If this team needed anything – and I mean literally anything – it was a strong road trip on their longest road trip of the year. The sort of road trip that Sportsnet, local media, and just about everyone talks about should these Calgary Flames find further success this season. You best believe that everyone will talk about it if this team somehow makes the playoffs, too.
But that’s forever from now and last night we saw a glimmer of hope that Sam Bennett’s game has rebounded. This team will definitely need the Bennett we saw last night to show up a lot more.
With both centres, Bennett and Sean Monahan, having consistency issues this season it’s been a real treat when they find their game. There’s been a lot made of this by some folks that this is confidence, he needs to be mentored more, or that he needs to get back to basics.
But the thing with Bennett is that his game has never really changed much; he’s still generating shots and that’s a good indicator he hasn’t fallen off a cliff (5v5 individual results via Corsica Hockey):
Ideally you want him shooting more than this, but his shot rates haven’t changed much. Which means that coaching and usage needs to be adjusted to foster an environment which allows Bennett to play to his strengths and find success. Right now playing him on the third line left wing with Matt Stajan and Alex Chiasson – though they had results last night – isn’t the most ideal circumstance for Bennett.
No disrespect to Stajan and Chiasson but this objectively doesn’t give Bennett the ideal linemates that plays to his strengths as a player. Finding a way to put him out there, at centre with say Monahan on the wing, and even Micheal Ferland on his left wing might be a better outcome for him, stylistically (Ferland) and regarding offensive upside (Monahan).
Folks might feel concerned that Bennett might not turn out as a NHL centre, but you have to give him more time to develop and to at least see what he will be: a centre or a winger. Do the right thing, Glen, play him in his natural position with the best linemates you can provide. Rome wasn’t built in a day and not every player develops overnight.
Bennett finished last night with 15:21 of ice time including a remarkable 2:11 of penalty kill TOI. His only shot? A goal.
Chad Johnson: Usurper of The Throne?
From a personal perspective, this summer when the Flames signed Chad Johnson I was a huge fan of the signing. For starters, he’s one of the league’s better options as a backup. Last season with the Buffalo Sabres he proved he was a capable guy, albeit on a disappointing team, and played himself into a nice contract with the Flames.
This season? He’s playing fantastically, sporting a .932 5v5 SV% to Brian Elliott’s .904%. Add in two shutouts, chatter that Johnson has usurped Elliott’s starting role, and you’ve got yourself a goalie controversy. Yes, Johnson’s play has been immaculate as of late, but there is obviously more going on here.
In his last five starts (including last night’s win), Johnson has shown some pretty stable results. Results this team desperately needs if they have any desires to make a push in a weak Pacific Division (via Corsica Hockey at 5v5):
At 5v5, teams the Flames have played with Johnson in net have struggled to solve the de-facto starter. This raises more questions about Elliott’s situation than anything. One thing to keep in mind is the variance in shots allowed by the team at 5v5, but also on special teams between both goalies.
In the 12 games that Elliott has started, the team has given up 56 more 5v5 shots than Johnson has faced. Which breaks down to:
- 13 more low-danger shots against (Elliott has allowed two goals against from low danger shots)
- 11 more medium-danger shots against (Elliott has allowed five to Johnson’s four goals against from medium-danger shots)
- 26 more high-danger shots against (Elliott has allowed eight more high-danger goals against: 18 to Johnson’s 10)
The only major difference in save percentages at 5v5 between the two is HDSV%: Johnson is currently at 78.26 to Elliott’s 75%. Johnson has seen the 15th least high-danger shots against and Elliott has seen the 13th most high-danger shots against with a minimum of 200 5v5 minutes played.
When we look at this team on the penalty kill, the team in front of Elliott during his starts has struggled much more than with Johnson. Part of it – a large part – is still the PK on the ice and a considerable chunk is the goalie in the net. Again we see a common theme: the team in front of Elliott in his 12 games played has been shelled relative to Johnson’s starts:
- Elliott has seen 23 more shots at 4v5 (57 to Johnson’s 34)
- The team has surrendered 21 high-danger shots against with Elliott in net to 13 with Johnson in net
- In terms of goals allowed from low, medium, and high-danger shots Elliott has only allowed two more high-danger goals against to Johnson’s six. Elliott has surrendered three medium-danger chances to Johnson’s one.
So to summarize: as much as there is some reasonable concern about Elliott’s abilities this season, there should be concern about the impact of the team’s play in front of the goalie in the aggregate. It’s easy to scapegoat the goalie; it’s even easier to neglect shot data to suggest the team is playing poorly in front of one goalie versus the other.
There is more to this story than simply saying Johnson has usurped the starter position because you can make the case – even with some weird goals going in – that the team in front of Elliott hasn’t given him the best situations to play in. Maybe it’s confidence that the team could take more chances with Elliott in net? Maybe it’s some bizarre intangibles-based argument? Who knows, but there is evidence to suggest more shots against happen with Elliott in net.
Jankowskimania, Is It Here?
Figuring out the riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a boy’s body that is Mark Jankowski is a polarizing subject. Even uttering his name in our comment section results in a civil war of regulars on the site that parallels the impact of the American Civil War. Rightfully so because of the 2012 draft itself, the Jay Feaster ill-advised hype, and the hope that doubters are proven wrong.
And yet, here we are: at the precipice of Jankowski playing his first NHL game. No, it didn’t happen last night to the dismay of fans and supporters. It very well could happen against the Philadelphia Flyers or against the New York Islanders. So, what should fans expect?
Probably better results than Garnet Hathaway and Freddie Hamilton, to start. Both forwards, along with Hunter Shinkaruk were among the least used last night and had the least to show. One of these three will likely sit at some point in the next two games and rightfully so. All three haven’t exactly been stellar and the optimism that Shinkaruk could take a leap forward has been stunted predominately by usage and linemates.
If – though it’s more like when – Jankowski plays, he’s going to be sheltered. How much and by what degree Gulutzan can actively do is questionable. Gulutzan’s concepts of managing usage on the road is comparable to playing Mario Kart on Rainbow Road and using mushrooms for speed boosts on corners because you think you’re fine.
He’s going to probably get limited minutes, with linemates like one of the aforementioned three who are dressed and/or some variation of Ferland, Stajan, or even Bennett. The argument for higher quality linemates would be to just insulate him with the best possible talent to maximize whatever results he can produce in whatever minutes are provided.
What he can do at the NHL level is completely up in the air, with most historical data lending itself to see his ceiling being limited. His results at the AHL level, in a limited sample (21 games played) have been above what a lot of folks have expected. When Christian Tiberi wrote about Jankowski in June, I feel like he summed up the kid perfectly here:
Let’s see the kid play, keep what he’s accomplished so far in mind, and hope that he provides some form of positive impact on ice at the NHL level.