You know those mornings when you miss your alarm, you somehow show up to work with toothpaste still in your beard/hair, you forget deodorant, you forget your really good lunch you made the night before, and despite all of that you manage to leave the house EARLY but still show up five minutes late? Then when you finally start working you realize you’ve forgotten how to do your job so you coast through the workday, performing well below average while disappointing everyone around you.
That was the Calgary Flames last night with one of the more uninspiring games of the season. Hopefully it’s behind them soon because this season isn’t going to get any easier.
This GIF sums up the full 60 minutes
When October ended fans were optimistic that the rough start rampant with lackluster results, games that seemingly lacked effort, and contained errors so blatant that it seemed like it was a scripted sequence of events, would be behind us. It’s impossible to believe that every game out of a full 82-game season would be flawless – hell it’s irrational to believe so – but you have to hope that a team that we’ve seen in recent weeks would be past this sort of showing.
Outside of the fourth line the Flames floundered on the ice. If it wasn’t a failed zone entry for, it was a pass to nowhere. If it wasn’t a turnover in the neutral zone, it was an egregious turnover in their own end leading to a Blake Wheeler goal. Everything seemed to be an unmitigated disaster on ice and now the Flames look ahead to Wednesday night’s game at the Saddledome versus the San Jose Sharks.
Beyond the noted stories of inconsistency from Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett at centre, there’s still a massive hole on the blueline in the second pairing that beyond a recent stretch of games has created a huge parity issue. Do you break up the Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton pairing in hopes of creating a T.J. Brodie – Hamilton pairing and hoping that Giordano can carry what’s left of Dennis Wideman?
Brodie and Hamilton have only played 41.26 together at 5v5 this season sporting a 55.74% CF so there’s a potential opportunity to explore what was briefly teased early on last season. Giordano and Wideman are a bit more acquainted with each other this season resulting in a 51.41% CF over 133.01 5v5 minutes together.
This might actually put the Flames forward group in a better state of affairs, having two capable pairings that can move the puck. Brodie’s results with Wideman (49.01% CF over 388.06) may have improved in the last stretch, but struggled mightily over the total of this season. If either pairing starts to falter versus the Sharks it might be worth exploring during the game to see if the parity issue can be band-aided for a bit.
Matthew Tkachuk’s streak is over but not forgotten
Last night may have been one of the rougher games for Tkachuk. Sporting a sub-optimal 41.38% CF, (-15.76 CF% Rel) along with his linemates Mikael Backlund (43.33% CF, -12.76 CF% Rel) and Michael Frolik (46.43% CF, -7.06 CF% Rel) the trio were on-ice for two goals against at 5v5. Uncharacteristic would be the word used to describe the trio’s performance overall, but they’re still the team’s best line, and one of the best lines in hockey still.
When it came to the beginning of the season no one really thought Tkachuk could stick with the Flames for more than a nine game sample at best. However, like we’ve seen over the course of the season – even with his brief injury – Tkachuk has found a way to make his presence felt even if the team loses. Even in an uncharacteristic showing he does provide little glimpses of what he can become a few years down the road when he hits his prime:
Starting to see more and more of this where Tkachuk pressures the puck carrier into a turnover by either Frolik or Backlund. It’s neat. pic.twitter.com/Ge60d0KMqg
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) January 10, 2017
In this clip early on in the game the 3M line does what they normally do: work their way into the offensive zone and create chances. The forecheck game that they possess – and in particular Tkachuk’s forecheck – is an exciting weapon at their disposal.
It’s not flashy by any means: it’s just smart hockey. All three of these forwards read the play well in creating these sorts of situations and if it continues he’ll be rewarded more often than not. With a goal and nine assists over his nine-game point streak we saw another side of Tkachuk’s game: a playmaking side that compliments his prowess for going to the net.
In a rookie class where he’s among the lesser names talked about because of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, Zach Werenski, and more he’s still making a name for himself. It’s incredibly early on to say his future will be paved with success, but if he keeps playing the way we’ve seen so far then there’s no telling what memories he’ll create for fans.
Let’s talk about Matt Stajan
Let’s close on someone who has been really above all preseason predictions and produced admirably in a limited role: the fabled remaining piece of the Dion Phaneuf trade, Matt Stajan. From a personal perspective, I had written him off as a sunk cost, on a contract that seemingly made no sense at the time, and obviously read as “things are going to be rough for awhile so here’s something for your years of service“.
His results, as mentioned in previous pieces on the penalty kill, aren’t ideal still, but he’s been fairly solid at 5v5 this season: an obvious area the Flames needed to improve at, and it’s really remarkable. Not having to play with Brandon Bollig helps a lot, but he’s also had Micheal Ferland a lot of the season which helps, too.
Through 43 games played this season, Stajan has a 51.85% CF at 5v5, his best so far since 2011-12 (50.12% through 61 games). He’s seen his usage adjusted to factor in more on-the-fly shifts over actual starts and his minutes adjusted to compensate for the aging curve, too. With those aforementioned factors it feels like Stajan has come alive again, which is nice to see for someone who has been through a lot off the ice and been through some tumultuous years in Calgary.
If Vegas claims him I’ll be honest: I’ll be a little distraught. From a business standpoint it’s fine to see his contract disappear. In reality though, he’s just become representative at times with the Flames for me when I think of the team. When you look over the last decade so many names standout and he became synonymous to me beyond the marquee names you went to see.
Even though he never became the centre they had hoped he would be: a number one guy for Jarome Iginla. But he became something else: a depth centre who carried a heavy load and did what was asked of him, even if the minutes and quality of linemates were scarce.
If he’s claimed by Vegas it’s going to be different and hard to swallow because I think over the last few months I’ve finally reconciled – as a fan – just how much I appreciate Matt Stajan. To echo what Ari said about Iginla: this sentimentally is stupid, and it is overwhelming. Not because Stajan is on the same level as Iginla to me, but because he’s been Matt Franchise to me: a guy who created some memorable moments along the way.