Flames 6, Avalanche 3 post game embers: Well that was weird

This is the first picture that showed up on Getty. I am not trying to be excessively mean to Joe Colborne, but I had to because lol

Welcome back to hockey, we hope you had a merry Christmas.

Last night, the Flames grinded the gears of the Colorado Avalanche in a game where the enemy never really stood a chance besides bits of the first period (which, Rick Ball and Kelly Hrudey will remind you, is because they flew in that day).

It’s a good first step after the holiday break. 

Praise and a Pyrrhic victory: Mikael Backlund’s game last night

If you have read this site, you know that we like Mikael Backlund. You have probably even read that exact sentence a few times, usually at the beginning of anything related to Mikael Backlund. He’s pretty good, and we do not apologize for liking him. Through the years, you have probably read a few articles detailing said goodness (each word is an individual article, fyi).

There’s a lot we’ve said about Backlund, and it tends to get repetitive. Half of this section may accidentally be plagiarized from the articles linked above.

That is because Mikael Backlund is so damn good that the wonderful things he does are almost expected of him. He had two goals and an assist last night, matching his season high for points in a game (vs Winnipeg on Dec. 10, and the Canucks five days earlier) and placing him second on the team in scoring. As usual, he was extremely handy on the PK, where he nearly spent equally as much time (4.67 TOI) as he did at 5v5 (6.38). 

There was almost nothing he could do wrong. The Flames, so decisively better than the Avs at 5v5, were bailed out constantly by Backlund’s nearly perfect work on the PK. On his last shift of the game, casually killing a 5-on-3, Backlund helped break up what was probably Colorado’s most threatening moment of the game, blocking a puck and breaking up the cycle before heading off to the bench.

Here’s the dark side: that block was the reason that was Backlund’s last shift of the game.

Before we all panic, let’s remember that Glen Gultuzan said that he hoped it was just a knee bruise and he did not seem too concerned in the post-game presser about Backlund’s condition. We don’t have to read too deeply to get that information. Backlund is likely fine, and it’s very likely that they didn’t play him in the third period because they didn’t need to (he was on the bench to start but was pulled aside by trainers shortly thereafter).

We need to look at the worst case scenario though. If the Flames don’t have Backlund, there is no replacement. They are in major trouble. There isn’t a player like Mikael Backlund on this roster, and very few on any other roster, AHL or NHL.

That’s why even the very possibility of losing him for a week or two sends a shake down your spine. Backlund’s value and usefulness this season has been through the roof, and it’s absolutely undeniable that he is the team’s lifeblood this year. If, heaven forbid, Backlund misses a few games, Gaudreau will go on scoring and carrying half of this team as usual. But without Backlund, they’re going to lose their #1 centre and best PKer. That’s a disaster.

Life without Brouwer

Prior to last night’s game, the team announced that Troy Brouwer, injured against Vancouver, would require another evaluation and the results wouldn’t be announced until the next day. Usually, that’s a very bad sign and probably means he’s going to be out for a while.

Now, Brouwer is someone who is easier to replace than Backlund, so let’s start with him. Thanks to the Christmas roster freeze, the Flames couldn’t replace him with anyone. Instead, Micheal Ferland got bumped up with Monahan and Kris Versteeg. That line was alright in the 5v5 4.72 TOI they played together, but didn’t stay long together thanks to a problem we’ll get to soon-ish.

The 10-23-79 line means that Garnet Hathaway and Lance Bouma slotted in on the same line. Unless the problem is “we don’t have a good AHL team,” there is rarely a problem that can be solved by adding more Hathaway and Bouma. They’re both in the low 40s for CF% for the season (they were sub-50 CF% for the game against the Colorado Avalanche), and with their combined seven points in 36 games, it’s a recipe for disaster. Matt Stajan’s back can only stand so much.

The first answer is to put in Freddie Hamilton, someone who still exists and is at least a marginal improvement on the other two. Given that he hasn’t played since Dec. 2, that’s probably not going to happen, so the Flames are probably going to call a body up for the next game.

There’s plenty of good candidates for such a role. You could call up Hunter Shinkaruk or Linden Vey if you want someone with NHL experience. Maybe give Morgan Klimchuk or Andrew Mangiapane a shot at the big leagues. Perhaps give Emile Poirier one last chance? All of these guys have their own benefits. Shinkaruk, Poirier, and Mangiapane can be used as reliable goalscorers. Vey is a useful fourth line grinder and Klimchuk a useful 200 foot player.

Whatever the case, please do not play Hathaway and Bouma together, especially if it means a young prospect has to sit in the box. There’s very little they can offer the team besides supposed things like “energy” or whatever. Play someone who is actually a goalscoring threat, and not a seven minute wonder.

Reigniting a goaltender controversy

Over Chad Johnson’s last
three games, he has allowed four goals every time. In Brian Elliot’s
last five games (four starts), he has been lights out on every night but last, allowing two goals or fewer and having a SV% of .920 or more. If the Avalanche didn’t pull one back in garbage time, that trend would hold true through today.

There’s a few factors affecting this. Johnson was not going to be a >.940 SV% superstar every night, no goalie is. Elliott was not going to be a <.900SV% washout every night, no goalie with his history has been. But he has also been playing some soft competition recently, including the Islanders, the Coyotes, the Canucks (unrelated, but it’s very funny to me that the Canucks only have 14 wins and the coach they fired won 13 in a row), and yesterday’s opponents. On the other hand, Johnson got the Lightning, the Blue Jackets, and the Sharks.

Here’s what their 5v5 SV% is looking like from the start of the season to now:

And the 5v5 HDSV%:

Fancy stats more or less confirm what we’ve been seeing recently. Elliott is on the upswing, Johnson on the down. Who do you start against the Ducks?

Common hockey sense would dictate that you ride the hot hand. Elliott is bringing his performance back up to the level expected when he was acquired. He’s playing good, let him play. Yes, it was against weak competition, but perhaps some confidence was all he needed to get back to the Elliott acquired at the draft.

On the one hand, can you really trust Elliott? Outshone by his forwards, Elliott turned in another ho-hum performance last night against a team that has scored the least goals in the entire NHL. Worst case scenario, he’s creeping back towards those old trends that kept him out of the starter’s net for a long time.

On the other hand Johnson has had an expected rough stretch, but he’s almost always been a ~.920SV% goalie throughout his career and through this year. Do you hand him the net and trust him to put in his usual performance?

The fact that I couldn’t really make an argument for Johnson tells me my choice. The net is yours, Brian.

A recounting of the all-time Flames weird goals

Let’s end this on a good note:

The most curious part of this game was the fact that, despite the Flames scoring six goals, four of them took incredibly non-standard paths to the net:

  • Goal number one: Backlund (behind the red line) pass attempt to Tkachuk -> Rantanen’s skate -> net
  • Goal number two: Engelland shot -> Bennett’s stick -> Beauchemin’s skate -> net
  • Goal number three: Gaudreau shot -> the backboards -> Pickard’s shoulder blade -> net
  • Goal number four: Frolik shot -> Pickard save -> NOBODY -> Backlund -> net

I would really like to emphasize the “NOBODY” on that final goal. Check out the aerial view here (a few seconds into this gif)

There were four Avalanche players there and nobody did anything, allowing Backlund to step in there and just tap it past a sprawing Pickard (who put in an amazing performance even with six goals against). That is very bad/good.

Back to the topic at hand: I got thinking about the all-time weird Flames goals, because a lot of weird goals happened in this game.

Here’s Dennis Wideman and the magic puck going in and out of the net on Jonathan Quick:

Here’s Johnny victimizing the same team for his first ever hat trick (video is already cued up, but if it doesn’t, it’s 1:25 in):

And here’s T.J. Brodie doing some nonsense against the Bruins in the same season (Ari believes that it’s no coincidence that all these goals happened in the 2014-15 season, as it made absolutely no sense):

And here’s a fun one from former captain and Forever-a-Flame Steve Smith:

I have nothing to say about these weird goals other than it took me a few minutes and a bit of help from my comrades to think of four odd goals in the 36 year history of this team. Four really weird ones happened in this game alone.

  • freethe flames

    Weird goals happen all the time in the NHL but seldom that many weird goals by one team.

    If Backs is out for any amount of time is the best candidate Janko? Or is it better to leave him in the AHL?

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    Backs is huge. But if he’s gone for a while the sky not be falling Chicken Christian Little. This team is deeper than that. Somebody will step up and take advantage of the opportunity. If thay can’t happen for some reason then we deserve the fate that awaits us.

    And for some weird reason this team is 14 – 3 with Hath man in the lineup so let’s not be too eager to send him to the press box. And with the Ducks coming to town I want his toughness on the bench.

    Here’s to a speedy recovery for Backs.

    GFG

  • Arminius

    Backlund misses large chunkselection of seasons as often if it more than he plays complete seasons. I don’t recall a single time that it devastated the team or put them into “major trouble”
    I enjoy your articles but seriously on the Backlund gushing . Sure it’s great he’s scored 20% of his years point take in the last 2 games and all and he is playing well, but Gio went out, Johnny’s been out. The team would hold up

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      At this point in the season, Backland is the most crucial to the team. The team proved it could survive without Johnny and Gio but Backland is multi dimensional. There is no current Center on the team that can play these quality of minutes at this level.

      • Arminius

        I guess I just don’t buy the whole ” the Flames are the only team in the league dependant on their 3rd line center man for any sort of success”
        “The 3rd line center who carried a franchise”..give me a damn break. There’s a reason he’s not paid as if he was a franchise player. Sorry to break it to you. And the second he wants to be? He gone

        • flamesburn89

          Backlund’s not a franchise player, but he’s critical to the success of the team. Kent Wilson has drawn comparisons to Frans Neilsen for years. Considering that the NYI have fallen off a cliff this year without Nielsen certainly points to the importance of players of their ilk.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          If you were just to look at the points he generates then you would be right….but he is far more valuable than just the points. If he was a better finisher he would be an elite player. I really hope Janko has the same upside.

        • OKG

          Do yourself a favor and compare Backlund’s QoC, 5v5 P60, Corsi.Rel, PPG, TOI etc to Toews, Kopitar, and Bergeron who are all being “outperformed” on traditional paper by Anisimov, Carter, and Krejci. On paper that is.

          Shutdown roles and two-way play nearly always result in reduced point production. None of these players is anything less than a top six forward. Kopitar had his best seasons when he had a Backlund (Mike Richards) to take the matchups.

          Is Backlund a #1C? No and I am not calling him that. But his role at even strength allows Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett to have success that they will not have for years if forced to play his role. He is by every modern definition a damn good Shutdown #2C. If you are a team blessed enough to call a player of Backlund’s calibre “Your 3C” you are not only a contender but probably a cup front runner. Backlund is not “our 3C”. He is “Our 1C” but “A Natural 2C”. When we can call Backlund “Our 2C” in actuality we will be taking that to the bank.

  • Ole YELLEr

    If someone has to be called up for Brouwer I hope it’s Poirier. Vey and Shinkaruk already got a shot this season and didn’t do much. It seems a little wonky to describe it as one last chance for Poirier when he only played 2 nhl games last year and 8 in his career.

    If Backlund is injured I’d like to see Janko called up, but I’m guessing it’d be Vey and he and Hamilton will fight over 4C. However if they do call up Janko they better play him this time.

    I think it should be Elliott’s net for now he has 3 wins and an OTL in the last 4 starts.

    • freethe flames

      I agree but allow Poirier to play RW on an offensive line don’t bury him on the 4th line. When Shinkaruk has been up he was given a chance to play on the top two lines.

  • dankeykang

    Come on, this Backlund praise is getting out of hand. He’s a great two-way #2/3 C who is good on both the PP and PK. I realize that these types of players aren’t common and that you win with these guys. I agree they are deserving of more praise than they usually receive. But the writers on this site talk about him like he’s a top 10 NHL center; you’d think he’s Joe Nieuwendyk in his prime after reading this article. Let’s get real, if he was really that good he’d be a yearly fixture on both our top line and in the top 20 NHL scoring leaders. Love the guy but let’s keep it in perspective here. Trash away.

      • dankeykang

        Only reason? They have been good all season, but when the rest of the team was lousy they were still last in the league. It took the other lines picking up the pace and Johnson getting hot for the Flames to get back into the picture.

    • Derzie

      What kind of player does a fan like the most? To be fair, Corsi worship puts Patrice Bergeron as a best player in the league so that needs to be kept in mind when praise is lavished on Backlund

      Goaltender (e.g. Price, Elliott)

      Defensive D (Corsi)(e.g. Doughty, Brodie)

      Offensive D (Points)(e.g. Karlsson, Dougie)

      Defensive Fwd (Corsi)(e.g. Bergeron, Backlund)

      Offensive Fwd (Points)(e.g. Ovechkin, Johnny)

      All Around Star (Points & Corsi)(e.g. Crosby, ???)

  • piscera.infada

    unrelated, but it’s very funny to me that the Canucks only have 14 wins and the coach they fired won 13 in a row

    In absolute fairness, because I too find it funny, but that seems like cherry-picking a bit. I mean, Tortorella was rightfully fired in Vancouver. Dude was a head-case, and a total flaming trash-bag in that one year. I’m also not sure he’s a good coach despite the wins this season.

    • Danomitee

      Torts can only coach teams that are capable of playing his style, which is fast and using the body. Everyone knew before the season started that Vancouver would have a really tough time grinding and using the body, Columbus is able to play his style.

      • piscera.infada

        I guess?

        I mean, I’m not sure how much of Columbus’s turn-around is attributable to Tortorella. It seems that it’s just a pretty damn good team. Remember, the past two seasons were supposed to see the Blue Jackets take enormous strides forward. They had horrible injury luck in those years–we’re talking considerable man-games lost to their most important players.

        Now, I don’t dispute that Tortorella has had success in the past, and he clearly has a “style”. I’ll also agree that Columbus probably matches that better than Vancouver did. Vancouver is a very poorly run franchise–and has been for a number of years. On the flip-side of that though, you would assume the World Cup team he helped select would have been able to play his “style”, and that failed miserably.

        Simply put though, Tortorella was a very problematic hire. He did things during his time with the Canucks that no professional in any industry should do. As you elude to above, he also seemingly failed to adapt stylistically to an evolving league, and a different set of players with different strengths. He did much of the same towards the end of his tenure in New York. So, I’m not sure we can make a definitive claim that he won’t find himself in that situation with Columbus.

  • snotss

    hey a win is a win…doesn’t have to be pretty!!!!! win the ones you should and compete against the top teams…..hopefully it leads to a playoff start at years end

  • Baalzamon

    This may sound (read?) odd coming from me, but a Backlund injury (assuming it’s short) may not be as devastating as we fear with the way Stajan’s been playing this season.

    To that point, if Backlund is going to miss time, I’d roll with the following:

    1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Versteeg
    2. Tkachuk – Bennett – Frolik
    3. Ferland – Stajan – Chiasson
    4. Bouma – Hamilton – Hathaway

    That fourth line is a bit worrisome, and the third line won’t score much (like, at all), but it’s not as bad as we might think. Might benefit from a Jankowski callup though.

    If this is what ends up happening, it might be what gets Bennett his swagger back. He and Tkachuk have a 57% CF together this year, and he and Frolik (in a very, very small sample) have 60% together.

    • Craig

      These lines are similar to how the third period shook out yesterday except with Stajan playing with Gaudreau and Chiasson a bit.

      Either way I agree with these lines, put Bennett in that spot and see if he shines.

    • Ole YELLEr

      I think your top two lines are bang on. I’d like to see

      3. Ferland Jankowski Poirier

      4. Buoma Stajan Chiasson

      I know it won’t happen but I think that 3rd line could be ok in sheltered minutes.