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?
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
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?
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?