Canadiens 5, Flames 1 post-game embers: And so it goes

I hope you guys enjoyed Mike the past couple of post-game mornings. It’s really difficult to figure out how to write essentially the same post over and over and over.

Here’s the thing with this one: as soon as Montreal scored their first goal, you knew the game was over.

It was the exact same story as the game against the Leafs the day before. The Flames played a good opening period. Not a great one, not an all-world one, but one that was good enough. And then, with a minute to go in the period, they got scored on, and were effectively broken from thereon out.

The Flames are not this bad of a team. They’re not a great team, but they aren’t a “get outscored 20-7 in their last four games” team, either. They are going through an absolutely terrible stretch right now – possibly worse than they were at the start of the season – and it’s pretty brutal to watch.

But that’s what this is. A stretch.

Unfortunately, this isn’t yet good enough of a team to be able to afford a stretch like this. This has been a bubble team from the start of the season that has experienced catastrophic lows that will ultimately knock it square out of a playoff spot. They’d have more of a fighting chance if they didn’t seem so hellbent on bottoming out on repeated nadirs.

… Or something to that effect.

But it’s a four-game stretch, maybe.

Internally, someone – I think it was Christian Roatis – wondered if the Flames’ 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month broke them. I’d been wondering the same myself, because that was a game they absolutely deserved to have. They’d been playing well overall prior to, and including, that game. Since then they’ve had maybe two good games (against the Sharks and Panthers), and that’s it.

And I’m far from a sports psychologist, or a psychologist of any kind. And I don’t know any of these players, obviously. But there was a chord in Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts that struck me.

In them, #23 read:

Backlund’s having a terrific year. How many meetings has he had with his coach? “I think two,” Backlund responded. “It was different with (Mike Keenan, Brent Sutter and Bob Hartley). But don’t forget I was younger then. I probably needed it more.”

And immediately after, #24:

Argue all you want about plus-minus and whether it is a legitimate marker of a player’s ability, but there’s no questioning some believe in it. One is Johnny Gaudreau, who has never been a minus player over a full season. (Oldest results I could find dated back to 2010–11 with USHL Dubuque.) He’s at minus-17 this season and it bothers him — a ton. I think the Flames are trying to convince him to say, “Let’s work on it game-by-game, rather than getting overwhelmed by the big picture,” but it’s weighing on him.

Mikael Backlund says he has learned. Johnny Gaudreau is stressing out over a single stat that has been meaningful to him his entire career. Backlund has played eight years in this league and has been constantly challenged (sometimes unfairly, sometimes not), but is now playing pretty much the best hockey of his life. 

Gaudreau is in his third professional year and after having seemingly played the best hockey of his life throughout his, well, life, he has finally hit a wall, and he seemingly doesn’t know what to do about it. So he suffers and struggles and as one of the most important players on the team already, just about everyone else suffers and struggles along with him. That doesn’t mean he’s done or washed up – it means he’s young and learning how to deal with this new reality.

Full disclosure: I’m right in between Backlund and Gaudreau in age; those of you older or younger may have a different line of thought on this than I do. But the contrast was pretty striking, to me.

I remember absolutely coasting throughout my school years. Double curriculum since I was four, no problem. I was never stressed, nothing was too hard, I was a goddamn queen at academia and nothing could faze me.

Pre-IB Science 10 fazed me. Hard. There was more than one mental break. I had no idea how to cope with it and for the first time in my life I had to fight to even scratch the surface of acceptable. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong or what changed and suffered immensely for it. But at some point, things clicked and I went with physics (which was the very subject that broke me) and it wasn’t so hard anymore. I had to work harder, sure, but it wasn’t disastrous.

And it prepared me for when I hit the wall that was IB Calculus. There were no mental breaks – a lot of angry venting, yes, but nothing as bad as it had been before – but that time I was prepared to cope with the idea of struggling and I did. I’m sure I hit walls in school after, but I can’t remember them as clearly as those two because by that time I had been challenged and learned how to deal with it.

My point here is this: for as happy as we are that most of the Flames’ core is pretty young, that’s going to come with its own set of struggles, and we are seeing them manifest big time right now. 

Gaudreau constantly overcame his size and he could do it because he could always score; this season is the first time he’s ever been injured and it’s been about a month since his last consistent scoring streak. Sean Monahan was flat out the guy on his junior club and made the Flames immediately, scoring 20 goals from the get-go; he’s going to have to fight to hit 50 points this year. Sam Bennett had first overall talent and was a healthy scratch for the first time in his life.

Dougie Hamilton is one of the few that’s playing consistently well; he was challenged throughout all of last season. I’m wondering if that’s not quite a coincidence.

Not everyone is going to operate on the same plain, but when it rains, it pours. I know some don’t like this word but the Flames have been downright unlucky as of late. They’ve had bad goaltending through most of the month and their own high quality chances aren’t going in. They’re not this bad of a team as a whole – but you’ve got a lot of key players on this team who seem to be hitting walls for the first times in their hockey-playing careers and it’s messing with them. Your golden opportunity didn’t go in, you turned the puck over, now it’s in the back of your net and you are just done, this game is over, there is no coming back from this and you are a failure and it is hopeless and there is no point and you turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

(That doesn’t necessarily explain just standing around on a five-on-three, but hey, sometimes you’re also just not that good to begin with.)

And here’s the thing with the veterans: of all of the ones the Flames have at this point in time, Mark Giordano is the only one you could ever really say played at an elite level at any point in his career. I’m sure Matt Stajan and Deryk Engelland will do their best to motivate everyone but they simply aren’t that good to drag up a whole team with them. The ones that are are the kids. (And Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, but they’re roughly .5 point-per-game guys, so they can’t do it themselves every game.)

See, I wouldn’t mind if they were losing games but playing the way they did in that 4-2 loss to the Canucks, or the 2-1 shootout loss to the Oilers. Those were genuinely good games they put up that had unideal results. And it’s going to happen; life isn’t fair and sometimes you don’t win even when you deserve to.

But when you let it break you that hard, you get these past four games. You get failures in every sense of the word. 

You played a good first period and one mistake ended up in your own net and you let it break you.

At some point, they will stop letting it break them.

And when that happens – combined with a smart offseason that will hopefully see them gain the few pieces they are missing – they will be the better for it. Now, it’s just a matter of learning how to cope.

  • The GREAT WW

    I would like to throw my name in the hat to be the next FN MOD!

    I will govern FN with the goal to make FN great again!!!

    I will build a wall and deport any trolls…

    Quick online poll:

    -PROPS- if you support WW as the next FN MOD.

    -TRASH IT!- if you think WW is the greatest Nations poster of all time.

    Only one vote per poster please….

    WW

    • Ogie Oglethorp

      I can’t believe I’m saying this but I not only endorse you but I’d like to donate to your campaign fund.

      I used to be annoyed by many of your antics but the trolls have become insufferable.

      BUILD THE WALL – Make Flames Nation great again.

    • McDavid's Comet

      @ WW, @ fLames trolls (you know who you are)

      Walter Whiner, you would never be capable of doing the job objectively. You are a fLames troll; you trolled on ON after every Oilers defeat gleefully reminding fans of how we were “the suckiest bunch of sucks to ever suck”. It didn’t matter if we won or lost; you would be there to taunt everyone and destroy threads. You thought yourself quite witty and cavalier. Now you are receiving a good dose of your own “medicine” and to no surprise you cannot handle it. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. If you cannot post within the boundaries of the Mod, don’t post.
      Don’t go away mad, just go away. ?

      @ Flames Nation

      To every Flames fan whom isn’t a troll, I’m truly sorry you are unwilling caught up in this BS, I’m a flames fan too but an Oilers fan first, you are casualties of war.

      Oiler fans are mad as hell and we are NOT going take it anymore!

      FN MODERATOR: Understand that you are not helping, and that others will take a stand against your actions and the actions of the other Oiler trolls on ON. In the end, your efforts are at best a waste of time and will likely only make matters worse.

    • The GREAT WW

      Since the day GG was hired I have stated that he was a terrible hire and the Flames would finish bottom 5 with him at the helm.

      To be honest; I underestimated the positive impact Matthew “Lady Byng” Tkachuk would have on this team. Chuck’s impact and great goaltending for a short period of time has kept us hanging around, but GG is dragging this team down…

      WW

  • 24% body fat

    bennet settling in nicely as a 35 point guy, probably should have kept baertschi instead whose PPG were ahead of Bennets at this point in his career

  • Rockmorton65

    We gotta get Johnny some protection. He seems hesitant to do what he needs to. He needs a power forward who can play on the top line, play with an edge, a nasty streak and doesn’t mind punching a face, should the situation warrant. I’m thinking of someone like Iggy near his prime.

    This team is ridiculously soft. When you don’t have any push back against a team like the leafs, there’s a serious problem. The only time I’ve seen that kind of nastiness in the past couple seasons was Wideman last year, hitting that ref. Right attitude, wrong target.

  • cunning_linguist

    I only know of two schools in Calgary that offered IB when I was in high school, and one of them (Henry Wise Wood) had a computer programming teacher named Mr. Yanover. Therefore, I deduce that Ari is related to him, and must have gone to Wisewood.

  • lionlager

    Good read. Speaking of becoming demoralized, I wonder if the constant non-calls are getting to Johnny, or the rest. This year Johnny has been abused out there. Slashed, broken fingers, rocked, and he doesn’t seem to get any calls, and he shows his frustration. Even even-tempered Hrudey went on a rant last night about a painfully obvious non call on a trip. It’s frustrating to watch, and I can’t help but think that, yes, it does have something to do with Wideman. Even if it’s not some grand conspiracy, it’s still just awful officiating this year.

  • flames2015

    Brodie & Gaudreau are in the top 4 of the leagues worst (+/-) and lead the team by a far margin of turnovers. Gaudreau has 60! An abysmal -42 differential in takeaways. If your making that much money and not scoring, you should be contributing in other ways. All I see his him cherry picking at the blue line, or giving up on foot races when its suppose to be his guy, mouthing off on the bench when he bombs a great scoring chance or more often than not storming off to the dressing room. Yes, his linemates aren’t helping him getting out of this funk, but i think its time he serves a game in the press box.

  • Derzie

    In these low times, any thoughts of moving players should be quashed. We have coaching and management problems. That is what needs to be solved first. The individual struggle of players is a by-product of the coaching and GM moves.

    Oh and WW, I’d support you as mod but any references to that orange sack of garbage and his policies gets an immediate ignore or trash from me.

  • Backburner

    So does Tre make a trade now? Seems highly unlikely in today’s NHL. Most GM’s prefer to wait it out and make minor moves at the deadline.

    Very frustrating, but I guess it’s smart in a way.

    I guess it depends on where Management thinks the Flames are in the rebuild? Do they think we are a playoff team (enough to go the distance?)

      • Crakupov

        I think it would have to be considered. A line like maroon-mcdavid-gaudreau could be deadly. If the flames need to they could throw in one right handed d. For Calgary a first line centre would be a first in a while and one that has some size.

        Edmonton has three centres in mcdavid, the nuge and draisaitl. Making one of them a third line centre is a waste.

        • Blackgold

          Not a chance, Draisaitl is way better than little Johnny. Draisaitl drives the play, is versatile in that he can play center or wing, is twice the size and plays a 200 foot game. Johnny just gives the puck away. There is no room for Johnny on the bigger Oilers.

          • McDavid's Comet

            Johnny is great player especially for his size, he reminds me of Taylor Hall just smaller. The way he speeds up the ice with the puck is difficult to defend but, because he a smaller player he is easy to knock off the puck. Johnny cannot keep the puck when he is advancing into the offensive zone. Bigger players can easily push Gaudreau to the outside of the net as he is driving in.

            Trading for Gaudreau for Drai would be regression on the part of the Oilers. He just doesn’t fit in (size) with what Edmonton is trying achieve.

    • SSB1963

      Nope don’t need undersized forwards. Been down that road, what you need is a good mix. But you absolutely need someone to ride shot gun for Johnny G. Otherwise the attacks will keep on coming and the NHL doesn’t seem to be interested in protecting its stars.

  • Greatsave

    @Ari, I think you meant “faze”.

    My guess is you didn’t take IB English…

    Jokes, jokes. I was a sciences-and-maths-only IB myself. 🙂 And you’re the one writing day-in, day-out, so you’re way ahead of me on the XPs earned and levels upped.

  • Lucky 13

    Thanks Ari, for reminding us of the human experience and element in all of this.
    Being small in stature (Johnny size) myself, I relate to him and some of his challenges.

    It seems as if Johnny hasn’t been through struggles like this before, he was always successful in his pre NHL career. The expression ” that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ” may be fitting.

    But going through it is miserable for a guy who doesn’t know what to feel or think. I have a friend whom is a friend to Johnny’s family and he tells me Johnny just wants to be a winner… always… he takes things hard and to heart.

    That’s the human element. We (myself included) forget those things in the heat of passion. Hockey is a passionate game, but can drive us to making claims and assumptions that aren’t fair, nor warranted.

    Last year I was watching Johnny and Monahan showing their house to us fans via media. It was funny and endearing. Johnny liked grilled cheese sandwiches and he opened the fridge to show.. no name slices of cheese. They were both just beginning their careers and they were watching their spending. Cute

    Now Johnny can afford the good cheese, heck he could buy a cheese factory if he chose to. All of a sudden this 23 year old has money, lots of it.
    I don’t know about you, but having money as a young man (woman) has its own double edged sword. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone can prepare you for that. They teach you Math, English, Social Studies and everything else in school, but never how to manage money? Or fame? Or new changes in life.
    As each snowflake is unique, so are the individuals who are recipients of their success. We judge them from afar and believe we are right to make our claims.
    Heck I’m guilty too, “well if that were me I’d be….. but we’re not them.
    I remind myself of that daily. It’s the human element.

  • The Fall

    Johnny used to skate into the zone draw extra coverage and make a ‘play making pass’. Now he skates into the zone draws extra coverage and panics to get the puck off his stick. This is resulting in either turning the puck over, or handcuffing a team mate.

  • RickT

    I don’t mind when the Oilers fans post, so long as they keep it on topic and add to the discussion. Sure, a lot of it is flamebait – but that does not mean that their posts should be removed.

    They got theirs for a decade. We are struggling more than a lot of fans thought during a transitional year. We were not really expected to make the playoffs this year (except by a few pundits).

  • deantheraven

    Thanks, Ari. I had similar thoughts before during and after that pile of quit.

    It’s definitely a wall. I think Johnny’s been struggling on a few levels. Getting hacked, not getting calls, maybe complaining too much and not getting heard. Squeezing the stick, passing and shooting accuracy down, less time and space…
    And jeepers, now we hear about him kvetching hard about his plus-minus…
    But I think the moment that will define this season will be that thundering hit he took against the Leafs. If he wasn’t broke before, that one crushed him, in more ways than 1. Years from now we’ll look back on it. It’ll either be “The Day Johnny Got Smacked Hard But Bounced Back and Became the Perennial All Star we know and Love”, or it’ll be the answer to the question “Whatever happened to Johnny Hockey?”

    Here’s to hoping it’s the former, not the latter.