The Calgary Flames didn’t dominate the rematch as much as they did the first of the back-to-back. This is a tad disappointing, especially considering how their opponent has overall been having a worse season, and the fact that they were down to just five defencemen (and didn’t even bother to play their 13th forward).
On the other hand, I wonder what went into the preparations for this game, on both sides. I’d imagine the Canucks got quite a talking to and looked to quickly bounce back (and boy, did they ever dominate the second frame); the Flames, I have no idea. They needed to score more – and they did, jumping out to a first period two-goal lead (with the second goal actually counting this time) – but they also fell asleep at the wheel for some stretches that lasted a little too long for comfort.
Good thing Chad Johnson was there.
The goaltending saga continues
I’m not sure how much of a saga this is; really, goaltending for the Flames has been bizarre this year.
Brian Elliott, with consistently awesome numbers the past several seasons, has mostly floundered. He’s put in stretches of excellent performances – some in which he has near-singlehandedly won the game – but his numbers have taken a real beating, none worse than giving up four goals on 13 shots (which is the kind of stat you’d expect to see from a goaltender pulled in the first period, not over the course of an entire 60 minutes).
Johnson, probably the best backup available on last year’s UFA market, has only just started looking like he can handle bigger workloads, and handle them well. He’s faltered, too, particularly as of late when Elliott has come in; on the other hand, he has three shutouts on the season and has put together an overall much better performance.
So… who’s the guy?
Right now, it looks like Johnson. This is the great thing about having both goalies, though: when one struggles, the other one is ready to step in and help the Flames be better the next game. They haven’t really struggled at the same time. Elliott has started 19 games; Johnson, 23.
Johnson has had the upper hand this season – and with a .966 save percentage against the Canucks, including a ton of high-danger “how did that not go in” chances, it was easy to see why he’s taken the edge in starts.
He had an incredible night on a night many of his skaters did not.
Matthew Tkachuk’s point streak lives on
Just under two minutes to go, and Matthew Tkachuk sprung Michael Frolik for a breakaway that would allow the Flames to rest easy, victory not guaranteed but mostly assured with a two-goal lead reestablished.
With that, he scored in his ninth consecutive game, the longest such streak for a rookie this season. He kicked off this streak with two assists all the way back on Dec. 19; now he has 10 points in nine games. He’s third in Flames scoring; back when he was a rookie, Johnny Gaudreau finished second in team scoring. Does Tkachuk – still on pace for 51 points – at least match him in the team category?
Tkachuk is seventh in averaged Flames forward ice time. He was sixth against the Canucks. So I guess at this point, all that I’m left wondering in regards to him is if he starts getting increased minutes as this season goes on, or if that starts to really come in next season. We’re just over halfway through this one, but I’m already wondering how Tkachuk is going to top out – because there really isn’t much left to wonder with him.
First line best line
Backlund line tonight: 0% zone start, 60% possession, matched against Sedins.
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) January 8, 2017
It’s the 3M line’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
They also saw Markus Granlund’s line a whole lot, too. The difference there was they were like, 75-90% against him, and a bit closer to 50% against the Sedins.
But those stats are bonkers. To be thrown so badly to the wolves, and to still come out on top – not just in shot differential, but with a goal to show for it in the end, too – is just plain elite. With each passing game, there continues to be evidence mounted that this is one of the best lines in the entire NHL.
And we’ve known Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik have had this in them for a while; the extra dimension that Tkachuk – a rookie – adds is unbelievable, though. This line is almost singlehandedly carrying the Flames, and has been for the entire season. We’re halfway through the year and it has refused to slow down.
Remember the first couple of games of the season, when everyone was still figuring things out, and Glen Gulutzan wasn’t using Backlund in a shutdown capacity? My, how things have changed – and it’s been pretty fantastic since then.
Backlund and Frolik had the most ice time out of all of the Calgary forwards. That should probably continue to be a theme going forward. The Flames are nothing without this line. It does absolutely everything imaginable for the team – and I don’t know how anyone could argue it’s not the first line.
Poor Sam Bennett
He is absolutely stalling out there.
In theory, it should be a good line. He isn’t getting the treatment Backlund did as a rookie, in which he had to centre Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman; no, he’s got Kris Versteeg and Micheal Ferland (albeit both playing their opposite sides, for some reason). Versteeg is one of the Flames’ best scoring wingers. Ferland is functional truculence personified.
None of them are doing much of anything, and they were the absolute worst corsi players on the Flames, even with sheltered zone starts (especially Bennett, whose 71.43% was the most sheltered of them all).
It’s rough to watch – and that’s when you notice them, because otherwise, they’re invisible. No line the Flames can put out compares to the 3M line nowadays, but they really shouldn’t be this bad.
The good news? At least it shouldn’t be costly in the long run. Bennett is only 20 years old; not that many 20-year-olds play in the NHL to begin with. The entire line is due for new contracts each; Bennett and Ferland in particular – they’re young – should have value to provide this team down the line, but hopefully it’s still sooner rather than later.
So it’s not time to panic, but maybe it is time to be concerned. There are still 40 games left this season. Half a year to turn it around in hopes of getting to play a few more extra games. That’s lots of time to work with Bennett in particular. In the meantime, at least he’s still top 10 in team scoring. It’s a small consolation, though.
And in a week…
The Flames’ next games are against the Winnipeg Jets (winnable), the San Jose Sharks (likely to be much more of a challenge), the New Jersey Devils (they are, how you say, bad), and then finally, the Edmonton Oilers.
The Flames haven’t played the Oilers since their respective home openers and they won’t play them again after two weeks’ time. How odd. But that’s what I’m looking forward to: both teams will probably still be in playoff spots this time next week, but the Flames have looked significantly better after half of a season under their new coach.
That’s the litmus test I’m looking at. How much better have you gotten in the 40 games since you last played these guys? Let’s find out.