The bye is stupid. We know the bye is stupid. We aren’t even one full season into its implementation yet – there are still a lot of teams that have yet to have theirs – and yet there’s already talk of scrapping it.
If there’s any consolation the Flames have, it’s that they certainly aren’t alone in losing the first game after the bye. Even if that loss was to the Arizona Coyotes: one of the worst teams by far in the NHL this year. And a game the Flames had absolutely no excuse to lose if they wanted to maintain their playoff aspirations, let alone not get blown out.
This one brought back memories of games in Toronto and Montreal. Play a pretty good first, down by just one goal, whatever– aaaaand the wheels have fallen off.
So do you blame this on the bye? Or is this just the Flames? Or is it a little of both?
Also, why did Johnny Gaudreau spend so much time on the fourth line?
There are a couple of narratives to go with this one. Losing a crucial game in the midst of the playoff hunt. How this may factor into the Flames’ trade deadline plans. That none of the Flames’ good chances would go in but like every chance the Coyotes had did. (So are we sticking with “win and you’re in”?)
But there’s one that emerged at the forefront: Gaudreau ended up on the fourth line for substantial portions of the game.
Now, let’s be clear: he still played 16:42, which was third among Flames forwards. He got 3:12 on the powerplay, which was a fair bit lighter than others, but still sixth among forwards. It wasn’t like Gaudreau was banished.
But let’s break down his linemates for this one.
Gaudreau played nearly as much with Sean Monahan as he played with Garnet Hathaway – and that includes powerplay time. And whatever your thoughts on these players, I think we can all agree that Monahan is significantly better than Hathaway, and so this was a punishment for Gaudreau.
Gulutzan on dropping Gaudreau to the fourth line: “He turned the puck over in the neutral zone.” End of answer.
— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) February 14, 2017
Which, fair enough.
Anyway, Dennis Wideman played 20:21. That was more that Dougie Hamilton (by a couple of seconds, but still, those two aren’t even remotely on the same level). In 33 of 50 games played this season, Wideman has played over 20 minutes, including what has now been three games straight (he did play a paltry 17:34 against the Devils, though – phew!).
It might be a tad hyperbolic, but someone dedicated enough may be able to make the argument that Wideman is literally the worst player in the NHL this season. Who turns the puck over in opportune moments leading to goals against, like, constantly. Remember when the Flames had to take the Penguins in a shootout? Whose fault was that, directly?
And I apologize here. It’s so easy to pick on Wideman, because we only have to experience another 25 games of him. (Drink!) And it’s not like anybody particularly showed up for this one. And it’s not like Wideman is the only less than optimal player on the Flames. (Hell, ‘member Nicklas Grossmann? That feels like forever ago and yet he was inserted into the lineup for three whole games for some reason.)
But then, like… why single out Gaudreau? Is this a case where you have that kid in class who always does well by just coasting, so the teacher starts grading them on a harder curve because they “know they can do better”? Gaudreau is expected to be better than that, so he gets punished while lesser players slide? We’ve given up on, say, Wideman, so he can do the bare minimum (i.e. stand on the ice) and gets a good grade, while Gaudreau messes up and gets an F?
Has that ever actually motivated anyone?
There’s no consistency to this. At all. It comes across more as a hissy fit than an actual coaching tactic, at least from the outside.
And that could be a very big problem – much more so than not getting the two points they should have. This is a bubble team. It’d be nice to make the playoffs, but at this point that would be, like, a grand bonus.
The coach, on the other hand? Questions have been swirling around him the entire season. The Flames have taken some noticeable steps forward, but then this happens, and the questions come right back.