Blackhawks 3, Flames 2 post-game embers: Our old friend, the powerplay

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Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports

The Flames, overall, played an outstanding game. They were in it every step of the way; neither team outplayed the other to create a lopsided environment. Sure, there were mistakes that led to goals – on both sides. But overall, that was a quality effort from two teams who both put up a good fight.

Sorry, I should have started this with a caveat: I was talking about even strength.

Thanks again, powerplay

The Flames had five opportunities against the worst penalty kill in the NHL. We can try to be fair to them – one of those opportunities didn’t even last nine seconds, coming at the very end of the game – but still, that’s four whole powerplays they had to work with.

And to be fair, the powerplay did look better. More time was spent in the offensive zone, more pucks came within the vicinity of the net.

But to be fair to the overall scheme of things, that’s not good enough. One or two games into the season, it’s a sign of something positive to build on.

This is a team at the bottom of the NHL in points percentage. If you’re trying to accomplish something, moral victories do not count. We are far too deep into the season for that.

Just one powerplay goal at least sends them to overtime.

Two powerplay goals wins them the game.

They had zero. Against the worst penalty kill in the entire NHL. 

And Chicago’s penalty kill still is the worst, for the record – barely. They’re in last place with a success rate of 70.2%. The Flames are 29th with 73.9%.

One guess as to who has the worst powerplay in the league. Here’s a hint: you saw a whole lot of it last night.

The Flames have scored six powerplay goals on 67 attempts. Let that sink in for a second. Six. Only the Ottawa Senators have scored fewer – they have five – and on 51 attempts for them. The Flames have an 8.9% success rate.

And it would be one thing if this was unpredictable. We called this a bad move before Dave Cameron was even hired. There is no grace period here. There are only losses.

Top four defenceman Dennis Wideman

So it would appear the Flames have fully set defensive roles, at least for the time being. Brett Kulak and Deryk Engelland man the bottom pairing, and they do a decent job of it, at that.

Then there are the other four. Last night Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, and Dennis Wideman all played over 20 minutes each. Minutes were balanced from the blueline.

This is the part that hurts – because Wideman has been a deserved healthy scratch for seven games this season, and yet, he is in the top four. He can’t really skate at the level he needs to anymore. Ryan Hartman’s goal wasn’t entirely on him – it was also on his teammates who didn’t recognize that they left the worst possible person back to defend. They shouldn’t have to be in that situation, but it’s almost completely unavoidable at this point: there is going to be a bad skater that has to be watched out for.

The only solution to this right now is to slot Jyrki Jokipakka back into the lineup. And maybe he does improve things, but he hadn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire before he found his way into the pressbox, either.

We’re near the end of these three horrific contracts on defence. The problem for this season is that we’re still in the midst of the death throes. The Flames do not have another top four defenceman at this point in time – or, if they bump Kulak up (and maybe they should) and slot Jokipakka in alongside Engelland on the bottom pairing (again, maybe they should), then they might.

But this is a period of time we simply have to tough out. The top four is incomplete right now. Maybe it’ll be Kulak later. I have a gut feeling Oliver Kylington is in the NHL by sometime next season; maybe it’s him. (That isn’t actually based on anything factual, by the way. Total gut feeling. Don’t at me.)

There’s good reason to have hope for the backend next season, especially if this whole Giordano – Hamilton thing sticks. But in the meantime… this is what we get.

Bennett and Monahan were rolling

I’m hesitant to call Sean Monahan’s line the first line, because for most of the season so far, Mikael Backlund is the only one who has really deserved the honour of being called a first line centre. And technically, last night he was; he played the most out of all of the forwards.

But Sam Bennett, playing alongside Monahan’s wing with Troy Brouwer flanking the other side, put on a show – and it resulted in two quick goals.

They weren’t especially beautiful; Bennett’s in particular was really greasy. Then again, getting in the blue paint was a theme last night, so it’s good to see Bennett on that.

These past two games, with Bennett playing on Monahan’s wing, have seen him get the most ice time he’s experienced this season at over 19 minutes in each. And he’s clearly starting to bust out of his funk. He’d been pointless in six games straight; now, he has nine in 19 – not anything to write home about, but much better than where he was at before (and now tied for third in team scoring alongside Brouwer).

So. Does this mean Bennett stays on the wing? Monahan’s wing, even when Johnny Gaudreau comes back? That’s much too early to call, especially if the plan is to keep Bennett at centre. But in the short term, there’s no reason to break them up – especially when it looks like both of them are getting their confidence back.

The bottom six

Stajan – Vey – Chiasson

Ferland – Hamilton – Hathaway

I mean… yikes?

Micheal Ferland’s line is plenty entertaining for a shot in the arm, and has recently been buzzing around the net, too. Matt Stajan’s line actually beat them in corsi this game, but they were also the beneficiaries of more favourable zone stats. 

But boy, will Kris Versteeg’s return to the lineup give this group a much-needed boost. Not that he was lighting the world on fire before he was injured, very few Flames were; still, he’s a better player than most of the guys in that group.

And how much better does a Ferland – Stajan – Versteeg line look to you? Almost like an actual third line, if that’s the way it ends up.

Another benefit to Versteeg’s return to the lineup? If the Flames are so damn insistent on having a right shot no matter what personnel they have available to them on their failure that is a powerplay, at least he should be taking Linden Vey’s minutes, no question. (Vey played almost as much on the powerplay as Monahan, Brouwer, and Bennett. Think about that one for a moment.)

That game-winning goal

So… yikes. That was a bad one, wasn’t it?

Chad Johnson absolutely had to have that shot. It would have helped if Glen Gulutzan could have actually challenged the goal, but it wouldn’t have been necessary if Johnson had stopped it properly.

It’s okay. I mean, it’s not, because that specific moment cost the Flames the chance at even a point. But it’s also okay, because good goalies will let in bad goals sometimes. The key is to try to limit those as much as possible.

The good news is the Flames still have two good goalies on the roster. Things didn’t go their way this time. It did the last time they played a close game against Chicago. Onwards.

  • The GREAT WW

    “Mikael Backlund is the only one who has really deserved the honour of being called a first line centre.”

    Backlund has 1 goal in 19 games this year…….

    WW

    • Arminius

      You forget that Backlund isn’t expected to score though. Once you accept that you will feel the same.
      The only 1st line center in the league that has 0 offensive expectation

      Don’t worry though it’s the annual Backlund start. The games matter so he’s slow to put them in. Give him another 25 games or 30 and watch him take off again. Good times

    • Derzie

      I’m with you WW on Backlund not being a 1st line center but he is our shutdown center and one of our best players this year. I have been on the anti-Backlund train but he is what he is. A solid two way player among the best in the league at his job of shutting down the toughs and PK.

  • Arminius

    Get used to Wideman in the top 4. Once GG said preseason that the team would be relying on their “4 mustangs” on the back end the handwriting was on the wall.

  • Theo4HoF

    Deserved a better fate last night. I thought Monahan, Bennett, and Brouwer’s line looked great. If the flames can sustain that effort every night I think they will start winning. Linden Vey on the power play though was baffling. Need Wideman to hit a ref again or somthing so we can get him the hell out of the line up all ready. That guy is just killing us.

  • Kevin R

    Someone want to explain NHL rules to me. Since when does a potential contact with a high stick & potential goalie interference on the same freaking play resulting in a goal not be automatically reviewed by league officials???
    Hartley would have been screaming over the bench saying it should “not” require a challenge for the league/officials to review that goddamn goal. Gullickson needs to get a bit intensity behind that bench. Maybe Burke needs to have a meeting with the Superintendent of Officials & Bettman & discuss the link of the Wideman incident & the treatment of his hockey team that costs us games like last night & his franchise player being shelved for the next two months. Getting sick of this crap. If we lose because we suck I can handle that, not happily but maybe the biggest mistake BT made this off season was not buying out Wideman. This is going beyond the usual inconsistent incompetence of NHL officiating.
    Rant over. Sorry people.

    • The GREAT WW

      A Wideman buy out would mean carrying cap hit into next year.

      Next year is the year we will be competitive: lots of bad contracts off the books; cap space to get a great first line RW signed.

      A new stud coach behind the bench with an assistant coach who can actually run a power play….

      Demko ready to play in the NHL (that MacDonald pick was just a bad nightmare right?!).

      The future is bright!

      WW

  • snotss

    wideman is horrible!!!! do they not want to win games????? we all know how bad he is this year!!!! so why not try wotherspoon…somebody…anybody i’ll tell you a rookie can play better than the effort we get from wideman…but wideman due to a stupid contract is untradeable at this point..who will take on that contract when he is playing so so so poorly….thanks again feaster!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • piscera.infada

    For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in any way that you can blame Gulutzan for “wasting” his time out. Using it with a tired line on the ice, after an icing, with 8 minutes left in a tie game, against one of the league’s elite teams, is 100% the correct usage of a time out. If the league wants the coach’s challenge to be the primary catalyst for review then they need to think about giving coaches an extra time out.

    The referees on the ice simply should have reviewed for goalie interference–they can’t for the high stick because the puck wasn’t batted in with the high stick. I still think the goal probably stands (it was pretty borderline), but it’s incumbent on the officials to get the call correct, not on the coach to save his only time out “just in case” the refs don’t.

    All in all though, good game. It’s too bad it had to end on such an unfortunate play, but that’s sports I guess. If the team comes out with consistently similar games for the rest of the season, they will win their fair share.

    My last point is that with all the muttering about the powerplay, I think it’s been just fine the last two games. They’ve generated chances, they’ve been able to gain the zone, and most importantly it hasn’t looked entirely impotent. They definitely deserved a powerplay goal against Arizona, and probably did last night. It’s not perfect, and you want those goals, but the play on the man advantage has seemingly improved.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Finally, someone willing to add to the discussion with some well thought ideas. A comment that others can build ideas off of.

      I used to come to FN for the comment section, as much as the articles. It was a unique place where thoughtful commenters added to intelligent discussion. Now The comment section is what many of us criticized ON for; a series of thoughtless and random junk from people with little to offer.

      Fill your boots and Trash away.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Fine and good are tow different things. Fine is acceptable play. Good is scoring on those chances. Whether Cameron is a smart coach at designing plays or not, the choice of players is perplexing.

      Vey and Chaisson have been the Colborne of last season – way too much time without any impact. Frolik is way more capable and just happens to be the points leader on this team.

      • piscera.infada

        I wasn’t speaking to player deployment on the powerplay. I was speaking purely from an execution perspective. I wholeheartedly agree with you on players like Vey and Chiasson over others, I don’t understand it. I will say, even the best coaches in the league make strange deployment decisions. Now, that’s not an excuse, and it never should be. It’s incumbent upon the coach to realise and then utilise his best players. That has been my biggest issue with Gulutzan thus far–I actually don’t think many of the things he gets criticised for outside of that are nearly as flawed as others do (and I’ll agree to disagree on that point).

        As I said though, the comment was about execution of the powerplay, and it’s been better (but, in no way perfect) over the last handful of games. For the first 15 games of the season, the team seemingly couldn’t gain the zone with any effectiveness (the exact same problem they had last year), they also had a difficult time holding the zone (again, similar to last year). Recently, they have gained the zone more effectively, and they have generated for an increasingly substantial amount of time within the zone once they do. Goals should follow from that. I’ll take incremental improvement at this point over whatever the hell we saw most of last year, and for the first 15 games of this year.

  • flames2015

    Hartley would have been all over the refs for not reviewing that play. GG is basically non existent behind the bench during the games, i have yet to see him engaged with the players and talking when the cameras are on him. Theres no emotion when the team is down or when there is a bad call, heck i don’t even see a pat on the back for when a guy scores like i’ve seen frequently with hartley. The only coach i’ve seen engaged with the players on the bench is jarrard.