I suppose you could say yesterday was a good day if you’re a fan of Calgary sports.
So this is possession hockey, eh?
Is this the part of the season where we owe Glen Gulutzan an apology?
The Calgary Flames are 20 games in now. They have had 20 games to get used to their new head coach; in turn, their new head coach has had 20 games to get used to his new team.
After three and a half seasons of Bob “we gotta block more shots” Hartley, the Flames were looking for a change. We were promised a possession team. The Flames’ identity would be that of a team that possesses the puck.
For the most part, that has been fulfilled; according to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames are 10th in the NHL with a 5v5 CF of 51.31%. (In 2015-16, they were the ninth worst team at 47.97%.)
But as much as we’ve wanted a possession-based team, it doesn’t really mean anything if they don’t really do anything with it. In the four games since the Flames were dominated by the New York Rangers, we have seen three wins and four pretty good games.
So. Is it all coming together now? Because if this is how the Flames are supposed to be playing, then I think we can all agree we’re ready for more of this.
Chad Johnson, starter
Chad Johnson has the same even strength save percentage as Henrik Lundqvist. #Flames
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) November 21, 2016
In fairness to Henrik Lundqvist, he has played six more games than Chad Johnson. In fairness to Johnson, Lundqvist is a much bigger name, so seeing those two alongside each other isn’t bad at all.
Their even strength save percentages are .926 each – one percentage point ahead of Robin Lehner and Cory Schneider; one back of Roberto Luongo. They’re 17th among goalies who have played more than five games so far this season.
In all situations, Johnson has a .911 save percentage – tied for 20th among goalies who have played more than five games. That’s with four sub-.900 games for him so far this season.
He isn’t perfect – goalies very rarely are – but he is getting the job done.
So how does the tandem balance out now? Brian Elliott is still at 11 games played, not having gotten the starter’s net since, well, that bad game against the Rangers. That was nine days ago, this is a jam packed road trip and as much as Johnson is feeling it right now, Elliott’s gotta play again at some point. He hasn’t even gotten to experience the new and improved defence pairings yet; they were implemented right when Johnson’s current reign of the net was instated. Maybe they help him out, too?
At least for the rest of the month, the Flames should be in a position where they have to respect both their goalies. Hopefully they both make decisions very difficult going forward.
Whoa Dennis Wideman what no
… Dennis Wideman leading in ice time sure is a thing, isn’t it?
He led in shorthanded time. He led in powerplay time. He led in time overall! Meanwhile, Dougie Hamilton played two fewer minutes on the man advantage, about seven fewer minutes overall, had three assists, and is now tied for third in team scoring and is handily leading in defencemen scoring, but who’s counting?
Me. I’m counting, clearly.
We touched on this last time. Mark Giordano and Hamilton are working great together. Brett Kulak and Deryk Engelland have been great together since last season. This has kind of left T.J. Brodie in no-man’s land, and sure enough, you can guess which Flames defencemen had the hardest goes at it corsi-wise last night.
Jyrki Jokipakka’s last game was on Nov. 10, in the Flames’ 4-2 loss to Dallas. And hey, I get that the team is overall playing well right now, and they’re winning for the most part as of late, but maybe it’s time for him to draw back in? Four defencemen aren’t going anywhere, but let’s see if Jokipakka has anything new to offer after his extended stay in the pressbox.
And hey, earlier I advocated for Hamilton and Kulak to be partners. I know Kulak and Engelland are doing well together, but if Kulak can keep looking good out there, maybe it’s time to try him out alongside Brodie? Probably not coincidental, but the last time Kulak got actual top four minutes was the last time Jokipakka was in a game. It’s probably worth exploring again at some point.
A tale of two centres
In one game, Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan, and Troy Brouwer were the Flames’ offence.
In the next, they were… not that, let’s just say. In a possession-dominated game they were the guys who didn’t get the memo.
We’ve experienced this all season regarding the Flames’ top players. Except just before Johnny Gaudreau got injured, his game was really starting to turn around. Giordano and Brodie are back. Hamilton is thriving. So what gives here?
For starters, they were matched primarily against guys like Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg, so a lack of sheltering probably did them in at least somewhat. Then again, if these guys still need that much sheltering on the road, that’s not a good sign, is it?
Are they only going to do well when Gulutzan can control the matchups at home? For all the “Gaudreau only scores at home” memes, this one is a little more concerning. At least Gaudreau generates wherever he goes; if Monahan and company can’t handle looking functional out there in even somewhat challenging circumstances then that’s frightening.
And perhaps it identifies talks of keeping Bennett on Monahan’s wing as a tad premature, especially when the Flames’ goal is still to have Bennett play centre.
And so I submit, once again, for when Gaudreau returns: move Bennett back to centre, put Gaudreau on his line, and see what they can do for more than one game.
Or maybe put Gaudreau on Matt Stajan’s line?
— Johnny Gaudreau (@johngaudreau03) November 21, 2016
That’s a ways off, though. We still have plenty of time to see how things change. (And how the return of Kris Versteeg to the lineup – whenever that happens – shifts things.)
How are Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik even real
I’ve said it before, I will continue to say it forever: Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik look like they were made to play with each other.
Backlund has been a Flame for 400 games now; Frolik, just 84. That’s so many games without this partnership in which we have been robbed. But. Good lord. Those two.
What is there left to say? Let’s just watch that goal again. I don’t know what else to do with myself.
This is just beautiful. The entry, the pass, the finish.
Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund are not human. pic.twitter.com/XfoVgKlTOw
— AOL Keyword: Mike (@mikeFAIL) November 21, 2016