I do not think it can be understated just how horrible the Flames were to start the game.
They were terrible. It was the kind of play that made you stop and think, well, all good things must come to an end. Even if it is against the Jets – a team that doesn’t exactly look like they’ll be competing for a playoff spot (they’re still under .500) – well, hey, these things happen. Dennis Wideman is back, after all. And they weren’t great against the Red Wings either, were they? Outside of the 3M line and Brian Elliott, there was no hope–
And then the 3M powerplay unit got two goals and Elliott got a shutout. That’ll do it.
Our regularly scheduled Elliott update
Elliott is currently riding a 128:28 shutout. Remember when his save percentage was so horrible it was unsalvageable? It’s now at .910. That’s not amazing, but that’s looking pretty salvaged. He’s tied with Ben Bishop! He’s even almost up with Chad Johnson, who’s still sitting at .913.
Switch to even strength only, and Elliott’s save percentage jumps up to .920 (Johnson’s is .922).
The Flames are basically like a well-oiled machine these days. Only when they aren’t performing optimally, Elliott is, and he’s ready to bail them out until they can get going again. Because seriously: Elliott is the one to thank for the Flames not entering that first intermission down. He kept them in the game. They regrouped. And he got his second straight shutout.
And while it’s Elliott rightfully getting all of the attention nowadays, a sincere thank you to Johnson, because the Flames wouldn’t be where they currently are without his play earlier in the season, either. The Flames hedged their bets by getting two goalies who had good numbers, but neither of whom was ever a full-blown proven starter. It paid off with Johnson in November. It’s paying off with Elliott now. This team isn’t sitting second in the Pacific (one game in hand pending) without the work from the two of them.
Almost as though the Flames got the ideal goaltending tandem – and we are finally seeing it manifest as expected.
A night of highs
For the first time, the Calgary Flames won nine games in a row.
For the first time, Mikael Backlund scored 48 points in a single season.
For the first time, Dougie Hamilton scored 44 points in a single season.
Backlund and Hamilton probably aren’t done yet, in all likelihood (Backlund is on pace for 58 points; Hamilton for 53). We hope the Flames aren’t, either, because if they hit their 10th win they’d tie an Atlanta Flames record – and maybe even set themselves up for a brand new one. That’s obviously less certain, but they have beaten the Penguins and the Bruins earlier this season…
Anyway. You’ll notice Backlund has tied Johnny Gaudreau for the lead in team scoring once again, though Gaudreau has played 10 fewer games. Sean Monahan took a step forward with 46 points, while Hamilton’s big three-assist night caught him up to Matthew Tkachuk.
Michael Frolik hasn’t hit a career high in points yet, but he’s inching towards it. He sits at 41 now – that’s six Flames with 40+ points – and is just four away from tying his career high. He’s on pace for 49. (There’s a pretty good chance every member of the 3M line will be a 50-point scorer. That’s the shutdown line.)
The best powerplay
Carrying on with the 3M lovefest, you know who led the Flames in powerplay time last night? Finally, their best unit.
We know the 3M line is literally one of the best in the entire NHL, and there’s similar evidence to draw that conclusion regarding Mark Giordano and Hamilton’s pairing, too. And this is a group that tends to get the worst zone starts. So imagine what they could do when put specifically in a position to succeed? Like, you know… on the powerplay?
The 3M forwards all got 4:17 on the man advantage, while Hamilton finally – finally! – led the Flames’ defencemen in powerplay time with 4:14. This has been a long time coming, but it’s pretty hard to argue with results. Not only do they simply look better than the unit with Gaudreau and Monahan – they’re chasing less, they’re dictating play more, they’re just more composed and in control in general most times – but they scored two goals.
The Flames’ powerplay is now clicking at an even 20.0%, 14th in the NHL. It can probably get better if the team defaulted to their top powerplay unit. The real one – the one that consists of arguably the best five-man unit in the NHL.
We have to talk about Troy
There are a couple of things really holding this year’s Flames team back. The first is their lack of defensive depth. The second is Troy Brouwer.
You probably noted his 5v5 CF of just 6.25% in the recap. Kent Wilson noted how he was at 0% after two periods. He was on the ice for one shot attempt. One.
Incredibly tiny sample sizes beware, but Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg shot up about 60% each when they were separated from him for not even a full minute.
That’s not enough to draw a hard conclusion on. You know what is, though? We’re almost 70 games into this season and Brouwer doesn’t even belong in the top nine, and rarely looks like it. Right when the Flames were on the verge of escaping their indefensible contracts (mostly Smid, Wideman), they went and added another one – and it’s drastically awful.
There will always be whipping boys on teams, true. There will always be guys who don’t live up to their deals. You know what the difference is between having a fourth line centre costing over $3 million in Matt Stajan and Brouwer, though? Stajan doesn’t take his linemates down with him. Stajan’s the kind of guy you can just shrug and ignore the cap hit on, because he still plays at a serviceable level.
Brouwer is… not. At all. The Flames probably aren’t going to change their lineup while they’re still winning, but Bennett and Versteeg have real potential to help out the top nine, and they can’t because of the guy on their right wing who is seemingly not helping at all.
And if the argument is that Brouwer is just saving it for the playoffs, he’s a playoff performer based off of last postseason and literally nothing else, then how is even that acceptable? It’s leadership to actively drag your linemates down throughout the lengthy regular season when you still have to fight to make the playoffs because once upon a time you scored a Blackhawks-eliminating goal? Weird.
With Bennetts like these, who needs Bolligs
I’m not a fan of fighting in the NHL… except when it’s born of raw emotion and the participants are two players who have much more to offer.
Wow. And that’s his second fight of this win streak; remember when he went HAM on Ryan Johansen?
Remember last season when Bob Hartley flat out ran out of ideas and put Brandon Bollig on Gaudreau’s line? That line couldn’t even enter the offensive zone. Now they’ve got Micheal Ferland up there, who can also hold his own. Bennett is pretty willing to give these things a go. Matthew Tkachuk could end up being that guy, too. And these are all top-nine players.
There was never a need to waste a roster spot on a pure goon in the modern NHL, anyway – but now the Flames really have no excuse.