Flames 3, Red Wings 2 post-game embers: Is this a new beginning?

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

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?

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.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Rhett Warner was complentary of Backlund’s season, but unhappy that he only has 2 goals. Ignore that his SH% is 4.5 and that its ½ his normal career output.

    Queue the complaining commenters that follow and don’t think.

    • everton fc

      I think Backlund’s goals will come. If he gets 15, I’m happy.

      As for Bennett-Monahan-Brouwer. How about this:


      Or this – Ferland-Bennett-Brouwer

      Does anyone think Bennett is doing better on LW? Against the Hawks he looked okay.

      Does anyone know if Monahan’s ever played LW in junior??

      Ultimately, Versteeg-Bennett-Brouwer will return. It was a decent line.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Too early to see if this is real. Like Crispy used to tell us even a blind squirrel finds a nut time to time. Really impressed with the core up front. Still..please waive or buy out Stajan..horrible hockey player

  • cjc

    “Is this the part of the season where we owe Glen Gulutzan an apology?”

    No. The team is still 3 games under .500. He still has frustrating player usage. The fourth line, Ferland in particular, was killing it. But GG refused to roll them, even though Monahan’s line looked like a disaster. Ferland barely cleared 8 minutes, makes no sense. You already pointed out Hamilton’s weird usage.

    If the PP struggles are Cameron’s fault, he should go, like, yesterday. If they are not, they need to try some new players in there (glad to see Frolik, but what about Ferland, Backlund, Kulak?) Monahan/Bennett/Wideman/Giordano may have the best numbers on paper, but this is going on 2 years of them not getting the job done.

  • Scary Gary

    Monahan is really struggling, if he’s injured perhaps it’s best for the team if he takes a few games off.

    I’ve never been a believer that he’s a true #1 centre but he hasn’t even looked like a number #2 centre this year.

  • brodiegio4life

    GG has to do something about monahans play. If he is still hurt then let him take a couple games off. If not then move him down the lineup or scratch him for a game. He’s playing awful right now and there’s no consequences or accountability. He’s still getting big time minutes. Guys like ferland are playing 10x better than mony right now yet get half the ice time it makes no sense.

    • everton fc

      If Monahan’s playing hurt…

      What better time to call up Jankowski and see how he does – though I think Bennett would have to move back to centre. Shinkaruk’s here, Versteeg’s about to come back… And there’s always Freddie… Vey… who can both play the pivot.

      If Monahan’s hurting, and needs rest for what looks like a recurring back issue… What better time to rest him, when he’s slumping anyway, and possibly hurting the himself, even more than the team?

  • TurkeyLips

    Monahan put on close to 20 lbs of muscle in the off-season. This has probably affected his skating and hand-eye coordination, happens to developing athletes all the time. We just have to be a little patient with the guy, when he readjusts and gets comfortable as a 200 + lbs center we’ll be thankful for it.

  • Prototype369

    I really, really like Monahan. Outside of Bennett, hes still my favorite flame, ahead of Gaudreau, Brodie and Backlund. But he needs to start playing better. I’m not expecting Tabards 2.0 (wishful thinking) but better than what he’s doing right now

  • Baalzamon

    Re: all the Monahan comments above: Don’t let one bad game cloud your memories. Prior to last night, Monahan was coming off four consecutive excellent (not just good) performances. He’s actually 11th on the team in 5v5 CF% right now (51.23%, just behind Backlund and ahead of Engelland).

    He and Gaudreau had a horrible start, but they both (not just Gaudreau) had experienced a huge turnaround prior to Gaudreau’s injury. And significantly, Monahan’s resurgence continued without Gaudreau (until last night).

    • Scary Gary

      Fair point, he had a great game against Chicago. I have a lot of time for Monahan; I’m suggesting if he’s battling an injury, a night off here or there could help him get back to the 0.76 ppg we’re used to instead of the 0.4 he currently has (sample size and such).

  • Derzie

    Again, GG system is a grinding possession system. Those that thrive would be grinding possession players. Those that don’t are open ice skilled players. If you are going to praise Backlund & Frolik for thriving in a system built for them, how can you chastise Monahan for not thriving in a system that is not built for him? Supporting cast is really important as well. Is John Tavaras terrible now that he playing with pluggers? Players don’t just suddenly get bad. It’s a team sport where systems and linemates are very important. Winning 2-1 or 3-2 games is MUCH better than losing them but it is not nearly as entertaining as watching skilled players do their thing.