Leafs 4, Flames 0 post-game embers: Duds all day, baby

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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:

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.

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:

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.

What the hell are you going to do?

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.

Then the bus driver got grapefruit in his eyes, the bus veered off a bridge, and the team is now stranded on an island with no way out.

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.

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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:

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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.

  • Bottsy777

    I want to take a little bit of issue with calling MT “incident” at the end of the game as a slew foot. When he initially enters the slot, his foot is behind Marincin’s, but as they shift around, Marincin replaces his foot to be behind MT’s (normal jostling in front of the net), and then he falls funny, like his knee buckles. HIs leg is clearly behind MT’s when he falls…GO back and watch it, I’ll wait….

    See – so Marincin fell from normal contact (or maybe his bad knees) – not a slew foot….

    As for SB’s – it was one he got away with…

    • Written off is a strong term.

      He’s played like garbage in a number of starts recently, in a time where this team really needs a save. Soft goals on the first shot of several games isn’t ideal. It’s far from.

      Both goalies aren’t “making the saves” when the team needs them the most. I don’t feel comfortable in saying either goalie are long-term solutions for this team.

        • Right I mean you’re not wrong that he’s had good games this season, my friend. For me at least, I’m doubtful given what we know about Johnson’s career arc (and results) that he is going to fully be that “starter” this team needs.

          It’s really easy to get swept up in hot streaks on goalies; Johnson is no different to that sort of thing. It’s little difference when a goalie goes through an extremely below-average stretch and the world collapses on fans (re: Lundqvist lately).

          I guess, I’m apprehensive to Johnson as anything more than a slightly-above-average backup who can play decent stretches (which is a good thing) and suffer some debilitating stretches.

          • The thing with Dubnyk was he was always an okay/decent goalie in Edmonton. They just had an incredible volume of issues with development, coaching, and other behaviors. I think there has been a number of pieces on Dubnyk post-Oilers and during his tenure with the Wild done by In-Goal Magazine.

            There’s a lot to be said about what Devan Dubnyk has become and rightfully so. He’s carved out a very great path after things looked to be done for him.

  • Diesel

    As an Oiler fan, I’m enjoying JG’s struggles. However, it’s not because I’m an idiot who thinks he sucks, it’s because he’s so damn good that I need to revel in the stretches when he isn’t propelling the Flames toward victory.

    As for Tkachuk and Bennett, it’s unfortunate that the future of your team looks like it will have a healthy dose of chickensh*t cheap-shots. I’m all for physicality being a component of a renewed rivalry between the Flames and Oilers, but there’s absolutely no place for slew-foots regardless of how high the stakes and emotions become.

    • KenBone18

      Oh man I totally agree. Begs the question – what are a bunch of men squeezing behind closed doors? GG always has such great hair, makes you wonder…

  • The GREAT WW

    What this team needs is Wayne Simmonds. Maybe if the flyers drop out of the playoff race? I would hate to see the price we would need to pay; this guy is a stud!

    WW

    • KenBone18

      Could you imagine Wayne Train bringing the pain train with Tkachuk? Play with Monny at centre and that’s some grit.

      Or let him ride on the R side with Johnny so anytime Gaudreau gets fed the meat Wayne Train can then use his big muscular body to make them pay.

    • jakethesnail

      Flames troubles began in earnest when Hathaway got injured! If he gets back into the lineup we won’t need Simmonds. Team also misses the grit of Ferland.

      • #97TRAIN

        You won’t need Simmonds because Hathaway and Ferland will be back? Simmonds is a great player with size AND skill. Not many like him in the league. He is exactly what you need.

  • C Watson

    The last couple or three years the Flames seem to start out with goalies who stop their fair share of pucks and even manage to win a few games. Eventually, and it doesn’t take that long, these same goalies end up not being able to stop beach balls and have a hard time winning. Could the common denominator be Jordan Sigalet?

    • The GREAT WW

      It appears he has lost the room, so any time is a good time…

      In reality he probably finishes the season, I doubt BT is going to fire his brand new coach when he himself doesn’t have a contract next year.

      My guess is he gets axed in the summer or after 20 games next year.

      WW

      • Rockmorton65

        GG or BT? (ba-da-chaaaa!)

        Interesting point about BT’s contract. Wonder if Burke is thinking of doing a “warm start” on the team this off season. Fire GG. New GM, new coach. good solid core, healthy bunch of cap space to work with. The conspiracy theorist in me is stirring. ?

  • PrairieStew

    Bennett’s is a trip and Tkachuk may have had intent to slew foot , but Marincin twisted out of it. Interference, but not unlike other interference that happens all over the ice away from the play.

      • PrairieStew

        On the other thread I explained that Hockey Canada has a new penalty for the slew foot – you may have missed that. This requires a game misconduct for the infraction where the player both blocks behind the opposing players leg, then pushes them backwards over the blocked leg. The NHL has not adopted this rule; but my comment was with that context. In that case Bennett’s is a regular trip – not a slew foot with intent to injure since he didn’t do phase 2. Tkachuk attempted both actions, which is why I say I think he had the intent, but by the time he engaged with MM’s upper body, the leg was no longer blocked. If this was a minor hockey game I would not call the slew foot major and misconduct for that reason.

        There is alot of contact on the ice that could be called interference. What Tkachuk did there technically is, but if you called all that contact, you’d have a parade to the penalty box. As a referee, you have to assess whether all of it is worth calling. If the player’s ability to get the puck or defend is affected it should be called. The shot went wide and the play went on. If it had been passed down low and then as a result of the play Tkachuk was wide open in front for a pass and a scoring chance then I’m probably whistling that down.

  • Kevin R

    Mike, I think the Flames should make a move for Bishop. Yeah he’s struggling but if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be available & the price gets reduced. He’ll be a walk away asset for Yzerman if he doesn’t move him & Bishop might have his belly full of the trade talk & speculation.

    I would say Elliott goes back & we would need to add a 2nd round pick & possibly a D prospect like Hickey. I would do it & here’s why:

    1/We came darn close acquiring him last draft at a probably ridiculous price, possibly MT. Now we can get an audition for the last 30 games & have his total attention. If he plays well, he may just sign a cheaper 5.0-5.5 mill 5 year deal than what was reported last June. Maybe he sees an opportunity here in Calgary that we really don’t have any hotshot goalies ready to take the reins.

    2/If he continues to struggle here, well there is a good chance Vegas might resign him during that grace period & then our expansion draft requirements have been fulfilled & then we don’t have to expose Gio(like many wanted on this site) to protect Kulak.

    3/Bishop might come in here rejuvenated & play lights out. Nothing better for the confidence of our D to have a goalie stone cold the opposition. Last I looked, by some miracle, we still are in a wild card spot, playoffs could be salvaged by this one move.

    Seems like a a no brainer. I rest my case.
    Fleury is another option & would be even cheaper, but I would roll the dice with Bishop & pay the higher price.

    • Greatsave

      I’ve had the displeasure of watching Bishop the last couple years because a friend of mine is a Lightning fan–displeasure because ’04, obviously–and my worry is that even if he does come in and play lights out, will it make up for the detrimental effect adapting to a new goalie’s style mid-season will have on the rest of the team? Bishop is a *very* active goalie, and he will wander out a lot and attempt stretch passes himself. The entire team will have to adjust to this.

      • Kevin R

        Reality was, Flames were within a hair of acquiring him last June at the cost of our #6 overall. Huge price on a hope he would come in & be the goalie we need, especially because we would have been committed to him for a longterm deal if they agreed on a number. To get him cheap enough for a 30 game audition before committing to any longterm contract would be huge in my view. He’s a pretty darn good goalie, can’t be worse than what we are seeing lately. If you are right, so what, we walk away short a 2nd & a D prospect that has fallen a bit in his development. JMO

  • Arminius

    Dirty Birds NFC Champions. Made 600 off that gem. What a machine..I’ll get back to hockey in a couple weeks. Maybe the Flames will have pulled their heads out..or not. Rise Up!! Going to Houston

  • DeadRedRedemption

    Now is the time to fire GG, if a replacement can be found. Do the Flames really need to start the season off slowly getting used to a new coach and new systems… Again?

    I thought at one point during the season that we might be close to icing a competitive team with a few additions over the summer once some of our bad contracts were gone. I was fooling myself because I thought we were stuck with GG for at least another year. Now I think GG has completely lost the room and he needs to be gone.

    When our players want to they can play. Look at the last few minutes of the recent games. They look like world beaters. The first 55-58 minutes they look uninterested.

    I contend that the high end talent on the team have rejected GG and his systems from day one of the season. Unless your going to trade away our talent (please don’t) then the coach needs to go.

    Tre, good management recognizes when they have made a mistake and take actions to correct it. Fix this shit.

    GFG

  • Eggs Bennett

    I think you got the description of Gaudreau’s shot location this yesr backward. Gaudreau is shooting more from his strong side this year compared to last year. Playing on your off-wing (RW for Gaudreau) is hugely important on the PP since your stick is closer to the net and one-timers come off a split second quicker. Not sure why he’s shooting more from the left (maybe lacking confidence, since keeping the puck to the outside is safer), but can definitely be one of the reasons for his lack of PPP this season.

    http://www.nhlspecialteams.com/blog/2016/1/19/how-important-is-playing-the-off-wing-on-the-power-play

  • Greatsave

    Agree with Mike 100% on the PP analysis. We here on FN had discussed PP before the season even started, and most suggested Gaudreau on the right half-boards. Seeing how static he has been on the left side is depressing.

    I say go with the 3M/Dougie/Gio unit as PP1, then adjust the PP2 with Gaudreau on the right, Versteeg across, Brouwer in slot, Monahan net-side, and Wideman up top. The only minus to this configuration is giving PP minutes to Wideman instead of Brodie, and honestly I’d prefer to have Hamilton there, but that’s not happening unless they put Brodie (or Wideman) on PP1 with Gio.

    I can’t understand lining up in the 1-3-1 with only one one-timer option (Gaudreau to Monahan) as it is right now.

  • Crakupov

    Either way you look at it Tkachuk has a career in the NHL but only if he stops the cheap shots. There was no point to his slew foot, trip at the end of the game. All he can hope to get out of that is a suspension at worst and a much more careful eye of the referee at best.

    The league will be watching the next Sean Avery closely unless he cleans up his act.

  • Shredder

    Tkachuk and Bennett are part of the problem. Trade them for a bucket of pucks and a new jockstrap. Bad behaviour is infectious, it creates a bad culture.

    A new goalie is needed though, that’s for sure. Too bad Smid was traded for the goalie who won on Saturday night. Wasn’t the Flames worst trade, but far from their best.

    Is it true the Flames have the smallest team in the league? I thought Burke was all about truculence…maybe he doesn’t know what that word means.

    • “Bad behaviour” creates bad culture eh?

      I’m presuming if this team is winning this comment doesn’t happen because culture is good when you’re winning.

      Just like culture is bad when the team is losing? This notion of that players are causing bad culture is the most superfluous angle anyone can take.

  • snotss

    the flames are toast this year…bring up the kids from the farm lets see what they have…what a joke this team has turned into!!! maybe next year!!!!or the year after that!!!!or the year after that etc etc etc etc!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rusty Patenaude

    As an Oiler fan I should be enjoying your pain, but alas it brings me no joy. I hate the Flames but I want to hate a strong competitve Flames team and hate them x2 in Battle of Alberta playoff series like the old days.

    I don’t think these last few games are a fair measure of who the Flames are. Your team has a lot of talent, especially on the blue line and they ought to make the playoffs. The Flames have drafted intelligently and your young guys are impressive.

    Outside of that coaching switch (which confused me and might prove to be a mistake) Treliving seems to have run the team very well.

    I think the Flames will turn it around and if they get on a roll at the right time, might make some noise in the playoffs…the goalies were good elsewhere…they should find their game soon.