If there was any evidence that this team was not going to make the playoffs then last night should be sufficient enough. Well, I guess you could make the case the 7-3 loss on Saturday was evidence. Maybe the 4-3 loss versus Nashville in which they showed up for virtually four minutes only to come short, too.
It’s impossible to discern positives if any exist because really, over the last three games there aren’t many.
Walk the line, don’t cross it
UPDATED: No supplemental discipline.
The edge that players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett play with are assets – most of the time – and often enough you can use that to put your team in situations that benefits it. Drawing calls (Bennett could learn from and Tkachuk is slowly finding his way in), antagonizing the opposition, and so forth. Honestly, from a personal perspective there is nothing more enticing than watching Tkachuk and Bennett for the foreseeable future, in Flames uniforms, making other teams and their fans go nuts.
This, however, not so much:
Brutal slewfoot here from Sam Benett on Connor Carrick. Carrick, as you can see, wasn’t happy. pic.twitter.com/frVj5Gpw3E
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 24, 2017
It’s not exactly a slewfoot and hardly brutal, but it’s still a weird grey area. More importantly, it isn’t the line you want to be on the other side of. Especially for a team like the Flames who have enough issues with penalties and officiating.
What you probably didn’t see, though, is that Matthew Tkachuk also slewfoots Martin Marincin at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/rtIPCaQrVm
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 24, 2017
Then there’s Tkachuk’s which by all accounts is no better, if not worse. You can send messages without risking injury or suspensions. It would be Tkachuk’s best interests to avoid this, both for his sake and for the team’s. If he just reins it in and does what he does well then he’ll be fine, but he needs to stop doing these sorts of things. He’s already garnered a reputation in his rookie season, for good and for bad:
Not sure what the result will be, but league is looking at Matthew Tkachuk slewfoot on Marincin at end of game.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) January 24, 2017
Can I get a witness? Oh, and a save or two?
Shots (often) lead to goals. Goals lead to the desired outcome of wins. Mixed in there is your goaltender usually – and in the Flames’ case, needing – to stop the puck more than the opposition’s goalie. That didn’t happen last night, again. Just like Saturday evening there is no actual easy answer to fix this situation. Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson seemingly cannot get the job done.
An .882 SV% at 5v5 along with goals against on the penalty kill and surrendering a shorthanded goal aren’t ideal on an off-night. More importantly against one of the league’s more exciting up and coming teams nonetheless. This is a repeated cycle with Elliott and similarly with Johnson as of late. Both, as stated repeatedly since the start of the season, seemed to be above these sort of results. Sure, Johnson took the wheel and everything seemed to be on the upswing.
The idea of trading for Ben Bishop – who like many on the Tampa Bay Lightning is struggling right now – may be a solution. It’s been floated a lot recently on Twitter and it came up again yesterday afternoon before the game. All things considered he’s a UFA at the end of the season and the Flames would seemingly be back to where they were this past summer: with no solid solutions in net.
Even then, remotely entertaining the notion of acquiring Bishop is a conundrum.
You assume a goalie (Elliott or Johnson) is part of a hypothetical deal going back. You still need to sweeten the pot a bit or find a way to move salary around. Both teams are up against the cap (Calgary can use $3.1M in LTIR relief from Ladislav Smid) and Tampa is no better. Remember, Steve Stamkos is on LTIR currently, and Tampa has some incredibly poor money invested in sunken costs.
Is it even in the realm of possibilities to move say Elliott, Wideman with salary retained, and a pick or prospect for a Bishop package? Not only that, is there any guarantee that the Lightning still believe they can be a playoff team? There’s little guarantee the Flames are at this point. None of this easy and solving this problem that everyone assumed was resolved is only making it more of a headache to watch this team night in and night out.
Johnny, the first PP unit, and a hypothesis
Let’s talk about the first power play unit’s woes because there might be an actual cause to some of it. A lot can be made of Gaudreau trying to do too much, breaking in alone with no outlets, and shot choices that dumbfound the most experienced of hockey minds. One side of it might actually be systemic and usage based in terms of the Flames’ 1-3-1 power play formation.
Last season, under Bob Hartley and the rest of the staff, Gaudreau worked primarily as the Flames’ power play quarterback. In 5v4 situations Gaudreau put up six goals and 14 assists, 10 of which were primary assists. Only Sean Monahan had more points than him (one more goal). That’s 25.64% of his point totals, dining out on the power play.
This season, like many, he’s struggled. You get it. You know all about it. It’s been repeatedly talked about. One obvious issue is the power play and it shows. One goal, six assists, and the second-most 5v4 TOI on the team. It’s not that he isn’t shooting, his 51 iCF (shots on net, shots blocked, and missed) are tops on the team. His iCF60 of 22.97 is second to Kris Versteeg’s team lead (87.54 5v4 TOI -33.58 iCF60 – 49 iCF events).
It might be where he’s deployed when in formation in the offensive zone:
The glaring and obvious difference is Gaudreau is on his off-wing this season from where he shot from last season, but more importantly the density of his shots generated are farther out from the net. He’s small, he’s dynamic, and he can work in close.
Within Cameron’s system and the adjustments of the entirety of this team in many regards, it’s easy to assume that Gulutzan’s hiring is the exact cause of things. Where there may be reasonable assertions to be made there, the more glaring changes have come on the power play, which has sucked to be blunt. An honest to god overhaul of the first unit is necessary and it starts with putting Gaudreau back where he has had success before.
Over the first 40 games of the 2015-16 season, Gaudreau’s individual expected goals (ixG) were 2.35 in Emmanuel Perry‘s expected goals model on Corsica. In that span Gaudreau only had three power play goals, slightly above the expected model and five total assists. Not so far off his current totals of a goal and six assists this year.
This season, Gaudreau’s ixG is 2.83, a bit higher than last season’s first 40GP mark. It’s highly possible that’s poor luck, compounding factors out of his control, and a bunch of hokey hockey colloquialisms of him not wanting it enough. However one thing is pretty clear: he should have a few more goals on the PP by now.
Overall, this area of concern is worth exploring and it’s something I’ll continue to dig into over the week off coming up. Realistically it’s time for the coaching staff to adjust the first unit to something along the lines of Gaudreau – Monahan – Versteeg/Tkachuk, with Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton. It just needs to happen because the results aren’t coming.
The “second” unit which is truly the de-facto first given how they’ve produced can remain the same or similar. TJ Brodie isn’t working with the top unit currently and adding the offensive prowess of Giordano and/or Hamilton might help Gaudreau create more while on the man advantage.
Once Gaudreau breaks out of this we can put a lot of the worries around him to bed. He’s still the cornerstone of this franchise. He’s still easily their most dynamic and threatening offensive force. He’ll be okay.