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.
Every game: this happens and it’s getting annoying pic.twitter.com/u8yi3FnPHy
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 16, 2016
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.