Matinee games often derail your weekend. Sometimes they’re boring and sometimes both teams are so flat that it takes 40 minutes for anything fun to happen.
Fortunately today the Calgary Flames didn’t disappoint – for the most part – and it featured a prominent showing from a Flame that is quickly validating more and more that he should be protected in the expansion draft.
Things might be looking up here, folks, and it’s just in time for the final push.
Hurricane Ferly touched down today in Raleigh, North Carolina and it left a trail of destruction as Micheal Ferland continued his strong play as of late. Funny, when you put a guy like Ferland with capable linemates who give him room and an opportunity to show off his skill-set you get results like this. Why we had to wait this long into the season to finally get more of the Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Ferland line is beyond reason at this point.
What an unreal pass by Gaudreau to Micheal Ferland: pic.twitter.com/47nNZCBKhm
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) February 26, 2017
Today we saw the many faces of what Ferland is, a versatile winger who can be effective away from the puck and deadly with the puck. The pass from Gaudreau after a Michael Stone shot block might be one of the most beautiful Calgary Flames sequences all season. It’s impossible to fathom most NHL players being able to make that pass let alone having a guy with that speed and the ability to finish in Ferland.
Heck of an effort on Ferland on forcing the turnover. Gaudreau then makes some magic happen.
What a good line. pic.twitter.com/9q8MxOk728
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) February 26, 2017
The Gaudreau goal starts with Ferland recovering after a failed zone exit, forcing a turnover, and feeding the diminutive Flames winger down the ice to start the play. For most of the season this line has lacked these types of elements; things like this obviously go a long way but they enable Gaudreau and Monahan to play to their strengths.
If this line sticks – and it should – then it gives the Flames a 1-2 punch with highly regarded 3M Line continuing to match top competition, play in the tougher starts, and drive play. But more importantly beyond all of those things it will continue to enable to of the cornerstones of this franchise to do what they do best: create offense.
Ferland finished the game with a team-leading six iCF (shots, missed shots, shots that were blocked), four shots, a goal, and 51.28% CF at 5v5. What does all that mean? Play him more because he deserves it.
Backlund for Selke: Get on board
Another game, another game where Mikael Backlund and his colleagues on the 3M Line rarely see an offensive zone start. One of Glen Gulutzan’s honestly masterful decisions this year was to keep this line together as much as he could. It’s worked brilliantly as they’ve steadied this team through dire straights throughout the season. Glen was feeling nice so he gave them one out of 15 starts they had together.
The cornerstone of that like is Mikael Backlund and he deserves Selke buzz for what he brings – and has historically brought – to this team.
Prior to today’s game, Backlund’s zone start ratios are among some of the most difficult on the team. 40.45% of his starts at 5v5 come in the defensive zone. With that comes his impact, relative to his peers:
- 8.66 Rel. CF60 (relative to his peers, 8.66 more Corsi For events happen while on the ice/60)
- -2.34 Rel. CA60 (relative to his peers, 2.34 less Corsi Against events happen while on the ice/60)
- -18.29 Rel. ZSR (relative to his peers, he takes much more difficult starts)
It’s not even his 5v5 impact or his historically known impact to improve his linemates, but his impacts on special teams, too. Of all forwards who’ve played at least 120 minutes of 4v5 this season, Backlund’s CA60 is 81.29 (fifth best in the NHL). Along with that comes his ability to create offense with partner Michael Frolik while shorthanded (17.78 CF60, seventh).
All of these are even more impressive when you adjust for score, zone, and venue, too.
He also manages to do this while seeing a disproportionate ratio of actual zone starts versus on-the-fly shifts on the penalty kill. Historically we know that often impacts shot and goal metrics against while shorthanded, but he’s maintained a gold standard with over 145 minutes (tops for forwards on the team) of 4v5 TOI.
You can go down the list of virtually every metric at 5v5 and at 4v5 to see why he should be in the discussion. At the end of the day, he’s been a solid piece of the core for many years, and he deserves recognition this year for his impacts on this team.
What does Troy Brouwer actually do here?
It feels like Troy Brouwer has no real use or place in the lineup. The good news is he at least broke even (50%) at 5v5 in terms of CF%. The bad news is he didn’t generate a shot on goal or really do anything out there in a forward leading 18:25 of ice time. Ice time that could have been used for other forwards to maybe produce more offense.
For example: the line who scored three goals today.
The emergence of Ferland as of late quickly dethroned him of his place atop the Flames’ first line. Prior to that, he competed regularly with miscast forward Alex Chiasson for that role. Now, he’s seemingly banished to the Flames’ third and fourth lines. All the more egregious is the contract, the lack of production, the negative impact on his teammates, and so forth.
It’s becoming the perfect storm of showcasing how investing this type of money into a forward who has struggled to produce at 5v5 and dine out on the power play in the past is a bad idea. Keep in mind, prior to today’s game, Brouwer was shooting above his career average, too (15.4% currently, 14.2% career). The notion that Brouwer can miraculously turn it on in the playoffs is dumbfounded in folklore, smoke & mirrors, and recency bias.
So what the hell do you do? Expose him. It’s the best and most logical thing you can do.
If you’re not shooting the puck, putting up points, making a difference on the penalty kill, or finding a way to suppress the opposition at even strength then what tangible benefit do you provide over anyone else on this roster? This isn’t a debate of what he brings off the ice or in the room because frankly they’re non-factors in discussing tangible results.
It’s impossible to reward him with ice time if he often spends time failing to keep up with the pace of events. Even in a system which can slow down play – or in today’s case of holding a lead – this isn’t a fit financially or skill-set wise with how this team is rounding out.
Honestly, you hope this isn’t as good as it gets, but it probably is.
Johnny Is Back, As Predicted
Johnny Hockey ™ pic.twitter.com/y3vEYg8Bm4
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) February 26, 2017
Let’s close on something near and dear to my heart: a tiny winger who is flashy, loves Nutella, and is getting back to form.
Honestly, was there any worry that Gaudreau wouldn’t return to form? Probably, albeit a bit miscast given what we know about him. His behind-the-back-no-look pass to Ferland was a vintage Johnny Hockey™ move that fans haven’t seen a lot of this season. Fortunately for fans, he along with his linemates are getting hot at the right time and if that new top line sticks together then the Flames have a fighting chance at the post-season.
Today he had four iCF events (three shots) at 5v5 to go along with his two goals and assist. The only lingering issue was seeing him shelled in the third period as Carolina pressed to create really anything as Gaudreau finished with a 44.19% CF at 5v5.
Finding a balance between protecting a lead and still finding opportunities in the offensive zone is something that NHL coaches have trouble embracing, but it’s something that should be explored. With a player like Gaudreau, finding every opportunity to exploit a trailing team’s risk taking might be a fantastic avenue to create additional offense.