Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
Even if the Flames had lost, that would have been a pleasing game to watch.
Did they play at their best for a full 60 minutes? No, they did not – but they played a far more complete game than their previous two. A not-so-hot first led to pretty good second and third periods, and combined with some timely (and, honestly, unnecessary) stops from their goaltender, the Flames were able to pull out a win.
A regulation win. Over a division rival. They probably won’t be competing with the Sharks for a playoff spot – the Sharks are, well, good, and should be a favourite to win the division for a reason – but that was a statement game.
It was against a tired opponent down a player for clerical reasons, but it was still against a superior opponent. And they didn’t just hang in there: they won.
Thank you, Chad Johnson
Aaron Dell had a pretty good performance, but Chad Johnson was undeniably the best goalie on the ice. Of the 27 shots he faced, one was a penalty shot late in a tied game that had the chance to be a total backbreaker; the last one, a last-second chance to tie the game shorthanded.
It’s that last one that cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to happen.
You can make the argument that the Flames shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with, that Johnny Gaudreau should have been awarded an empty netter rather than seeing his team go on the powerplay, but things like Mikkel Boedker’s last chance have been an ongoing problem for this team.
It’s been discussed before: the Flames have gotten sloppy at the end of blowouts, conceding goals for no real reason. The one saving grace to those game endings? They had built up a big enough of a lead that it didn’t matter.
This time, it mattered.
That would have been one way to completely sully a night in which the team built up a hell of a lot of good will. This… this has to stop happening.
On the bright side, I can understand the lack of urgency from learning about preventing this stuff at the end of blowouts. This time, though? Way, way, way too close for comfort. If Boedker’s final scoring chance doesn’t drill this into their heads, nothing will.
Johnson was buying his teammates bottles of wine after shutouts; now it’s time they buy him something nice.
The only line worth a damn
Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik created all three goals for the Flames. Nobody else really did anything of note.
Well, that’s a bit of a lie. Matt Stajan had a good chance. Gaudreau continued to do Gaudreau things. Even Garnet Hathaway fantastically crashing the net (and then bleeding his own blood) led to something.
It’s just those are all minor, one-off instances, and the 3M line was the only one that was a consistent threat, with at least one of them involved in every goal the Flames scored.
Even just look back to the Flames’ second goal of the night. The Flames finally got a powerplay to work with, and they squandered it immediately. The unit out there couldn’t make clean passes, couldn’t get it on net, were forced to retrieve the puck.
Right up until Glen Gulutzan finally decided to put the first powerplay unit out there, and Tkachuk scored instantly.
The 3M line, with Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton backing them up, should be the Flames’ first powerplay unit. They’re the only ones really doing much of anything nowadays, Gaudreau’s attempts to contribute aside.
They weren’t the top corsi players this game, no, true – but they didn’t have the benefit of the 80% offensive zone starts that Gaudreau did. Meanwhile, if you want a big ol’ “yikes” regarding zone starts: Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg had 75% offensive zone starts. They were the second and third worst corsi players on the Flames. Bennett was at 37.04%. Things are pretty bad right now.
The Flames are a one-line team, and that line is Backlund’s.
And your top scorers are…
Considering the previous section, this should come as no surprise.
Backlund leads the way with 29 points. Gaudreau and Tkachuk are tied for second with 27. Frolik and Hamilton are tied for third with 25.
There are your top five scorers on this team: one line, an All-Star who has a penchant for making something out of nothing (and really shouldn’t be counted out, even as he continues to go scoreless), and that young defenceman Toronto thought would be traded based on literally nothing.
On the one hand, it’s great news. Tkachuk is 19 years old, Gaudreau and Hamilton are 23. They’re young! Some of the Flames’ top pieces have so many more years ahead of them.
On the other hand, it’s a little distressing regarding Bennett and Sean Monahan. It’s not the end of the world; they’re young, too, but they were expected to play bigger roles this season. Especially Monahan, considering his contract.
Life without Micheal Ferland
The Flames lost Micheal Ferland late in the second period, and so had to make due without him throughout the third.
Gaudreau was, unsurprisingly, a beneficiary, playing 7:56 in the frame: the most out of all the Flames’ forwards. And that’s the guy you always want to double shift, anyway: say what you will about the Flames’ top line (and we are all saying a lot), but Gaudreau is still probably the most dangerous player on this team.
That said, Lance Bouma got quite the notable bump, too. He played 5:29 in the third period, whereas his linemates Stajan (2:39) and Hathaway (2:12) were left on the bench (when they weren’t getting extra time with Gaudreau, that is). Hathaway not seeing as much ice is understandable; Stajan is the better player, but the Flames lost a winger, not a centre.
Anyway, this probably won’t come as a surprise, but for all their recent struggles, Bennett and Versteeg were better with Ferland on their line than Bouma. At this stage of the game, it should be readily apparent that Bouma has hit his ceiling as a fourth liner.
No more words needed
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) January 12, 2017