Flames 3, Canucks 1 post-game embers: Back in the win column

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

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.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Ferland has struggled lately, but I thought he was playing well earlier on this season. He was pushing play north and was good defensively. Also, I’ll never get bored of watching him crush a guy along the boards nearly every game. I’d like early season Ferland back.

    Gulutzan almost always puts lines together with at least 1 big body, which in part explains Chaison in a top 6 role. Bennett needs help and putting a strong possession player on his wing seems like a good idea, so I’m a bit surprised Ferland/Bennett is not working (and at this point, it’s definitely not working).

    I’ve said it before, Tkatchuk shoud be be coupled with Bennett. Ferland played well on 3M last season, and I expect will fair well again. There are 2 problems with this, it pains me to split up 3M ( it’s been excellent), and putting Ferland Backlund/Frolic (making 3M rev1.0) will get him noticed by Las Vegas, and I’d rather they pick up Brouwer (dream) or Jokipakka.

    • T&A4Flames

      Maybe they should try putting Ferly and Versteeg on their proper wings with Bennett. I’ve never really liked how Ferly played on his off wing; he just couldn’t seem to get the timing.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Anther simple fix would be moving Ferland to LW and swapping Chaisson with Versteeg. Chaisson is more N/S than Versteeg and would be good on the rush with Bennett. Versteeg would add skilled passing (and finish) down low or the half boards, as seen on the PP.

  • MontanaMan

    A further testament that this is a young man’s league, the Sedin’s were invisible in both games and didn’t really impact the play to any degree. A note to Tre: this league is transitioning very quickly and older (slower) players are being left behind. Signing veterans to long term deals may be a thing of the past. Will be interesting to see how San Jose handles big Joe and others this off season.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Yup, the Brouwer signing really hasn’t been great to this point and will only get worse, with peach passing year. I can’t imagine Trelliving leaving him unprotected for the expansion draft, but it would be the right move.

      • MontanaMan

        Agree. And the Gio signing may look the same in two years. So what do contracts (if any) look like for Elliott or Versteeg, both veterans? Hopefully lesson learned.

        • Scary Gary

          I think people forget Gio was a back to back Norris candidate, a fantastic leader and our best defenceman that took less salary for term.

          There’s no rush to sign anyone right now.

          • MontanaMan

            Agree on Gio’s past and I supported his signing but does anyone think he’s had a good year and how many of us are concerned about his next few years? I love his leadership and heart but he hasn’t looked good this year – how much of that is due to slowing down in a quicker game? Look at the players in their mid thirties that can’t get a contract. That trend wouldn’t be the case even three years ago so the game is changing quickly to a higher tempo, younger player, It’s a reality. My point is a GM needs to be careful when signing a 33 year old to a 5 year deal.

      • Baalzamon

        I can’t imagine Trelliving leaving him unprotected for the expansion draft

        Why not? Don’t you think if exposing Brouwer wasn’t an option he’d have a NMC on his contract? He doesn’t, which means it was discussed and Treliving deliberately rejected it.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          Let’s be clear, I’d like to see Brouwer left exposed. I just believe that politically it’s a bit tricky. Brouwer was Trellivings big splash into free agency last year, I expect he won’t want to look like he’s made a mistake, and by leaving Brouwer exposed it’s an admission of a failed experiment. Also, while we don’t know what was promised to Brouwer to commit long term, the prospect of playing in Vegas after 1 year was definitely not in the cards. Business may at times be a heartless endeavour, but you’d better honor your word, or your days are numbered. Again, I’d love it to happen, I just don’t think it will.

          • Baalzamon

            Again, there’s no NMC. Both parties are aware that exposure is a possibility. And they always were. If Brouwer wanted guaranteed protection against the expansion draft he would have negotiated a NMC. He didn’t.

  • Toofun

    Pretty negative comments so far after an important win last night…

    Some of my own quick thoughts:

    Don’t touch the 3m line. If the other lines or players need to be better then focus on them.

    I miss Brouwer more than you guys do. I’m not saying I love the signing or the price tag but I do want him in my lineup as we push to get in and through the playoffs.

    Bennett does need to be better. He seems a bit lost right now. When he tries to be a high impact skill player he finds he can’t beat an entire NHL team by himself and he gets forced into turnovers. When he tries to be a high impact energy player he takes penalties and hurts his team. The game is not easy for him this year, maybe for the first time in his career.

    I always like the shifts where Brodie gets stuck on the right side. He is better there.

    Kudos to Johnson last night.

  • Ole YELLEr

    Nice win, Johnson certainly earned the next start. Am I the only one who was a little surprised by how hard Monahan’s quick slapper was? I think he should start using that more often.

    I am not sure what should be done to get Bennett going. I still think he and Tkackuk could be really good together but breaking up the 3M line may not be the best idea right now. If Monahan and Gaudreau can start producing consistently again that may become more viable. For now though don’t the Flames still have Brouwer’s roster spot open? Maybe bring up an offensive player from the AHL and put them with Bennett. I’d like to see Poirier or Pribyl myself but both Klimchuk and Mangiapanne have better numbers so any 1 of those guys might be worth a try.

  • Lucky 13

    Watching Tkachuk never gets boring. One thing I’ve noticed about him as a rookie is that he doesn’t panic! Ever. He seems to know how long to hang on to the puck before dishing it away. If he doesn’t have a play he just hangs onto it till support is available. You just can’t teach that to a rookie (this early) you either have it or you don’t and it’s apparent he has it in excess.

    Hathaway was absolutely outstanding, he was a force out there and I’m of the opinion that he stays up with the club and never sits another game.
    Plus I love it when he smooches Johnsons mask after he wins.

    I am happy we haven’t created too much drama over our goalies. When one is hot we ride him. When that fades the other is there to carry us. I really don’t mind this scenario, as long as we win.
    Could it be a concern later? Maybe , will one will eventually take the reins for good? I guess the next 40 will tell.

    I made a comment about Chiasson yesterday and the lack of love he gets from our fans at times. Yesterday was a prime example of what he does for our team, not flashy but contributes (sick tip by him)

    Off to the winter wonderland for Mondays tilt (Winterpeg)
    Proud of our boys and looking forward to some meaningful hockey this week!

  • Deef

    Imagine what this team could do if all its players played up to expectation!!

    – Brodie dominating both ends of the ice on a second pairing.
    – Bennett putting up a 30 goal season at center.
    – Giordano potting a goal every other game.
    – Monahan and Gaudreau embarrassing the opposition.
    – Elliott with a sub 2.00 GAA and 5 more wins under his belt!

    Luckily for us, we have the 3M line surprising everyone, some decent special teams, and Johnson stabilizing the crease, or this team would be in the absolute toilet right now.

    On the flip side, if the others mentioned start pulling their weight? LOOK OUT NHL!

  • Derzie

    GG systems make Corsi Forwards stars and stifles offensive D and skill players. Relies on the goalie doing backflips. At this point I think I would rather lose with Hartley than be .500 with GG. Boring as hell and most players under-performing relative to their career numbers. I am extremely disappointed at the halfway mark. Not what I was hoping for. Nation is happy being Corsi central but I know of few winning teams where their Corsi guys are their best offensive performers (except maybe LA).

    And for those saying the players are underachieving for reason A or B. When the whole gaggle underachieve, it’s the coaching and linemates. GG & Chaisson are reasons 1 & 2 that the forwards underwhelm and GG & Wideman why the top D are pedestrian. Gio, Brodie, Dougie, Johnny, Monny, Bennett & Ferland have not all magically decided to play under their abilities at the same time. Any talk blaming them or their attitude is misguided.

    • Baalzamon

      GG systems make Corsi Forwards stars and stifles offensive D and skill players.

      Hamilton is on pace for a career year, and is posting some of the best underlying results in the entire league. But yeah, sure, he’s “playing under his abilities”. Also, Gaudreau is being stifled? Really? He’s the leading offensive producer on the team, and while his numbers are down from last year, it’s largely because he hasn’t played with anyone who’s been playing well.

      As for Ferland, his struggles are entirely recent. In the greater scheme of things he’s posting his usual play-driving results and is on pace for career-best offensive numbers (he also sort of defeats your claim that only the skilled players are struggling and only the “corsi players” are succeeding, because he’s always been a play driver. Also, in what universe is Backlund not a skill player? Or Tkachuk? At some point you have to admit that a good corsi player is just a good player).

      There is no pattern to the players who are struggling and the ones who aren’t. It’s not that the system somehow rewards players you don’t like and punishes the ones you do. Do you have any idea how absurd that sounds? (And just to reiterate: Gaudreau and Hamilton? Not struggling. At all.)

      BTW, if Giordano was playing as badly as you and MontanaMan claim, that would make Hamilton pretty much inarguably the best defenseman in the league considering the results they’ve been putting up together.

    • Lucky 13

      I didn’t find the last two games boring at all. Other adjectives sure, but boring, not so much.

      Run n gun is fun to watch, offence sparkles, defence pinch and players, goalies are worn out from lack of oxygen and cry out for a hyperbaric chamber. We tried that I believe and failed under Bob “You make a tsunami in da fish bowl” Hartley.

      What perhaps you’re most disappointed in is that structure has limitations.
      “Men trip over pebbles, not mountains ”

      The point really being that fixing little mistakes prevents mountainous mistakes later on. Our break out, puck support , special teams and defensive play were huge issues at the beginning of the season.

      Gully is doing his best in my opinion to address these and our last 15 or so games provide testimony to that.. we go from 29th to tops in PP and PK since December. That’s huge!
      Asking players to be defensively responsible is the reason we are seeing Corsi dominance by 3M line. Ask the Blue Jackets, success isn’t about being the best offensive team, it’s about defending and then taking advantage of the other teams lack thereof. They are +46 in score differential… best in the league and without superstars.
      We are still progressing, building our systematic approach to each time we go out against the opponent. We’re not there yet, but signs are that at least we are headed up the mountain, not down.

      I’m happy for that and if that’s boring, I can live with that.