and he’s playing it up a bit for a penalty; 3) Johnny needs to shut up. He has a habit of whining to the refs every game and I’m sure it’s getting old with the referee union. Play the game hard, don’t be an actor and quit whining to the refs and you may get some of the calls.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      It turns out that Gaudreau’s out with a broken finger. That’s likely 4-6 weeks to heal. He doesn’t need to toughen up, the refs have to do their job.

      Memo received by all teams: if you can’t keep up or are afraid of getting beat, just slash the elite players, there are rarely repercussions.

      • MontanaMan

        Fair enough but this isn’t the first case of Gaudreau getting slashed or hooked and complaining to the referees. I have seen a pattern and unfortunately, when you have a reputation, it’s difficult to even get the obvious calls.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    “And as Jumping Jack Flash pointed out in last night’s post-game comments, one of the most penalized teams in the league has to fear being the ones to get a penalty instead – especially in the midst of a one-goal game.”

    I disagree. The league and the refs have largely ignored this problem, and it’s time the Flames remind them of the responsibility to protect the stars of the game. These infractions immediately kill high event plays and slow the game. 10 years ago it was clutching and grabbing stars to impede their effect on the game now it’s slashing.

    It’s been 3 years now, the refs obviously don’t see this as an issue. When the refs are embarrassed by constant and targeted retaliation, they’ll capitulate and call these penalties.

  • cjc

    I’d like to float the idea that Gaudreau doesn’t need easy zone starts. Here is my reasoning:

    1- He has speed
    2- He can handle the puck
    3- There might be less slashing

    I’m not saying bury him. However, Gaudreau makes plays and scores goals using his speed, he’s one of the best at zone entries because he can handle the puck. Those advantages are minimized when you start in the offensive zone all the time. Give him a defensively responsible centre (*cough* Bennett *cough*) and good things will happen.

    It also might cut down on the garbage he puts up with nightly. I have a theory that those types of slashes would be more likely to be penalized when the Flames are in the defensive zone.

    • EhPierre

      The problem with starting Gaudreau in the defensive zone is that Johnny is usually almost always the first one to leave the zone which causes a temporary 5v4 for the other team if our defenders can’t get the puck out. I don’t blame him because he’s an offense first type of guy so there’s no point giving him shifts in the D zone when he’s just gonna be the first one to leave the zone. In his first year, Johnny did a decent job defending, rushing back and stick lifts but now that he’s proved he belongs in the league he’s thinking offense first and so you give him offense zone starta

    • EhPierre

      The other problem with giving Johnny defensive zone starts is that Monahan would be there too and watching him defend is just torture. I’ve seen Johnny use his body more to check guys than Monahan has with his

    • jakethesnail

      With Johnny’s mainly offensive zone starts he is still -10.

      As for wrist slashes, I agree if he is speeding down the ice he would be harder to slash as he whizzes by the defenders.

  • jupiter

    I was surprised that Dumba’s punch to the head from behind on Hathaway only resulted in a double minor. So much for the League protecting players from blindside headshots. They set a new precedence on that play.

  • RegHen

    Refs are a joke. They let all the crosschecking and slashing slide. Then Brouwer gets crosschecked in the back close to the boards and hit the ice. So Mony crosschecks that dude and gets called. The ref sees all of this yet only makes the one call. Refs need to be sent down to the AHL, ECHL or KHL for being incompetent. Just as players do. If they can’t call a better game then they deserve to stay there. Two way contracts for refs would smarten them up too.

  • Baalzamon

    With Gaudreau out, this is what I’d do with the lines:

    1. Ferland – Backlund – Frolik
    2. Tkachuk – Bennett – Brouwer
    3. Shinkaruk – Monahan – Chiasson
    4. Stajan – Hamilton – Hathaway
  • McRib

    Weird, now that Edmonton has lost four in a row and all is returning to normal the Oiler trolls have crawled back under the woodwork. I guess the inevitable of coming back down to PDO reality has sunk in, someone must have told Cam Talbot that he isn’t Carey Price. The Oilers now face LA, Chicago and Dallas in next three so under 0.500 is fast approaching. Do they still think that Adam Larsson (0.18 PPG, -2) has any further upside outside of what he is a medicore 4-5 stay-at-home defender? I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again they should have at least traded for Damon Severson (0.92 PPG), although I doubt Chiarelli even knows who that is considering the lack of due diligence he puts into things.