The Flames hadn’t lost two games in a row since Jan. 23 and Jan. 24 – back-to-back 4-0, and then 5-1, losses to Toronto and Montreal.
Those games were comparable to the Flames’ October in terms of terribleness. They were the second half of a four-game losing streak: one that saw the Flames hilariously outplayed and outscored, and one that made it pretty clear it was time to throw in the towel.
That’s the last time they lost two games in a row. That’s a two-month streak. Since then, they’ve risen from the ashes and won much more than they’ve lost – but that, evidently, can only carry on for so long.
It could be worse, but with both Predators and Blues wins, it could be better. The Flames are still likely to make the playoffs, but they’ve lost their cushion, as they’re now just one point up on the second wild card spot, and the Central teams both have a game in hand. When you’re playing for seeding – which you should be – this is not an ideal outcome.
Soon, Matthew Tkachuk will return
These aren’t the first games Matthew Tkachuk has missed this season. They’re the first due to suspension, but the Flames have made due without his services before.
This is the first time since he established himself as a full-fledged NHLer with an outside shot at a trophy, though. Tkachuk being scratched earlier in the season was more something to shrug off – he’s young, he’s a rookie, we don’t know if he’s staying up yet; he’s young, he’s a rookie, he isn’t going to be perfect all the time and he’ll have to learn. Now? Not so much. He’s a part of one of the top units in the NHL, he’s probably going to score 50 points in his first season. The team wouldn’t willingly sit him at this point.
So losing him hurt. It gave Sam Bennett a boost, but not one with much in the way of tangible results. It hurt the Flames’ depth. And even though they outshot the Predators, they were still without one of their top scorers.
Sure, they generated their fair share of chances – 34 to 16, if you go by Natural Stat Trick’s numbers – and Dougie Hamilton hit two posts before he finally got one in the back of the net. But you’re not going to win too many games if all you can muster is a single goal. Losing one of your top offensive players makes things that much harder.
Micheal Ferland got an assist!
Micheal Ferland returned to the lineup. In doing so, he accomplished something he hadn’t in 18 games: he put up an assist.
It was his first one since joining Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and then some. Ferland has had no problem scoring goals since joining that line, but actually aiding in creating someone else’s goal simply hadn’t happened.
Until he fed a perfect pass to Hamilton, coming at the end of a spectacular shift in which he and his linemates swarmed and absolutely dominated. The Flames had a number of moments like that throughout the game, but that was the only time they were able to capitalize, and it was a hell of an effort. Gaudreau and Monahan have been crushing it these past few games, and it’s good to see that continue, especially when reunited with their linemate; if they can keep that going into the postseason, then it makes the team that much more threatening. (And if Ferland can repeat his playoff performance performance alongside those two instead of Matt Stajan and David Jones, well…)
Worth noting, though, that the entire line started all of their shifts in the offensive zone. They were good, but they had some help there.
Bonus for Ferland’s assist: he took Troy Brouwer’s spot on the powerplay. Sure, Ferland has been scoring at an unsustainable rate, but at least he’s been scoring; aside from very occasional spots here and there, Brouwer hasn’t been able to do that for quite some time. Ferland got 2:39 in powerplay time, compared to Brouwer’s 1:54.
Unfortunately, speaking of that…
It’s hard to find too much fault in the Flames’ even strength scoring efforts. They gave up three goals at even strength, yes; however, they also kind of dominated the Predators in every way other than scoring goals. A 51.43% CF? Yup. How about 67.57% in scoring chances? Or 55.56% in high danger scoring chances? They could have won on the merit of their play at 5v5 alone.
But throw five powerplays into the mix? Ten minutes with the man advantage, a sixth of the game? Well then this one is no question, is it?
… Unless they went 0-for-5. They had some good looks, sure, but it means absolutely nothing without a goal. A sixth of the game they were put in position to score, and they failed each and every single time, and often times by their own hand. Bump the puck back, clear it yourselves. Shoot it wide, even without Wideman in the lineup. Don’t get a chance to get set up until Mikael Backlund’s unit comes on. Finally replace Brouwer with Ferland; still nothing.
The Flames were beyond pathetic on the man advantage to start the season, and Dave Cameron took his fair share of deserved flack for it. Then they got on a roll. They’re not really on it all that much these days, though. They used it to beat the Winnipeg Jets (and by “they” I mean Backlund and Michael Frolik); Gaudreau scored one against the Penguins, though it was more one of those solo effort goals than anything that looked like a powerplay one; that’s been about it.
Five chances in one game and nothing to show for it? That cost them. They’re middle of the pack now with a 19.1% powerplay, but it needs to be better, especially with that many chances.
Chad Johnson isn’t Brian Elliott, but
Fact of the matter is, Brian Elliott can’t start every game. Well, in theory he could, but it’s not the best idea. You don’t want him overworked – remember, he isn’t used to a traditional starter’s workload – and we’ve seen what can happen when Chad Johnson is out of practice. You want both goalies on their game.
Besides, with six divisional games to finish off the season, you’ve gotta think those are the ones you really want your starting goalie to play in.
But Johnson didn’t have the best game against the Predators, stopping just 14 of 17 shots: a .824 save percentage. That’s not good enough.
Then again, neither was the play of the skaters around him.
The best will still make mistakes; Backlund’s line had a rough night. (Would it have been better with Tkachuk on it? Maybe, but that’s impossible to answer.) That matters a little less when you know everything they can do for you normally, though.
The bottom end of the defence had a rough night. They’ve had several rough nights, actually. I understand the sentiment to re-sign Deryk Engelland, and his jumping up into plays has been fun this year, but he’s not going to get any better and his veteran presence would likely decree he gets a spot over a deserving prospect, because that’s how it’s worked all season. Matt Bartkowski is expansion fodder being played in a sixth role, and he’s not particularly good. It’s just more obvious when Elliott isn’t able to stop absolutely everything that goes against the Flames’ net.
So did Johnson have a great night? Not at all, but he was let down by the Flames’ shutdown line and lack of depth, too. The shutdown line will sort itself out, and so too should the depth over the offseason. But for these playoffs, knock on wood, it’s something the Flames will have to deal with – that is, unless they give a prospect a chance.
I’m reminded of Bob Hartley insisting on playing Corey Potter over Tyler Wotherspoon down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2015.
At least that’s over with
The Flames haven’t really put up their best performances against the Predators this season. First, they were outscored 4-0 before pretending like they made a game of it by scoring three times in the final four minutes. Then, they blew a 4-1 lead only to miraculously tie it up and win in overtime. And now this game: one in which they started strong but faltered, and couldn’t get anything going beyond some good looks that never went in, and ultimately, deservedly, lost.
The Flames aren’t likely to face the Predators at any point in the playoffs, though, so there’s that. And there’s a unique opportunity to be presented in this final stretch: the Sharks and Ducks are two likely opponents for the Flames, but we haven’t seen this edition of them – the one that looks like they have things together, to the best of their abilities – against either of those teams yet. Just like you can’t judge the current Flames for their performance against the Oilers this season, those are a couple of question marks, too.
We’ll see how that goes. In less than a week, it’s going to be all California.