That was intense.
The value of the loser point
I’m not entirely sure you could say the Flames played well enough to win. At the same time, though, they played well enough to not lose.
The Blues were the better team overall. They led with 54.55% 5v5 CF (though just 50.45% in all situations, more on that in a moment). They outchanced the Flames at 5v5, 26-15 in all scoring chances; 13-5 in high danger ones. Their goals were less flukey, relied less on bounces.
… Then again, the Flames hit multiple posts for the second straight game, so you can’t say they were horribly outmatched or didn’t deserve to be in this one. Had Troy Brouwer not missed a wide open net right before the Blues scored their first goal, it could have been a very different final score. No team ever pulled ahead by more than one goal. Both goalies were phenomenal. It was a hell of a battle for all involved.
The loser point is, well, kind of a farce – if you want to get touchy about it, the Flames are tied with the Sharks for most wins in the Pacific, and yet they occupy a wild card spot – but when you have two teams compete the way these two did, it would be kind of cruel to have one come away without at least a point. It’s the regular season, not the playoffs, so it doesn’t really matter as much here. Both teams are all but locks to make the playoffs, and now it’s just a matter of whether they’re wild card or divisional teams.
So it’s cool this one went to overtime. It was just, if you will.
But also thank goodness it didn’t go to the shootout, so the Flames got that crucial ROW, which could prove to be an important tiebreaker. This was a playoff-caliber game. There aren’t any shootouts there.
The Blues didn’t have a hope in overtime.
Jake Allen was on his game, but so was Brian Elliott. Furthermore, Elliott had a whole lot less pressure on him – because the Flames out-corsied the Blues 10-1 in the extra frame.
They had a bad third period, getting decimated by the Blues to the tune of registering a mere 37.14% CF in all situations. The Blues laid on the pressure until they took the lead; very shortly after, the Flames had a small flurry that resulted in Matt Bartkowski’s goal, and both teams kind of chilled out until the end (the main folly of the loser point, if you will). But once the game switched to three-on-three, St. Louis didn’t stand a chance.
The Flames have played in 11 games that ended in overtime this season. They’ve won nine of them.
They’re a top-heavy team. They have three defencemen they can easily rotate between: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton are all responsible defenders with offensive instincts. Then, they have well-established forward units.
Want to start things off playing it safe but still with the potential to score? Play Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik.
Want to go all in? Play Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
… Need a third unit? That’s Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg’s job, which actually raises questions as to why they’re trusted together in a three-on-three situation (as they should be) but aren’t linemates during regular gameplay.
(Matthew Tkachuk probably slots into the rotation next season.)
And then, as we saw late in overtime, there’s the potential to mix them up and not lose anything. Play Backlund with Gaudreau. Play Frolik with Monahan. Both have led to goals, now.
You often see a lot of back-and-forth rushes in overtime as a single mistake can give the other team a scoring opportunity. That was seen more often in regulation in this one, though. When the Blues got in the offensive zone, the Flames boxed them out, took the puck away from them, or had a controlled exit. When the Flames were in the offensive zone, they were almost always in complete control. The goal came down to the wire – and it was a heartbreaker for Allen – but based on those five minutes, the right team won.
Too bad there isn’t three-on-three in the playoffs.
You may have noticed the post-game corsi chart is not kind to most of the Flames.
Take away their overtime performance, and their numbers predictably drop. Look at things in all situations, and there’s still a clear division.
The usual suspects were the only ones clear of 50%: Tkachuk, Backlund, Frolik, Hamilton, and Giordano. (And, of course, the 3M line had 11.11% offensive zone starts, because that’s just how they roll.) Sticking to just 5v5, you have a couple of guys who were in the 40-range, and four players under 30%.
On the other hand, it’s also not. You need a truly dominant game to see everybody over 50%, which is pretty rare (think the 5-0 win over Montreal). But we’ve known all season the Flames have a problem with depth. Their bottom defence pairing is a mess. They’re at least one impact forward short, if not more, and that’s presuming the youth works out as it’s supposed to.
The good news? Depth is easier to fix than finding top end talent. Backlunds and Gaudreaus and Hamiltons don’t grow on trees. They’ve already got a lot of key pieces in place – now it’s just a matter of rounding them out. Versteeg was acquired for a song; Chiasson is a solid fourth liner. Of course, they need still need some pieces stronger than that – but the situation is nothing like it was in prior to the latest lockout.
The Flames still have one of the best five-man units in the NHL. Nobody is going to say that’s a bad thing.
Welcome back, Matthew Tkachuk
Tkachuk’s return did a couple of things.
First off, it heightened the Flames’ top end talent. Bennett put in a valiant effort, but he isn’t feeling it the way Tkachuk is this season. The Flames lost two games in a row, added a probable 50-point scorer, and cemented a season series win over a wildcard opponent.
Second, it helped out the mediocre depth some. For as much as Bennett is struggling this season, putting him back down the middle in Freddie Hamilton’s place is a benefit. Hamilton is a decent replacement-level player. Bennett has more talent, plain and simple. Even if he ends up with Bouma as a linemate, it’s still a better, deeper lineup.
And finally, it gave us the chance to witness obscenely high-skill plays from a teenager.
DAAAMMNNNNN Matthew pic.twitter.com/TmBu4rdioS
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) March 26, 2017
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It was noted by Kristen Odland before the game that the last time the Flames were in St. Louis, Tkachuk was coming off of two games of being a healthy scratch. It ended up being the first instance of the 3M line, and I distinctly recall Tkachuk specifically having so many chances it was cruel he couldn’t get a goal in the city in which he grew up.
That was at the start of the season. This is the end of it. He’s grown a lot since then – but the seeds were planted way back when the team was floundering.
Here’s to the unheralded
Micheal Ferland’s time on the powerplay appears to have been short-lived, as after a brief retreat in Nashville, he was taken off the man advantage and Brouwer put back on to the tune of 2:05. It resulted in a goal which is, well, good – through Brouwer doesn’t really have a hope of living up to his contract, at least certainly not for this season – but it’s still not a long-term solution and the Flames are going to embarrass themselves with that powerplay in the playoffs.
There’s a reason Bartkowski was playing in the AHL this year. That said, remember his debut against the Canucks, in which he had a couple of looks and almost tied the game a couple of times? Well, he managed it this go-around – and for a guy who’s now up to seven career NHL goals, you cherish each and every one of them. All six of his previous goals were scored for the Canucks in 2015-16, so this may very well have been his first actually meaningful NHL goal, securing the Flames a point and setting the stage for a second one. Good on him. (As we, however, continue to wait for Rasmus Andersson’s NHL debut.)
And though he didn’t appear on the score sheet, Deryk Engelland had a game-saving stop and made a perfect defensive play on Vladimir Tarasenko as he nearly got a clear lane in on Elliott. Ninety-nine times out of 100, you probably take Tarasenko in that battle. Engelland made that one time count, and it was awesome.