22Sean Monahan
Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

Flames 5, Kings 2 post-game embers: Abdicate that throne, Los Angeles

Maybe it was Curtis Lazar’s perfect angel smile? A smile crafted from pixie dust, unicorn farts, and really strong brushing habits, but the Calgary Flames looked extremely capable last night. Extremely capable against a Los Angeles Kings team that is known for their grinding style that often resembles death by an iron maiden.

If anything, beyond some mistakes and some weird player usage again – I’m looking at you, Troy Brouwer – this may be one of the finest examples of #trusttheprocess of what a full season under Glen Gulutzan has accomplished. Which is great because it’s a goddamn death march into April so it’s nice it’s happening now and hopefully the success can continue with each game.

Give Tkachuk some room, he’s throwin’ elbows

Matthew Tkachuk is a very good hockey player and he’s not even 20 yet. He’s also incredibly capable of the occasional slew foot, questionable hit, and throwing some vicious elbows. You have to hope that he was aiming for a Filip Forsberg reverse hit that often left a body count as deep as some World War 2 theaters. Regardless of intention or not it’s very likely the Department of Player Safety calls Tkachuk – or texts him because he’s a millennial after all – to discuss what he did.

This might actually cost him a game or two, folks. Though he’ll be lucky if he gets fined.

Tkachuk has garnered quite the reputation as a player that either crosses the line or rides the line as closely as he can to give the Flames an advantage. There’s also a measurable and palpable narrative shaping up among fans of other teams and writers around the league about this. The worst case scenario is this – and other past or future incidents – overshadowing his success so far in his rookie season. If he sits for a game or two it might help rein him in a bit which may benefit him in the long run. Having a caliber of player like Tkachuk as an asset in this team’s core is a blessing in every hyperbolic sense of the word.

He just needs to find a way to avoid throwing elbows that might cost him in the long run. The feisty ball of hate who makes friends wherever he goes finished the night with a 65% CF at 5v5 while contributing three iCF events (shots that were blocked, missed, or on net). He’s kind of like a badger, but he drives play and drives the opposition nuts.

Sean Monahan is a better player under Glen Gulutzan and we should be happy

There is, was, and will be a lot of warranted – and unwarranted – criticism for what Sean Monahan is at the NHL level. His play away from the puck has been maligned and it’s driven a lot of fans stark raving mad at times. So when the growth a lot of us had hoped for a year ago or even a few months ago starts to manifest it’s a very exciting time. Watching his game closely over the winning streak from both the eye test and looking at his statistical outputs should keep fans attentive to the changes Gulutzan has established in his game. It’s not perfect, it will never be perfect, but he’s a better player in general.

This shift in particular caught my eye last night. It was just a lot of little things that weren’t very pronounced in previous seasons and over the last few weeks it’s started to continue. Part of it might have came with an adoption of Gulutzan’s approaches to puck support in the defensive zone to the clogging of the neutral zone – which we saw a lot of last night – but his pace on the forecheck has been very pronounced as of late. The usage of the fabled 3M line gives this team the luxury to involve Monahan against easier competition and play much easier starts, that’s a no-brainer.

What has also helped – though it might take some more sleuthing – is playing with Micheal Ferland (who was ill last night). Ferland is known for his torrid pace and it might have been a missing link coupled with systemic changes, personal growth, and usage that has started changing Monahan’s game. Since Feb. 1, Monahan has been better and it shows in his underlying results (5v5 results via Corsica):

GP CF% FF% GF% xGF% Rel. CF%
 19 50.86%  50.13%  72.73%  51.48%  0.99

It’s a step in the right direction for him which should create some optimism for a player like Sam Bennett who has struggled at 5v5 this season. If he can continue to produce, make a difference in driving play within the confines of the role he is deployed in, and continue to make a difference away from the puck then it’s worth discussing Monahan’s development this year as an overall improvement, even if his point totals are down. Monahan finished the night with a 5v5 CF% of 47.06%.

Some systems things aka Glen’s work is showing

Speaking of transitions and regrouping, you may have noticed how the team as a whole will pounce and circle back on the attack when they can. This is an extremely prominent theme in how Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton operate as a pairing; they’re often looking to get back into the offensive zone as soon as they’re pushed back. It’s also an extremely prevalent theme with the 3M line, who showcased some more of Gulutzan’s coaching impact in several plays:

This play is a textbook move by the five-man unit and it’s not surprising how often it works to generate offensive zone time even if it doesn’t generate a whole lot. At the very least you’re suppressing the Kings from doing anything. Even if Giordano continues to fire at will from there, there’s a level of chaos at play here which might be the goal along with creating screens and/or deflections on those shots.

With this sequence, the Flames manage the Kings’ forecheck – a common theme of last night – as Hamilton, Giordano, and Frolik play huge roles in moving the pressure the Kings attempt to create around and out. Even with Mikael Backlund’s failed pass, you have Frolik positioned perfectly to break up a pass which gives Tkachuk and Backlund ready to break out on a 2-on-1. It’s just classic work for the line and it’s very easy to draw attention to because it’s one of the best aspects of the game.

By all accounts this may have been Michael Stone’s best game as a Flame so far despite the 46.43% 5v5 CF last night. Stone has been subject to a lot of meaningful discussion of the eye test or perceived impact/results vs measured outputs. All that aside, this sequence is another example of the Flames keeping the neutral zone under control despite the failed zone entry. That gives Brodie the opportunity to throw it back in giving the Monahan line a prime scoring chance utilizing a low to high passing scheme.

Monahan steps up assisting Stone at the blue line which eventually leads to the goal.

This Calgary Flames team is night and day from the Flames under Bob Hartley, which is probably the best compliment you can throw at them. It’s not perfect and finding a way to augment this roster a bit better moving forward is only going to make them a scarier team. But hey, throw in a stretch pass here and there for some nostalgia:

Let’s close on the defense

It would be fair to say Matt Bartkowski (47.06% CF at 5v5) and Deryk Engelland (44.44% CF ) had a relatively rough night against the Kings, being on the ice for the two goals against. Finding an opportunity to maximize the roster in every way possible should be a discussion point moving forward. This is where you have a chance to potentially play Rasmus Andersson to give the team another option, in another pairing to move the puck a bit better. There’s no guarantee it will work, but frankly watching Bartkowski shoot the puck off the boards and out – or fail at it – isn’t viable.

The pairing isn’t quick enough and it was feasted upon at times on the Kings’ relentless forecheck and grinding game that takes advantage of those types of players. Both defensemen also have reluctance more often than not – though Engelland this season has carried the puck a bit more – will refrain from skating the puck out. This needs to stop and it needs to stop because the make of the forward group doesn’t benefit from that.

The opportunity to play Andersson at some point this week might be something worth exploring. He is young, he can move the puck, and he has some offensive upside. The results from Bartkowski on aggregate since he joined the team aren’t anything to write home about:

GP CF% FF% GF% xGF% Rel. CF%
 13 44.11%  43.27%  61.54%  39.73% -8.34

The GF% has been a huge stat padding a lot of perceptions about player results throughout the winning streak, but Bartkowski has been shelled more than the Battle of Somme in his 13 GP. What’s worse is the expected goals for (xGF%) shows that he’s benefiting a lot from the success of the forwards he’s playing with. It would be in the best interests of the team to consider Andersson or even Dennis Wideman for a game, just to see what’s there. Incremental improvements are all you need to create a bit more stability; stability in which Bartkowski doesn’t inherently offer.

  • Muffin

    Gio deserves a lot more recognition over this stretch. The guy has been a beast, and last night was no different. Yes, he’s older. Yes, he may slow down. But he has been absolutely dominant in the past few games.

  • kid presentable

    Excellent work, mike. I had been noticing an improvement in monahan’s overall game and I’m glad other people are too, and the stats back that up to some extent. He was touted as a v strong 2 way player back in junior and he’s showing more that he’s not only a triggerman in the nhl. Hope he continues to show improvement (along with the rest of our youth).

    Could not agree more with your assessment of the bottom 2 d, esp bartkowski. They are hemmed in their own zone almost every shift. The only time the opposition seems to get momentum is when they are on the ice (the back to back penalties from engelland and bartkowski are a testament to this). And they sink every forward group they play with. There’s no way Andersson and/or kulak would be worse.

    Bottom pair and Brouwer are the weak links right now. Luckily we seem to have the internal tools to fix it, I hope it doesn’t take the coaching staff that much longer to do so

  • Eggs Bennett

    They need to get Sam some more ice time with better wingers to get him going. I truly believe he has the potential to be a star and important pivot into the future. Just as much as Monahan kept playing with Gaudreau during his rough patch, Bennett needs a quality winger to consistently play with. And I really don’t understand why Brouwer fell off a cliff this season. His underlying numbers weren’t great but this season… here’s hoping it’s an anomaly due to a nagging injury or something and he can turn it around.

    • Flamethrower

      I totally agree with your view. There were times last night that it was almost painful to watch Brouwer play.
      Bennetts play with Versteeg is actually not bad at all, a better fit with that line in my opinion would be to give Lazar a shot.
      Time to reward Jankowski. Bring him up to play 4th line between Stajan and Chaisson. This also allows for the 3rd and 4th lines to have two playable centers.
      For the Flames though management would never allow Brouwer to sit with the amount of money they are paying him. We can only hope he goes unprotected for the expansion draft and gets plucked.

  • RedMan

    I was expecting a bad game, given the multiple changes, but what a pleasant surprise.
    Got to give Gully some credit for getting the team all on the season page and pace. Too bad Chucky accidently got that elbow up, or was it a shoulder? Ya, we’re gonna miss him for a game or two likely

  • Bob's Hockey Stick

    I don’t mind having Tkachuck playing it physical and cross the line. Reminds me alot of that dirty cheap shot artist Messier that the Oilers had.( Playoffs , Messier’s dirty deliberate injury spear to Wilson, His dirty Mother of all elbows to ric Natress…. yea we remember those moments). Nice when your not on the recieving end of dirty plays. Kid plays the same hard nosed game his old man played. You win with guys like Tkachuck. You also win with guys like Johnny. Kings are done for this season. I’d say look out next season for the Kings. They tend to remember who put them out and who stomped on their throats. The Kings know this season’s lost, they just taking numbers for next season.

  • Parallex

    “The opportunity to play Andersson at some point this week might be something worth exploring. He is young, he can move the puck, and he has some offensive upside. The results from Bartkowski on aggregate since he joined the team aren’t anything to write home about”

    C’mon man… you know they’re not going to do that (take out Bartkowski for Andersson). Gulutzan is a vast improvement on Hartley but he still has that annoying predilection about handedness.

  • Captain Ron

    Mike your analysis is really accurate. I was at the Dome last night and had similar thoughts on the game. I was most impressed at how well they defended against the Kings in the third period. This is a team that plays a much better brand of hockey than we have seen here in a long time. They are becoming a force to reckon with in the league. Goaltending is a big part of it to be sure as it is with any team but a few tweaks here and there and this team is going places. If they can keep this up we will see them near the top of the standings more often than not going forward.

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    Bartkowski isn’t all bad – he’s not afraid to play physical and likes to get involved in the offensive zone. He’s also a stop-gap measure to bandage up the D and meet the teams minimum exposure requirements. Take him over the guy sitting in the press box any day.