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.
Soft pass from Monahan leads to Versteeg and Brouwer colliding. Looked bad but Versteeg is back on the bench: pic.twitter.com/IUs8SnnRhF
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 24, 2016
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
— Andy (@McMav) November 24, 2016
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.