Flames 2, Stars 1 post-game embers: The Paul Byron of games

Remember Paul Byron? Of course you do, now that he always seems to be lighting it up for the Montreal Canadiens, his name keeps popping up and every single time it’s like, hey, remember when the Flames waived him so they could keep a couple of players who are no longer anywhere near the NHL on their roster instead?

… Yeah.

In his last season with the Flames, Byron was constantly finding himself on a breakaway… and constantly not scoring. It’s one of those things that drew Montreal to claim him, because to go on so many breakaways he was obviously doing something right, and lo and behold, he’s rewarded them.

The Flames had so many breakaways last night. But like with Byron in his final year in Calgary, at least they were rewarded on one of them.

Johnny and Mony

Hello!

It is so, so, so good to have Johnny Gaudreau back in the lineup. The Flames were making due without him as best as they could, but in the two games since he’s returned, it just feels like they’re creating so many more chances. They couldn’t capitalize on all of them this game – again, so many failed breakaways – but when Gaudreau is on his game, he just makes stuff happen.

He did exactly that last night, and picked up two points for it. Sean Monahan also cashed in on both goals; the two are now tied with Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett for the lead in team scoring with 15 points apiece – although Gaudreau has done it in 10 fewer games than everyone else.

Gaudreau is this team’s offensive heartbeat. He had a rough start to the season; then again, so did almost everyone. But the Flames have a whole new dynamic with him in the lineup, and it’s a really exciting one. It makes them so much better to watch.

It’s been two games and Gaudreau could have had at least a hat trick in both. At LEAST.

That said, while it was Gaudreau and Monahan combining on both of the Flames’ goals, it’s probably still for the best to keep them separated. Gaudreau and Bennett have connected really well; down on the other line, Kris Versteeg has been helping make things happen for Monahan. It took Gaudreau missing games to ultimately force him off of Monahan’s wing and try to find other adequate wingers for him; Gaudreau’s return coincided (or perhaps forced) putting Bennett back in the middle, and, well, can’t argue with the current results.

Though it was Monahan who set Gaudreau and Alex Chiasson on this game’s 2-on-0. Isn’t it funny to have those in back-to-back games?

The other Johnny

I like to think that if there’s anything dividing this locker room, it’s whether “Johnny” is referring to Gaudreau or Chad Johnson. Like, are there factions? Is the phrase “Nice goal Johnny” a compliment or an insult? I have questions. (Though I have heard Monahan is firmly in the “Johnny = Gaudreau” camp, because of course he would be.)

Anyway, about the goalie. He stopped 29 of 30 shots; since taking over as the Flames’ starter he’s really only had two bad games (that one against Chicago in which he let in that terrible Marian Hossa goal towards the end that he really should have had, and the Philadelphia game). 

He currently has a .931 save percentage; out of goalies with at least 10 games played, only Devan Dubnyk, Carey Price, Jimmy Howard, and Tuukka Rask have better numbers. When you go by even strength, he’s at .937; there, seven goalies are ahead of him. So. He’s doing reasonably well for himself.

The Flames have scored one empty net goal all season – they haven’t really had many chances, hence that -10 goal differential they’re currently sporting – but it doesn’t even feel like they need the insurance goal with Johnson in net. Oh hey the Stars are pressing? That’s nice. If his own team has fallen asleep (which happened last night at several points) or the other team is desperately trying to tie up the game, Johnson will just… not let that happen. Definitely not since that one Chicago goal against. It’s like he doesn’t even care; he’s just there to do his job and he’s pretty good at it.

So where’s Brett Kulak?

The last time Brett Kulak drew into a game, it was that brutal loss to Philadelphia on the most horrid of days for Calgary sports. Jyrki Jokipakka has been in the lineup since then, and that’s left Kulak twiddling his thumbs for the past five games now. Because the Philly game was on him, somehow, I guess?

Which is unfortunate, because he would seem to be an easy solution (or, at the very least, one that should be tried) to the Flames’ current most pressing problem: Dennis Wideman partnered with T.J. Brodie in the top four.

Both were bad on the goal against last night. Kulak is more mobile than Wideman and would probably complement Brodie’s style of play better (plus Brodie could go back to the right side). 

That may be asking for a lot – to want a rookie defencemen to suddenly step out of bottom pairing minutes (the last – and only – time he played 20 minutes in a game was Nov. 10, so almost a month ago) – but what are we getting with Wideman in the top four, exactly? A hampered Brodie? Is this a showcasing for a trade deadline movement, and if so, is it worth it? (If anyone wants to trade for him, that is; not that I’m a believer in conspiracy theories, but it was pretty funny a penalty he drew was like… immediately called back.)

What’s there to lose in playing Kulak? Other than Kulak himself, I guess, but is this worth it? Being afraid of losing a player in the expansion draft – if the Flames are – so much that you won’t even play said player seems counter-intuitive.

Dougie Hamilton ice time watch

This should be a regular feature for me. I’m not sure why it isn’t.

Anyway. Dougie Hamilton played 23:20 against the Stars last night. Only his partner, Mark Giordano, played more. He got a lot of penalty kill time, too, though I’m sure part of that was because of Deryk Engelland taking a penalty. 

Anyway, Hamilton is currently averaging 19:27 a game, which is still a little low, but behind only Giordano, Brodie, and Wideman. But since the road trip, he’s gotten over 20 minutes in eight of a possible 10 games. (The Flames are 7-2-1 in those games, coincidence? Confirmation bias??) So he’s clearly moving on up.

And he’s really starting to look like a top pairing defenceman out there. So Toronto media and all those random scouts people were talking to who were saying stuff like “he’s okay I guess but I think Calgary was expecting more” can eat it. He’s 23 years old and he’s playing with a real defence partner and it’s increasingly difficult to find fault in his game. I guess he’s good after all?

Playoffs???

This is a fun thing to look at as long as the Flames continue to win, so here I am again.

The Flames may technically be in third place in the Pacific, but they have also continued to have played more games than just about everyone else. Why? Who knows. I know they’ll be tied with the Oilers in games played by this time next week, at least. 

Nowadays, they have a .517 points percentage. That’s fifth in the Pacific, so not a playoff spot. That’s ninth in the West, so still not a playoff spot, but not as far back as they were before, at least.

During the broadcast, Kelly Hrudey mentioned that something the Flames should strive for – and something he thinks they can achieve – is getting to be four or five games above .500. At this point in time, that involves the Flames winning their next three or four games, which is asking them to go on a seven or eight-game win streak, which seems like it might be asking for quite a bit.

Here’s the thing, though: he’s right in that they have to do that. They can’t afford any more losing skids. They can’t afford to play like they did in October or half of November. The second they slide back into that, it’s probably over.

Everything is going right for the Flames right now. Johnson is playing lights out. Gaudreau is back and playing like we know he can, and Monahan is returning to form. Giordano and Hamilton are working well together. Versteeg is staying healthy, mostly. Bennett appears to be on the upswing. Chiasson is even contributing. The one main problem at the moment – the whole Wideman as a top four defenceman thing – isn’t really costing them anything.

How long can this keep up?

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Curious your thoughts Wally. Is Gulutzan still over is head?

      How about that coach of the team that is leading the AHL’s Pacific division… any thoughts on that guy?

      Any thoughts on Backlund shutting down the Stars top line last night?

      … and lastly… any thoughts on the NHL’s leading scorer who couldn’t win the calder and is in no way generational?

      I feel I need some insight this morning from the ‘never wrong’ Walter White.

      • Derzie

        Oh now this is just too easy….
        1) No Chad Johnson, no wins. GG is not why the wins are coming. 2) Go read the Oiler blog on last night’s game. See how much they love TM. 3) Backlund is what he is. An elite shutdown man with average finish on offense. 4) As long as he is an Oiler, he doesn’t exist.

        • Bean-counting cowboy

          1) so by the same logic, he was not the reason the losses were coming? Goaltending sunk us is what you’re saying?

          2) I’m talking about the AHL and Huska – I was not talking about TM or the Oilers. I was talking about WW’s other whipping boy coach

          3)Agreed. He deserves no hate for what he brings and what he is paid… should be praised based on those two factors. Never understood the WW vitriol.

          4) Suggesting Connor wasn’t the best rookie last year was dumb. We all know he would’ve won it had he not got injured regardless of the fact he plays for the Oil.

      • The GREAT WW

        I don’t give a lot of credit for wins to the coaches at the NHL or AHL level: BT has done a good job elevating the level of players on both teams (after a horrible start with the 2014 draft).

        Backlund is a third line shut down guy, zero touch(this year he is benefiting from the Chuk bump…) as long as we pay and play him like that I have no issue with him being on the team.

        McDavid won the Calder? Did I miss something?! Last time I checked he didn’t even come in top 2……

        WW

        • aflame13

          I know what a Backlund bump is….but what’s a Chuck bump? Isn’t it a little early to be assigning that much credit to a rookie when there’s years of data showing a Backlund bump?

          • Baalzamon

            There’s also the fact that Backlund is scoring below normal pace. He’s scoring at like .42 ppg, while his career average is .46 (and he hasn’t scored below .50 in four years).

            So apparently the “Chuck bump” is a reduction in scoring rate.

            Keep up the great work, WW!

    • JBulls

      You’re delusional if you think Brodie can be at the top of his game while also carrying the anchor of Wideman around. That isn’t fair to Brodie and he absolutely should not be expected to do that.

        • JBulls

          Im responding to the notion that Brodie “should” be able to be at the top of his game while having to carry Wideman. Not to mention all the while continuing to get used to playing on his left side.

          NO ONE on the team “should” be expected to carry a useless player like Wideman. He should be sitting in the press box most games and kulak should be in his place.

          Saying “oh yeah i expect Brodie to be one of our best defensemen, on top of his game, while this giant anchor is attached to his leg”, is just ridiculous.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Brodie is sitting at -16. Currently the worst +/- in the league for defense. He has played with Gio when both were bad, Engelland, and now Wideman who is also bad. How is he going to improve those stats anytime soon?

      • everton fc

        Brodie needs to be on the right side. Like Ferland needs to be on the left side. Both will play their best, on their best side.

        I will say this, and noticed first vs the Sens; Brodie is soft when it comes to clearing guys in front of the net, playing the body, and so on. At least this season, regardless of who he’s paired with. It’s simply the style of play he’s fallen into, which has hurt the team, at times. They should be shopping Wideman, move Jokipaaka up to the left side w/Brodie on the right, and reconnect Kulak and Engelland. Call up Wotherspoon, and you have, I think, a pretty favourable defence. There has to be a team or two out there who’d take on Wideman – teams in the playoff hunt, but in need of a PP specialist on the point, a shooting defender… Or, who need to dump some rubbish. I’d take on some also-ran for Wideman (look at what Chiasson’s become here. Ditto Versteeg).

        Alas… We won’t see any moves, which may indeed be the right move. We’ll protect Gio, Hamilton and Brodie, and lose one of Jokipaaka or Kulak (most likely the former). Maybe you move Jokipaaka while he has value? Who knows what the org will do. I like Jokipaaka as a “5/6″…

        (Note: Gio’s at +8. Engelland at +9. Both “detached” from Brodie).

        Unrelated to Brodie… I’d sign Stajan for two years/”cheap”. See if he stays. He’s one of the better 4th line centres out there right now. And durable enough to be effective in his role at 34/35 years of age…

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          I have been against Brodie playing on LD. I haven’t changed that tune. Dougie is looking like a top 2 D-man these day, so he is rightly played with Gio. In fact, he makes Gio look better.

          Only way to get Brodie on the right side is to sit Engelland or Wideman. Forces Kulak or Jokipakka up the depth chart to be the 2nd pair LD and Brodie on RD. Moving Wideman down to the 3rd pair doesn’t help.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          If a team has an 8 goal outburst and Brodie/Wideman are still a -1, then it’s more than just winning a game. Look at every goal scored against the Flames recently and identify who is on the ice. If Brodie is there, then you need to fix that part of the game.

          It isn’t just about winning. It’s about how you win. Getting luck and winning in a shootout or OT does not have any long term viability. Just ask the Coilers about that.

  • brodiegio4life

    wow good goaltending, improved special teams, and top players producing and the flames start winning who would’ve guessed…

    also i know you still have to win the games but the flames upcoming schedule is very favorable

    • cjc

      This is my main issue with the Flames right now… everything has to go right in order for them to win. It’s great that it’s happening now, but

      1- Johnson likely won’t finish the season at .931%

      2- They can’t continue to be outshot on a nightly basis (7 of last 8 games, even if they are leading a lot right now).

      3- They need a median of more than 2 goals for per game.

      Good teams can overcome struggling special teams, a struggling goalie, or a scoring drought. I’m not sure Calgary is there right now. That said, it’s nice to see an extended stretch of good play.

  • Parallex

    I get where you’re coming from re: Kulak & Wideman… but we have a coaching staff that cares about handedness far more then it should.

    Sure it’s nice to think that we could have a better top four by putting Brodie with Kulak but the reality is that if they try that we’re more likely to see a relapse back into the bad old days of Hamilton on the bottom pairing and Engellend in the top four. We have TJ, Gio, and Hamilton all playing appropriate minutes let’s just call that a win, walk away from the table, and cash out.

    • JBulls

      Good point, and you’re right. It’s a lose/lose until the end of the season (or trade deadline) I guess.

      F*ck I cannot wait for this team to rid themselves of these horrible contracts

  • cjc

    I’ve noticed that many of Gulutzan’s coaching decisions seem to trail recommendations on this site by 1-2 weeks. Maybe if FN starts lobbying hard for Brodie to be moved back to the right side, we’ll see a change ;-).

    Cases in point
    -More ice time for Hamilton
    -Demoting Monahan until he figures it our
    -Putting Gaudreau with Bennett

    • Lucky 13

      Yes because Gully reads these posts all day, every day. And then checks out other very reliable sources such as Flames Facebook site, just to make sure he is implementing the right strategies.

      This isn’t a knock against Flames Nation, I enjoy the banter,comments, jostling, well structured sentences and knowledge of our fan base, however it’s quite silly (funny) to suggest lobbying for changes.

      Gully is doing just fine without our input.

      Sorry WW

      Edit: Al McNeil sends a letter to Gully before every game, noting trends, disparities in our game.
      Maybe he can champion your cause.

  • Ole YELLEr

    Not sure how bad Wideman was on that goal. From what I remember it was a 2 on 1 where Wideman took away the pass while he went towards the puck carrier so he couldn’t cut in front of the net. Isn’t that what you want in that situation?

    “The Paul Byron of games” did give me a chuckle he did pop into my mind after the third breakaway miss, well done.

  • Danomitee

    Alright Wideman haters pump the breaks. The goal last night came directly from a TJ Brodie turnover, not Wideman. It’s not his daily D-pairing it’s him, and possibly playing on the wrong side.

  • Arminius

    Was happy to hear on the broadcast yesterday the fact brought forward that Tkachuk HAS gotten Backlund and Frolik to play more physical, basically dragging them into the games. (Not that either will ever be A force) Nice to hear that as you’d never hear it here. I mean Backlund not leading the charge? Inconceivable!

    • flamesburn89

      Backhand actually has less hits per game this year than he did last year…(0.8 hits/game in 15-16, 0.6 hits/game in 16-17)

      So, yeah I don’t agree. Maybe they cycle more often now that they have a functional member on their line (?)

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Hey… don’t start spouting ya know… cold hard facts around here. People would much rather cling to a compelling narrative. It’s more romantic and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

        “Tkachuk is dragging Backlund into the muck this year”

        Or on the broadcast last night from Kelly Rudy “Frolik has been much more engaged than he was last year which has helped in him having a tremendous season” B.S. Frolik has always been engaged and was lucky with a high shooting % to start the year.

        Edit: I don’t disagree that Tkachuk has helped that line

  • Lucky 13

    Thanks Ari, for bringing up “the other Johnny “.

    I would like to be privy of locker room talk amongst our players, I’m sure if nothing else it could provide a theme for future blogs?

    Being that Johnny Hockey is sporting some fancy new Warrior gloves, I’m sure our boys have graduated from his usual nickname to other more worthy ones;

    Mitts, Mitty, Armour All, Johnny Warrior etc

    Then again it might be lost in translation, if the players were to use” Nice Mitts Johnny ” would Johnny “Johnson” take that as an insult?

    See how we could do this all day?

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I like Brodie, but the guy isnt having a great year. His (+/-) is telling. If you look at how he effects other players on the teams possession numbers it is fairly ugly. In fact, TSN did a breakdown of who drags down whos numbers the most around the entire league….Brodie made an appearance 3 times in the top 20, with 3 different players. This includes the most dubious drag with the number one spot in the league (Backlund with Brodie CF% 41.3, Backlund without Brodie CF% 59.2%).

    Source: http://www.tsn.ca/statistically-speaking-who-brings-down-possession-1.619409 (Nov 29)

    Brodie will come around, but this talk of Wideman being an anchor for him just isnt fair to Wideman. Wideman has more points (probably would have had that goal against anaheim as well…I watched the replay a half-dozen times and his shot was probably going in whether Stajan got his stick on it, or not). Wideman has better corsi numbers. Wideman also has a better (+/-). On the other hand, Johnson would have had his 4th shutout without Brodie’s defensive error.

    There seem to be certain players who people just wont criticize here, which I understand. However, if we want to get technical, then Brodie should be getting some more attention for his play then currently demonstrated.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Monahan scoring more stat-padding useless goals. Where the heck was Moneybags in the first few weeks of the season when the games meant actually meant something? Team was eliminated by Remembrance Day and now that Santa is on his way, Monanhan starts scoring. Real leadership material there.

    At Super Skills, me and my buddies, speaking for all real Flames’ fans, ripped him. At the fastest skater event, we taunted him by saying, “Hey, Moneyhan, it’s the fastest skater event, not the fattest skater. Pretty hard to skate swiftly with a cheque for millions in your hip pocket weighing you down.” “Give the money sign like that thug Evander Kane done.”

    When was the last time Monahan scored a meaningful goal in a meaningful game?

    • dontcryWOLF88

      Dude. Are you high or something? Monahan got the game winning goal against Dallas in the very last game. Thats was the last time he scored a “meaningful goal in a meaningful game.” Thats the game, you may remember, when the Flames crossed over the .500 mark for the first time this year.

      Obviously hes struggled this year, but hes hardly the only one. Things are coming around and the Flames are far from out of it at this point.