It doesn’t matter how pretty a win is, all that matters is that it’s a win.
Well, kind of. At this stage of the game, the Flames need to get wins any way they can. As long as those two points get added to their record, they should be good to go – at least for that one.
But that wasn’t exactly a win that inspired confidence. Calgary showed up in the second period, but for the most part, they got ragdolled on the ice. They won because the Coyotes are literally the NHL’s worst team, Chad Johnson held down the fort when he wasn’t being tied up by his own teammates, and the powerplay didn’t lose things for them as it has in the past.
Going by the standings, the Flames are now tied for first in the Pacific Division. Going by points percentage, they are still just on the outside looking in. They’ve played themselves back into the conversation, but they aren’t there yet.
How much longer can they keep this up?
A five-game winning streak has brought the Flames back into things, but the road trip really did start the turnaround. Maybe even after the Sabres game, if you want to get really specific; since the penalty kill cost them that game it is now actually performing (up to 78.9%, four teams have worse kills). The powerplay has slowly but surely started to follow along; it is now scoring at a 14.0% clip, which is better than three teams (including the Kings, who are one of the teams in the way of the Flames officially being in a playoff position).
But fact is, the Flames aren’t going to win every game from here on out. They might even lose multiple games in a row. Limiting that is going to be absolutely key. Say they lose the next two, they’ll at least stay at .500, but that’s not really an admirable goal when there are just four teams below that mark.
The bigger the cushion they build, the more likely we don’t write this season off.
So, what does the schedule look like coming up? There’s the Winnipeg Jets – one of those below .500 teams – up on Saturday, and that’s a game this team should have. Then they have three days off, which they haven’t had since early November, followed by their first meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning have a record really similar to the Flames, so that’s a game that could maybe go either way; the Jackets are still rocking an insane points percentage, but hey, they beat them once…
The Flames will then close out the year with six Western Conference opponents, five of whom are in the Pacific. Those games are going to be the crucial ones to watch out for. Hopefully they can stay above .500 for when they meet up.
Because that win against the Coyotes didn’t exactly do too much to inspire confidence. Mike Smith played out of his mind, yes; on the other hand, the Flames didn’t do a ton to challenge him, particularly in the first half of the game.
Though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two Flames particularly stood out when it came to going after Smith: Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton.
Tkachuk was generating scoring chances left and right and finished with a recorded five shots on net. Hamilton had six. Nobody else had more than three.
On that note, though, it’s probably not a coincidence that Tkachuk was the Flames’ best corsi player, followed up by his linemates and then Hamilton. Tkachuk has now gone six games without a goal, which is unfortunate; however, the fact that he’s still playing the way he is is extremely encouraging. It’s been noted that sometimes if Sean Monahan isn’t scoring, you’re left wondering what he actually is doing (particularly during his bad start to the season); Tkachuk doesn’t have that problem. He just keeps driving play, no matter what, and he continues to get his chances.
The 40-game mark is coming up, which determines whether Tkachuk will hit his first UFA year sooner rather than later; if there had been any lingering doubt for whatever reason, it’s gone now. He’s not scoring at a particularly high clip, but he is on pace for 37 points, which is a little better than where Monahan and Sam Bennett ended up in their rookie years.
As for Hamilton, what’s left to say? He’s still getting a bit shafted in the ice time department, but that sixth shot of his was the overtime winner, after watching him split the Coyotes and deke out a seemingly unbeatable Smith. He’s leading Flames defencemen in scoring by three points. Even though they aren’t being activated as frequently as Bob Hartley had them, he’s still probably going to hit at least 40.
But sure, apparently he’s not that great, thanks for your input Toronto media. You got any more of them hit pieces?
The Flames’ leading scorer
Johnny Gaudreau has played 10 fewer games than most everyone else.
Gaudreau, with 17 points in 20 games, is the Flames’ sole scoring leader. He has two points in each of his three games back. That’s probably not going to last, but it’s great while it is, especially when the last two victories have been of the 2-1 variety.
The Flames played in three overtimes while Gaudreau was out. They won one, lost one, and took the other one to a shootout (which they then won). I’m willing to bet if Gaudreau had been healthy all along, the Flames would have won all of those games in overtime; he’s a real life video game when there’s that much open ice, and he displayed that again last night (right from the first play, even; he wanted that game over).
Remember when he sucked and wasn’t worthy of his contract and him holding out was the worst thing ever and the mark of a greedy player who had overvalued himself? Haha those days sure were silly. The way he’s going, he could still hit 80 points this season, even after those missed games. There’s a reason we were thinking he’d become the Flame with the highest cap hit, rather than just tied for it. This is why.
If you go by ice times, the first line is really unclear.
I’m taking out special teams ice time for this. There were quite a few powerplays and penalty kills throughout the game; let’s remove those and see just who was trusted with the most minutes during standard, even strength play. I’m excluding overtime for this, too.
Tkachuk led all forwards in 5v5 ice time with 14:37 played, but Gaudreau was right behind him with 14:15. (Left wing, eh? And Micheal Ferland still deserves more minutes.) Alex Chiasson (13:28) and Michael Frolik (12:52), their right wingers, follow up behind them, while Mikael Backlund (12:51), Bennett (12:37), and Monahan (12:21) are all grouped pretty close together after that.
Technically, that makes Monahan the third line centre, and Backlund the first, but it’s really close. Monahan and Bennett are expected to score more than Backlund, and that’s only just really started to happen. In the meantime, this is what being able to roll lines looks like, though the Flames are presently 20th in goals per game.
I have but one suggestion for this group: when Kris Versteeg gets back, bump Chiasson out and keep Ferland in the top nine.
Gaudreau – Bennett – Versteeg
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Ferland – Monahan – Brouwer
And then Matt Stajan and two friends. That… really doesn’t look so bad, does it?
One thing I get pretty serious about is goal differential. Having a negative one is like a mark of shame; even if the Flames don’t make the playoffs, I want them to at least have a positive goal differential.
They are very, very slowly making their way towards that. Earlier in the season, they had the worst in the NHL, partially thanks to multiple blowouts against them. They finally had a blowout of their own against the Ducks, though it could have gone better; that said, they’re at -9 now.
Single digits. Still not great, but not -20. In their division, only the Vancouver Canucks (-14) and Arizona Coyotes (-24) are worse; in their conference, throw in the Dallas Stars (-17) and Colorado Avalanche (-19), plus they’re tied with the Jets.
If they keep winning, they should get back in the green at some point. They’ve gotta limit the losing, though. And some more multi-goal wins would be nice while they’re at it; they’ve only had five of those in 30 games played.