Flames 2, Blue Jackets 0 post-game embers: Don’t call it a comeback, but…

That… wasn’t a particularly good game.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty to like about it. The Flames won! Chad Johnson had a shutout! Special teams showed up?! All of those things, combined with Kris Versteeg’s return to the lineup and subsequent staying healthy, were all great to have, and made for an enjoyable evening overall.

But is it greedy to ask for just a little bit… more? Their start to the game was horrific, though I suppose that’s why Johnson was there – to keep them in it until they could resemble a team actually playing.

Let’s talk more about Chad Johnson

Johnson now has two shutouts in 10 games this season. Both were fully earned, too: a 1-0 27-save win, and now, a 2-0 34-save win. (He has now tied a career high for shutouts in a single season.) He has an even strength save percentage of .935, which is eighth in the NHL out of all goalies to have played at least 10 games.

He has been nothing short of fantastic. His overall save percentage for the season is now .922, tied for 10th among all NHL goalies who have played at least 10 games. Recall that Johnson had an overall .920 save percentage in 45 games for Buffalo last season, and a .926 save percentage at even strength.

This is the guy we were promised. Johnson wasn’t supposed to be Buffalo’s starter last season; Robin Lehner was, but he got hurt. Johnson outperformed expectations. Now he’s back in his hometown on a one-year, $1.7 million contract. If he’s the goalie the Flames keep – and if he keeps this up, he very well could be – then what kind of deal do you re-sign him to? He’s following a similar “late bloomer” path as Brian Elliott, only his has come even later.

And let’s not forget: the Flames couldn’t reach double digits in shots in a period all night. They had just four in the first, most of which came shorthanded. Johnson stopped the game from getting out of hand before it had a chance. Just like his first shutout in Minnesota, he won that game.

Special teams showed up

By my count, the Flames have now had six games this season in which special teams have actually shown up. They’ve won four of them. That sounds about right. And give credit where credit is due: after a horrific performance on the penalty kill in Buffalo, they shut out the Blue Jackets’ tries four times last night, including a double minor.

Hell, they even had more chances than the Jackets did on that first kill.

Johnson won the Flames this game, but so did their special teams. It would have been so easy to see them fall apart in the double minor; they didn’t. (Good thing they didn’t make it a five-on-three, too, or they could have experienced a similar fate as they did in Buffalo.)

Also, while we’re talking about special teams: a powerplay insurance goal, what’s that? This was just the third time this season the Flames have won a game by more than one goal. No wonder they’re the worst in the NHL with a -18 goal differential, yikes.

Meanwhile: oh hey, powerplay. You know who leads the Flames in powerplay goals? Dennis Wideman and Micheal Ferland, with two each. Wideman has four powerplay points, Ferland has three, and those are your leaders for the worst powerplay in the NHL. (They’re at 9.4% now! Almost back in the double digits!)

Good for Wideman; the only way he can really contribute properly is on the man advantage. (He, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie all spent roughly the same amount of time out there; it’s hard to be picky about that usage last night. It was good.)

Ferland, though? Ferland is this team’s best powerplay forward, apparently, and he has only played 14:26 on the man advantage.

Alex Chiasson has played 12:05. That’s just a little less time, and it’s still way too close for my liking. Sean Monahan has played 72:21 on the powerplay – that is nearly a full hour more than Ferland – and has one goal to show for it.

So. About that whole “Ferland needs more ice time” drum? Let’s keep banging away at it, because it continues to be true.

Speaking of Sean Monahan…

It’s good that his ice time has dropped. His line scored a goal and he didn’t have anything to do with it. Probably the biggest impact he made to his line was almost getting Versteeg knocked out in his first game back.

How do you combat this? A game ago, he was the catalyst in the Flames taking a bunch of penalties and subsequently losing their lead; this time, he made a play that nearly got his linemate knocked out and also led to a breakaway chance.

Like. Cutting his ice time is a good thing; Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan played more than him both at 5v5 and in all situations, effectively making Monahan the third line guy. But while reduced minutes offer the chance for fewer mistakes, they don’t prevent mistakes completely.

Ask yourself this: as much as you may not notice Freddie Hamilton on the crashing and banging and energy-providing fourth line, you also don’t really notice him messing up, do you? Monahan can’t even provide that much right now.

My vote it to scratch him. When’s the last time Monahan was scratched for performance-related issues? I’d hope that’d be enough to start waking him up. And if all this is due to injury – well, in that case, he needs to sit anyway.

I’d also like to note that Monahan’s line was given the best zone starts they possibly could have, and ended up bottom of the barrel corsi-wise. Meanwhile, Sam Bennett was freed from his line, joined Stajan’s, had no offensive zone starts to speak of, and they were the top two 5v5 corsi players on the team. Like… the problem is Monahan. And it’s persisted for a quarter of a season now.

Do you bring Kris Versteeg back?

So, here’s a thought. Versteeg returned to the lineup and brought in a nice veteran presence, complete with an extremely pretty assist on the game-winning goal. He undressed and embarrassed Seth Jones. It was beautiful.

At 30 years old, he’s one of the oldest players on the roster. In fact, he’s one of just five 30-year-olds I could reasonably expect to return to this team next season (the others being Giordano, Stajan, Brouwer, and one of Elliott or Johnson). Michael Frolik is the next oldest at 28. That’s a pretty young team overall, and Versteeg can clearly still play.

He’s a responsible player, if a little smaller. He can play both wings. The Flames are light on wing depth, and how many of their current prospects do you see making the jump in one year? Hunter Shinkaruk? And, um… Morgan Klimchuk, if he can do it that quick? Daniel Pribyl, if the plan is to play him on the wing sooner rather than later? And these are mostly long shots.

I like Versteeg. He could get Lance Bouma money and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world (god knows he’d probably do more with it on the ice). And he’s basically a local boy, what more could you want? I’m all for keeping him around.

Garnet Hathaway is adorable

Helmet kisses!!! What more could you want?? Helmet kisses. I’m so happy.

At the same time, though, I would caution from falling too much in love with Hathaway. I’m not saying don’t at all; I think he’s great and I like him a whole lot and I’m ready for him to be on the fourth line for the foreseeable future. But remember fourth liners like him can be a dime a dozen – he wasn’t even drafted, these guys can be so easy to just pick up – so he isn’t anything particularly special. He shouldn’t necessarily be playing more than he is, that is to say.

But he’s our not particularly special fourth line guy. And I love him for it. Let’s just not miscast him. That’s how things get ugly.

  • Pizanno

    I’m pretty sure that no one is more upset about Monahan than Monahan. He’s been good for too long to suck now. It will happen. If it is an injury than I blame management for making him play through it.

    • Southboy

      I would believe the statement he is good if it wasnt for playing with Hudler and gaudreau. So unless he is hurt it is showing how much those two propped him up. Especially gaudreau.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Boring game – it sure was. I don’t care, they won, they scored on the power play, went perfect on the penalty kill, and Johnson shutout a Tortellini team.

    Confidence is built on winning, and it was an important win on the road. More please.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    When negotiations were taking so long I was resigned to the idea that we might see a bridge deal for Monahan… I was ok with the idea because I wasn’t 100% sold on his 2-way ability. But if Gaudreau was pumping his offence and he never grasps the 2-way thing, we could have a problem. Still young, still time… but man has he looked bad.

    • Parallex

      I think the way you develop a good two-way center is basically the opposite of what the Flames did with Monahan…

      Send them back to junior to work on that part of the game, have them work their way up the line-up from the bottom with the first special team minutes they get being the PK, then once they’ve mastered all that they get the extra-minutes/OZ starts/PP time.

      … I guess the Flames either disagree or just thought it would come naturally to Monahan like it basically did for Toews

  • CalgaryCandle

    I disagree with your take on Hathaway, Ari.

    In several years of watching Flames 4th lines, Hathaway stands out to me. For one thing, he consistently hits and punishes players on the other team. Not all 4th liners do, even if they are supposed to.

    Second, I think he has some offensive ability. The goal he scored a couple of nights ago was a skilled tip where he fought for net front presence. He scored 19 in the AHL a couple of years ago.

    Although Ferland is currently miscast on the 4th line (should be 2nd or 3rd)together they make 2/3 of an awesome tandem. GH is not JH, but I think he’s here to stay even when everyone gets healthy and is part of the Flames RW solution.

    • everton fc

      Hathaway’s a keeper. He’s also a RW.

      Shinkaruk will go down. Not Hathaway.

      Hathaway’s here to stay. A lone of Ferland-Bennett-Hathaway would be pursued in practice, by GG and the staff. Or even Ferland-Monahan-Hathaway. Bennett needs to stay at centre, if at all possible. If he’s being moved to LW, then call up Jankowski, and build a line of Ferland-Jankowski-Hathaway.

      Hathaway will scores his goals. Not dozens, but he’ll get those gritty goals a guy like David Moss used to get here. He’s a good linemate, can keep up w/his linemates, has some playmaking ability…

      He’s a far better option to me, than Jooris…

      (Unrelated – note Baertschi and Colborne continue to struggle. Colborne, in particular).

  • jupiter

    When a fringe player with a broken down groin returns to the line-up and is noticeably your best player, you have issues.

    Looks to me like the coaches system is taking shape but our top players are still having trouble being creative within it.Except Monohan,something else going on there.

    Hathaway does a great job of playing on the edge, annoying the opposition, and forcing his teammates into the battle.His speed is good enough for spot duty up the line-up.I;d keep him around over F, Hamilton or Vey.

  • Kevin R

    Monahan is young but he has no confidence to go with what ever else is ailing him that he is trying to play through. Add that his little buddy who is more than capable of getting him kickstarted is out with injury, well…..we have a high priced fragile young player. I think he needs some time with a Sports Psychologist & get the mental part of his game straightened out. I’m confident he has the tools to come out of this once he does get his head out of his butt. Many good players go through this. How many 1st overalls (especially some up north) can get into some horrible slumps. Happens in this game. Give him less minutes, less PP time, let him work this out. He’s a proud player & a diminished role will not sit well with him. Unless he is legitimately injured, absolutely not press box him. He’s past that now, he’s a proven goal scorer, is being paid like one, he can’t score from the press box.

    • aflame13

      My only reason for wanting to sit him out a game is that it gives him opportunity to see things differently again. Clear his head by seeing his teammates playing their system from above and give him that push to be out there and play better with them again. I think it’d be helpful but I’m no NHL coach.

      • Kevin R

        At 6.375 mill per, he’s past that. He needs to play his way out of the dog house like General Patton. He needs some one on one on films with one of the assoc coaches, he needs some time in a meditation chamber visualizing what he needs to do & actually performing it in his head, he needs to break down the game in many pieces & strive to some success & good things happen on smaller goals. I know this site really focuses on the numbers of this game, but there is a big mental part of this game that can’t be measured by corsi other than confirm there are some pretty serious mental breakdowns in Monahans game. He’s fragile right now, sitting him out will only screw the mental aspect even further & force him to think too much when he gets back out there instead of using his skills & what he should be doing best. This sounds preachy, but this kid suddenly hasn’t become a pilon at age 23 after posting goals the last 3 seasons he has achieved, 1 of the years without Gaudreau.

        • everton fc

          Ferland-Monahan-Hathaway. Those two linemates will help Monahan. Help his game. Give him his confidence. Or even Versteeg-Monahan-Hathaway.

          Keep Brouwer and Chiasson away from Monahan.

        • jupiter

          Well said Kevin.

          Reminder that BT felt the younger players would benefit and accel under new coaching.The opposite has happened. Not sure if there is a plan for helping this player, but it sure doesn’t appear this coaching staff has one. IMO.

          • Nick24

            Tkachuck has sure done well, as has Ferland, Hamilton, and Bennett. Monahan is really the only young player that is having issue on this team. Gaudreau had a slow start, but he began generating again a few games before his finger was hacked to pieces.

            I’m sure they’re doing all they can to help Monahan. They’re giving him cushy zone starts and moved Sam Bennett to the wing for him. It’s a little naive to think that Monahan isn’t working to solve his problems and that the coaching staff doesn’t have any plan in place to address him.

          • jupiter

            IMO Tkachuk and Ferland have had success but it has little to do with GG,S system and more to do with the type of players they are.

            Disagree that Hamilton Bennett or Brodie for that matter are flourishing in this system.

            Not to say that may change. I hope it will.

        • Arminius

          Monahan needs to break out like Emilio Estevez in Young Guns. Popping out of the trunk tossed from the burning house pistol in each hand firing madly.

          Billy the Kid style

  • Thunder1

    “Like… the problem is Monahan”

    That is pretty harsh, Ari. Guy is one off the franchise’s all-time mark for overtime game winning goals. He’s barely 23.

    When he turns it around, I’m calling you out on the crap you constantly write about him!

    • amaninvan

      Agreed. The Monahan bashing is getting ridiculous. We know you don’t like Monahan Ari… maybe give it a break. Not every article has to be about Monahan and his mistakes. Give the kid a chance to work his way out of the funk he is in, all good players have bad stretches… he is and will be a top player for this team for years.

  • Greatsave

    I’m surprised nobody has used Tortorella’s praise for Gulutzan as the most obvious argument for “GULUTZAN MUST GO!!!”.

    Full disclosure: I’m not in that camp.

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    Lots being said about Moneyhands – it comes with the territory when you pull down that kind of salary. On the bright side, this rag tag group of freedom fighters are 4-2 in their last six games. Not bad considering that JH is out & SM is struggling mightily. Does this sliver of success speak to our depth??

    Could our friends up north get by under similar circumstances? Their success is primarily based on a One Trick Pony system. What would happen to that club if My Little McPony came up lame?


  • redwhiteblack

    “Like… the problem is Monahan. And it’s persisted for a quarter of a season now.”

    He is not the same. Hate to say it but he looks drunk or high or both. I would say don’t worry if he was getting chances. When he does get a good look he misses the net.

    What do we do with that shiny contract if he can’t turn it around? There should be risk mitigation. If I buy something and don’t get the value the price tag dictates I return it. If you don’t perform the team should have the right to renegotiate.

    Not saying he can’t turn it around, but every game that passes the more persistent the questions are getting. I really hope he turns it around. I hope to see him pot winners because that has been the pattern until now. Something is way off at present. Baffling us all.

  • OKG

    remember fourth liners like him can be a dime a dozen – he wasn’t even drafted, these guys can be so easy to just pick up – so he isn’t anything particularly special.

    Wrong Ari. Impact Fourth liners like Hathaway and Byron are the ones that aren’t dime a dozen. Fourth liners like Brouwer, Hamilton, Chiasson, and Bouma are the dime a dozen ones.

  • Misterbator

    I am definitely not opposed to sitting Monahan. Johnny went through it, so why not him?

    I also think it’s unfair to rip the guy because he is having a rough patch.I’d be more worried if he hadn’t been successful since entering the league, which of course he has been.

    This season has all the markings of a learning year, and that goes for everyone in the organization. From failure we have opportunity to see things as they are and then work toward a solution.

    Who knows, maybe we battle adversity early on, just to be that much stronger in June. One never knows, so lets cool it.

  • Rock

    We are now starting to win games I wonder if it might have something to do with not as many bad give aways now that Johnny Hockey is hurt and Dougie Hamilton is being sheltered by Gio

  • Prototype369

    I can’t believe I’m agreeing with KA Caribou (btw where is that dude, haven’t seen him in a while) but this site does have some biases that they refuse to waver on. 1) Backlund is God’s gift to the flames (I agree with this one lol), 2) Elliot can do no wrong, it’s always the D in front of him that’s playing bad (Horse/Bull/Cow/Other domesticated animals dung. Hes playing bad, Johnson is playing 10x better than him with the same D) and 3) Monahan is not a good player (Yes, hes no true 1C, but he’s not what Ari makes him out to be unfairly). I’m gonna wait til the end of the year when Monahan has 25+ goals and 30+ assists, and rub it all over this site’s staff’s face

  • Juan Valdez

    Another passionate in-depth article from my favourite FN blogger.

    Love how people keep making excuses for a guy making over $6 mil per season. If Monahan wants to silence his critics it’s time for him to either put up or shutup.

    Excuses are for losers.

    At this point I don’t even care that he’s not scoring anymore. I just want to see him competing night in and night out and making smarter decisions.

    • This.

      It’s not like Ari is making this up. It is also not like she doesn’t “want” him to get out of the slump (I assume).

      Monahan needs to get himself out of this. If it is an injury then the staff need to force him to sit and heal. It is obvious by the eye and the stats that he is not helping the Flames win. Does that mean he sucks? Of course not. He still needs to be accountable. Especially with that salary.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I am not sure Monny knows how to bang bodies and if he is still fighting an injury then he is not looking to engage. I agree that he can contribute in other ways but not if his skating isn’t getting him there to compete. If Monny was still fighting an injury it may explain why GG has given him so much latitude but it does not explain why GG would not shut him down for awhile.

  • calgaryfan

    Most players who are in a slump start banging bodies, skating harder, putting in physical effort. Monahan continues to coast around not making contact with anyone, losing puck battles and missing his check. Show some effort and hard work or sit in the press box.