The Flames are in a weird spot where moral victories both do and don’t count.
They don’t count because they literally do not count. The Flames got 0 points out of their loss to the Washington Capitals. That does absolutely nothing for them. Like congrats, you hanged in there. You never let it get worse than a two-goal lead, and it was actually tied for most of the game. You generated chances, from Johnny Gaudreau to Sean Monahan, to Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on the penalty kill, to Deryk Engelland because why not, to Mark Giordano. Your goalie kept you in it. What do you have to show for it? Nothing.
On the other hand, you hanged in there against a now-102 point team. That is a lot of points. You are nowhere near that level, and it showed. And yet, when Troy Brouwer scored to make it a one-goal game again, and Giordano nearly tied it up on the ensuing faceoff, you made the game’s outcome in doubt. (Until another powerplay goal, that is, but there were only minutes to go. Getting that far was pretty awesome.) That means something when you’re still building.
You are expected to be a playoff team now. You might even get home ice in the first round. But you aren’t that good a team, not yet. That’s where you’re hoping to be. That’s where you have to work to get to.
Not a bad one to lose
The Flames were probably not going to go on another 10-game win streak to close out the season. Now, they officially can’t! They’ll probably even lose some of their remaining nine games, because sometimes teams just lose.
If you had to mark any game you expected this team to lose, it’d have been this one. As the Capitals showed from the get-go, they’re a top threat for the President’s Trophy for a reason: they are pretty dang good. Visually, the Flames were clearly outclassed most of the time. Statistically, the Capitals maintained a 52.88% 5v5 CF, with scoring chances being 28-22 at 5v5 for the Caps, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Even with the Capitals’ recent slide, the chances of finding a happy ending were rather slim. They became even slimmer when the Flames were down two top six forwards before the puck even dropped.
The good news? The Flames may not have picked up any points, but neither did anyone who matters. Congrats to the Caps in their quest for the President’s Trophy, but they’re in the east, so we don’t really care.
The Flames are still 11 points up on ninth place, three points up on the second wild card spot, one loser point back of second in the division, and for some reason, five points back of first place in the division. (If loser points weren’t a thing, they’d be two back of first place.) Why not, eh? This ultimately anticipated loss doesn’t really hurt at all.
Sorry, no franchise record
The hype around Brian Elliott potentially breaking Mike Vernon’s franchise record of 11 straight wins was a bit unfortunately timed, if only because the Capitals are, well, clearly the better team. If the Flames were going to win this one, it was probably going to be because their goalie stole it.
He didn’t manage quite that, but he did do a pretty fantastic job for what he had to work with. Elliott stopped 36 of 40 shots – 35 were at even strength – for a .900 save percentage. For as much as Elliott was under .900 on the season, he’s at the point now where the Caps, playing a great game, can’t get him to fall below that number.
He hasn’t been under .900 since that bizarre 6-5 overtime win over Nashville, actually, so that’s a nice little 11-game record to maintain.
A couple fewer penalties, though, and Elliott – whose even strength save percentage was .943 – would have at least stolen a point. He was fantastic, and there really isn’t much else you can ask of him. The first goal against was a turnover, the second was some wizardry from the Capitals’ top line, and the final two were on the Capitals’ 22.0% powerplay, including an Alex Ovechkin shot. Let’s see you stop an Alex Ovechkin shot. Elliott actually stopped 10.
Fun with ice times
Freddie Hamilton drew in for the first time since Feb. 18 (and before then, he hadn’t played since Jan. 23). The Flames’ insistence on consistently healthy scratching him has always baffled me, because it’s not like he’s great, but it’s not like he’s bad, either. He’s just there. He’s a quiet, steady player, and there are worse things you could get out of your fourth liners who only saw 9:05 of ice time.
Case in small sample sizes: his 5v5 CF of 27.27% is noticeably better than that of his linemates (Curtis Lazar and Lance Bouma came in at 15.38% with similar amounts of ice time). Granted all it takes is one slightly better shift with slightly better linemates to skew that, but still, you know? Hamilton could probably be a decent semi-regular option. At worst, he’s cheap and can slot in when you immediately need him and is related to one of your best defencemen. At best, he generates a scoring chance all of a sudden against one of the best teams in the NHL. Why not?
Frolik, Monahan, Gaudreau, and Backlund were the Flames forwards to get over 19 minutes of ice time, which isn’t surprising: they’re the healthy linemates of those we’ve lost. Very much worth noting that Frolik was feeling it in this game: he had six shots on net. He’s had 20 in his past five games; he’s had 10 straight games with at least a shot, totalling up to 34. He’s only had three goals during that time. Somebody please let him score more.
Replacements Alex Chiasson and Sam Bennett got 16:32 and 15:45, respectively. There was a clearly defined top six, even if Brouwer was somehow sneaking in there at 14:25 (though he was on the night for eight corsi events for at 5v5 and got a goal, so… improvement?).
T.J. Brodie won the ice time battle on the defence with 24:12 in ice time, helped in part by playing the most on special teams and being the only top four defenceman to not take a penalty. Giordano and Dougie Hamilton failed to crack the 20-minute mark, but only by a couple of seconds.
Deryk Engelland – who is prone to randomly making these incredible offensive plays, it would seem – played 17:47, 2:02 of which came on a rather lacklustre penalty kill. Matt Bartkowski followed it up with 16:21. Those are clearly the bottom end of this rotation, but they’re far from scrub numbers, especially considering the quality of opponent they had to go up against. They were also, unsurprisingly, the worst of the defencemen, but when you’re Bartkowski and the opponent you’re seeing the most is Evgeny Kuznetsov, well, you have to expect a certain outcome there.
Do you think Rasmus Andersson gets to make his NHL debut once the Flames have clinched a playoff spot?
Sam Bennett’s new groove
I present to you Bennett’s 5v5 corsi numbers, since the 10-game win streak started: 50.00%, 44.44%, 44.00%, 51.85%, 34.48%, 37.50%, 47.37%, 61.54%, 16.67%, 47.06%, 28.57%, 41.67%, 46.67%, 66.67%.
Whoa that’s a real jump at the end there I wonder what changed?? (The other 60%+ game was the 5-0 win over Montreal, in which you had to actively try to look bad.)
He did it with 0% offensive zone starts. For all the hand-wringing playing with Backlund and Frolik can cause – “they’re good, but they’re the shutdown guys, so their other linemate will end up with hard minutes” – it sure doesn’t seem to be affecting anyone negatively.
Bennett didn’t score, but he had chances, and a whole new jump to his game playing alongside Backlund and Frolik, and that’s what we needed to see out of him. He probably just has one game left on that line before he goes back to centring the fourth line – which is pretty brutal, honestly, and something better needs to be figured out with him, hopefully before the regular season ends but definitely by next season – so hopefully he can make some more noise in the next game and carry that on through the rest of the season. Ragdolling opponents and making them bleed is cool; actually scoring goals is way cooler.
Also, a thought: could Backlund and Frolik cure Brouwer? Can they truly do everything? The problem with that being – I remember when Bouma received his contract extension, and there was an argument floating around that he’d be worth it because Backlund could make it worth it. But bogging down two of your better players just to try to make one of your worst ones appear passable only prevents them from doing what they’re truly capable of. Compare Backlund with Bouma on his wing to Backlund with Matthew Tkachuk on his wing, and it’s night and day.
The 50-point club
With his goal, Monahan successfully reached 50 points for the third season in a row. He’s got nine games to go on a tear and make it 60 again. It’s probably not going to happen, but it’s not out of the question, especially considering how he and Gaudreau seem to be rolling as of late.
That gives the Flames three 50-point scorers now: Monahan tied with Backlund for second in team scoring, and Gaudreau in first place with 53 points. Gaudreau is the only one on pace to score 60 points this season, and just barely (albeit in 10 fewer games played).
Hamilton is already in the midst of a career season; he has nine games to score another three points to hit the milestone. Tkachuk will have eight games to score another four to make for a 50-point rookie season.
Frolik, who clearly wants a goal as discussed re: his shot totals as of late, has never scored 50 points in a season. Four more points sets a career high for him, though. That’s something to cheer for, especially since that career high came in his rookie season back in 2008-09. He and Backlund were practically made to play with one another – a prime exhibit is virtually every single chance they generate shorthanded – why not set career highs at the same time, too?