Really, not all that much changed.
The Calgary Flames scored the first goal. And the second. And they won. But they’re still fighting for a playoff spot, still barely in it even after having played the most games in the West, and they still gave up one particularly demoralizing goal at the end of regulation.
They didn’t play so hot in overtime – until they did. They had a 2-0 lead going into the third and they were doing alright. They didn’t crumble when they got scored on, and their goalie bailed them out time and time again when things got dire, until their best offensive player could do what he does best again.
And they’ll go into a break not feeling terrible about themselves.
We’ll see if that’s a long-lasting change come February. If they want to extend their season, it had better be.
Breaking up 3M
The Flames adjusted their lines, putting Michael Frolik on with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. It worked out pretty great; those three were the top Flames in terms of corsi, (The remnants of the 3M line were, of course, the next guys up in terms of forwards.)
Frolik isn’t quite the north-south driver Mikael Backlund is – though the two both excel at the craft – but it’s probably not a coincidence that Gaudreau and Monahan were getting more pucks on the Senators’ net than allowing towards their own with him added to their line. Frolik has always been a good driver of play; putting him with two struggling kids seemed to be the remedy they needed.
And you have to think Glen Gulutzan isn’t going to be eager to break that up when his team comes back. Why mess with something that worked, right? Even if it means Alex Chiasson continuing to play alongside top players, for reasons (but Backlund is Backlund; if he can drag up Lance Bouma and Joe Colborne he can handle Chiasson on his wing).
But that overtime winner did come from Backlund and Gaudreau. And it is something of a wonder that this hadn’t been tried before in a meaningful way.
If your most talented player is struggling, and two of your top veterans who consistently drive play occupy the other two positions on a line…
If things go back to not working out, who’s going to say no to Gaudreau – Backlund – Frolik? Matthew Tkachuk has proven himself throughout this season to not be a passenger; he could hop on with Monahan. Or Sam Bennett. Or Monahan and Bennett; it honestly baffles me he hasn’t been tried on the right side once considering how Tkachuk can play both wings, and the Flames’ lack of right-side depth has been obvious for, well, years now.
The 3M line got broken up, though, and it really helped two kids. So that was good.
Hopefully this is a corner turned, but progression in sports is rarely linear, so let’s not freak out if it’s not, okay?
Speaking of the two kids
It’s fair to be sceptical about these guys’ contracts. Monahan has never had great underlyings and that hasn’t seemed to change.
Then again, he has 16 goals on the season now, leading the Flames. He’s on pace for 25, which is two off from last season, and that’s with the lowest shooting percentage of his career to date, and matching his highest shot rates (2.4 shots per game both last season and this one, while averaging less ice time this season).
If he can really turn it on and be a perennial 30 goal scorer (haven’t had one of those since a certain guy with the best smile got traded a couple of months before Monahan was drafted) then whatever, that’s fine; having 30-goal scorers is good and worth it.
Especially when he does stuff like THIS, good lord.
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) January 27, 2017
All credit to Dougie Hamilton for that prowess in creating that rebound to begin with, but that’s just insanity on Monahan’s part. Those are some hands. Can we ditch the guy from the start of the season and keep this one?
And then there’s Gaudreau. While his best friend went on a goal-scoring streak, Gaudreau was left trying to do everything on his own and mostly failing. Two points last night, though – first an assist, then a goal he so desperately needed – has things looking a lot better for him. (Is… is it a coincidence that this comes with Chiasson off of his line?)
And then, that other kid
There’s seemingly just no place for Bennett right now.
He had a rough night, too; while the Flames’ top two lines had good games overall, he was one of the worst forwards in terms of corsi (though at least Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg weren’t agonizingly far ahead of him). He played about as much as Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan, though he did at least get a couple of shots on net where they didn’t.
If you take a look at the Flames’ points leaders, there’s finally a collection of 30+ guys there. Backlund still leads the way, Hamilton is in second, and then there’s a trio of kid forwards – Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk – all tied for third with 31 points each.
Bennett has 19.
So here’s a question: if breaking up the 3M line can help fix Monahan and Gaudreau (seemingly, based on one game), should it be broken up further to help Bennett? When people say he’s been most successful in the NHL as a winger, they neglect to mention it wasn’t just as a winger, it was with Backlund as his centre.
Maybe shove Tkachuk over to the right side of that line and put Bennett on the left? It’d probably be more ideal than having Chiasson there, at any rate. And you have to think it would be the best way to get Bennett back into gear: just one small lineup move.
Yeah, the plan is still for him to be a centre. But right now it’s more like he’s being coached by Ned Flanders’ parents. Scratching him for one game is about as good as “nothing,” anyway.
Which do you go with? Gaudreau – Backlund – Frolik and Bennett – Monahan – Tkachuk, or Gaudreau – Monahan – Frolik and Bennett – Backlund – Tkachuk? Which one’s better for Bennett? Which one’s better for the Flames? Or should he just stay at centre?
Brian Elliott was legitimately good
In the midst of the Flames having really poor goaltending as of late, this performance stood out.
The Flames did control the play through much of the game, though score effects did take over in the third, and that’s when Brian Elliott sacrificed his goals, including a particularly untimely and demoralizing one at the end of regulation.
So it’s a good thing his team actually scored goals for him this time around, and didn’t just roll over and die when they faced adversity (particularly in the first when they had to kill two and a half penalties). Meanwhile, he rewarded them for their efforts, particularly in overtime while they struggled to find their footing there.
Why, we haven’t seen a goaltending performance from a Flames netminder that good since… Elliott, about two weeks ago, after which he was benched for no particular reason.
If it really is “win and you’re in” now, then good, because Elliott deserves the next start after this one. If the Flames had lost this one, though – and fortunately we didn’t have to wait to see if he’d be able to redeem himself in a shootout – then he probably would have deserved the next start, anyway.
Elliott has had his struggles this season, but I kind of get the feeling if he actually receives a modicum of faith, he really won’t be all that bad.
I’m only here for the hugs
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) January 27, 2017
first mickis jumps into dougie’s arms, then johnny jumps into mickis’ arms. next: dougie jumping into johnny’s arms
— ari y (@thirtyfourseven) January 27, 2017