Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
If you’re going to do anything, you have to be able to beat the bad teams.
Some might consider the Flames a bad team. That would be a bit silly – they’re not fantastic, but they are eighth in points percentage in the Western Conference, otherwise known as “looking pretty comfortable in a legitimate playoff spot,” and bad teams generally aren’t in such a position.
Of course, it’s beating those truly bad teams that has helped get the Flames there. “Winners of 11 of their last 15” – their last 15 being all the games they’ve played since their lengthy eastern road trip – is all well and good; eight of those 11 wins have come against teams below them in points percentage. (The three that didn’t? The Leafs, the Wild, and the Ducks that one game.)
The Flames are currently in the midst of a favourable schedule stretch for them. And that’ll continue; of the 12 games they have left to play in January, six of their opponents are below them in points percentage, and the other six are probably beatable, too.
These are the games they have to win. It’s good that they are.
The Flames are back on a small winning streak, having won their past two games. Since the Christmas break they’ve been 3-1. They have a lighter schedule stretch at the moment, and with a home-and-away coming up against the Canucks next, well…
I know the Canucks are on their own winning streak right now, too; they’ve won their past four games. Two were against the Avalanche and Coyotes, which are notably awful teams; two were against the Ducks and the Oilers, which are a little better than that.
On the player personnel side, Mikael Backlund is currently in the midst of a five-game point streak, during which time he has scored nine points. His latest was the 200th point of his career, which doesn’t sound like a ton – until you realize he’s only ever actually played 420 NHL games, so he’s pretty much a half-a-point-per-game player. (Then you try to remember how many of those 420 games he was treated like a fourth liner for no apparent reason; then you stop because you start feeling sad.) Backlund isn’t going to roll like this forever, but he is on pace for what would be his first 50+ point season, and that’s neat.
He’s also second on the Flames in scoring, one point back of Johnny Gaudreau (who has played two fewer games). Matthew Tkachuk stands alone in third with 23 points in 36 games.
Speaking of Tkachuk, he’s on a seven-game point streak, over which time he has scored eight points. We should also note that with this being the 40th game of the season, Tkachuk is officially locked in to enter unrestricted free agency a year early – not that that was a question at this point. But it is official now.
Kris Versteeg, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie are on mini-point streaks of two games now, too, for what it’s worth.
Three powerplay goals, and all rejoiced
The Flames had a powerplay success rate of 43% last night, which is entertaining.
Their powerplay is now clicking along at 20.7%, which is 10th in the NHL. That’s good under normal circumstances, let alone how disastrous it was to start the season. The fact that they’ve travelled up this far is nothing short of miraculous.
Aside from the whole Alex Chiasson thing, the personnel on the man advantage is all highly logical and clicking. Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Brodie, and Versteeg all played over five minutes each; Giordano, Chiasson, and Tkachuk clocked in at over four; and Dougie Hamilton, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik at about three and a half each. When Troy Brouwer comes back, you know Chiasson is off; that’s a pretty good group of 10 players, though.
That’ll actually be 10 of the top 11 players on the Flames in scoring, Brodie being the 11th, with Sam Bennett the only one missing out. Put your top scorers in a position to score, and they probably will.
Back in late November, I went through the Flames’ games and figured that if they had even average special teams, they could maybe be at the top of their division. That’s probably getting a little out of reach now, but lo and behold: things start clicking (for the time being), and the Flames are comfortably in a playoff spot (for the time being).
(The penalty kill, by the way? It’s at 81.6%, or 16th in the NHL. You know, about average.)
So is T.J. Brodie back now?
Brodie isn’t much of a shooter, but he can still put up points. Now with 16 in 40 games, he’s on pace for 33. That’d be the second highest total in his career. He’s probably capable of more, but considering how offensively anemic he was to start the season that’s a fantastic turnaround.
And that assist on Chiasson’s goal was fantastic.
TJ Brodie: threading the needle, y’all
Chiasson cleans up in front pic.twitter.com/Uhilr27q96
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) January 5, 2017
The quality of opponent wasn’t exceptionally high – when only two players on your entire team are negative corsi guys, that says a lot about how well you played, or how poorly your opponent did – but Brodie has been slumping pretty bad throughout the year. Has it been the side he’s playing on? Has it been having to play with Dennis Wideman? Have we just been overrating him all this time?
Whatever the answer has been, he’s starting to look a lot more like the top pairing Brodie we’ve gotten used to the past couple of seasons. And maybe it really is the quality of opponents as of late, and that’s helping the entire team and Brodie is one of several benefiting from it – but more likely, I’m going with the Flames have three really good defencemen, and when they can get a fourth, they’ll probably really be guys to reckon with.
When is Brian Elliott going to get a shutout
That said, Brodie did kind of lose Patrick Wiercioch when he spoiled Brian Elliott’s shutout.
Elliott didn’t have a ton of work to do this game, but he at least deserved his first shutout of the season. Then again, this isn’t the first time this has happened to him; way back in October the Flames went up 4-0 on the Blues and still ended up winning only 4-1.
And this isn’t the first time the Flames have gone way up on an opponent only to let them score garbage goals in the dying minutes for no apparent reason; we just talked about this last time.
The Flames have a -3 goal differential right now, which is significantly better from where they were even just a month ago. They’re so close to getting back in the green. But if they’d stayed focused over the course of their blowouts this past month, they’d be at about +5 or so.
That’s the difference from being fifth in goal differential in the Pacific Division and third. And while this may be something a little overly specific to harp on, goal differential is cumulative throughout the entire season, and the teams with good ones tend to be in the playoffs.
Lots of emotion in this one
Well, not so much from the Avalanche. Being on that team must be so depressing right now. Yeah, you get to play hockey for a living; having a -52 goal differential and knowing your season is already over? Being on pace for 54 points this season?? I would… not want to be there.
Nah, the emotion was more from the nostalgic Flames fan side. And I’m not much of a proponent of fighting, but like, I was at that Stanley Cup Final game where Jarome Iginla fought Vincent Lecavalier. That’s the kind of fighting that’s awesome.
Iginla vs. Giordano wouldn’t have been close to that level, but it was just… so surreal seeing them almost go at it. And kind of distressing, like your two dads getting into an argument. But I guess that’s one of the beautiful things about hockey: it opens up the possibilities for that level of emotion to spill out, intended or not.
That said, I’m happy they didn’t fight. I choose to remember the good times instead, like when Iginla literally bled for Giordano.