There are three games left in the Flames’ season before things get really serious. That means they have three games to figure things out, because they have not been playing up to par for… well, probably a couple of weeks now.
Nobody is expecting them to be world beaters, not at this stage, but they absolutely have to be better than that, and we know they can be.
Thank goodness for them, though, that they’re guaranteed at least another two home games – because that would have been a rough way to say goodbye to your home fans.
Say goodbye to home ice
The maximum number of points the Flames can now get is 98, and that’s only if they sweep California. In other words: San Jose, with a three-point lead, is the only team the Flames can really catch anymore; meanwhile, Nashville is just one point back of them, and could force the Flames to open against the Chicago Blackhawks.
So that season finale against the Sharks could end up being massive, depending on how both teams fare over their next two games. As long as the Flames win one more than the Sharks before they face one another again, third place in the Pacific will be up for grabs. If not, then it’ll be a wildcard spot – and who knows how that one will turn out?
Though I gotta be honest, based on how the Flames have played against all of their potential playoff opponents this year, the Ducks are the only ones I’d really prefer they not face. I have no idea how that 8-3 win from way back actually happened, but it looks increasingly like it was a fluke. Calgary was just soundly outplayed in this one – maybe not to begin with, but they were especially dominated in the third period (which team was playing on the second half of a back-to-back, again?). The way they were completely boxed out from attempting anything, especially after Anaheim took the lead, was masterful.
The bottom defence pairing
Matt Bartkowski and Deryk Engelland in particular could have had better games.
Yeah, they’re the bottom defence pairing; chances are they’re not going to perform any miracles. But they were out there for the Ducks’ final two goals, including that backbreaking game-winning one with just three minutes to go in regulation.
… Why was the bottom defence pairing out there with three minutes to go in a tie game? Bartkowski had more shifts in the third period than he did in the second. Why? Has he somehow proven himself to be a viable candidate to help hold a lead? Not that the game-winner was entirely his fault, but is that over with now?
This is the part that concerns me. If you’ll recall in the playoffs two years ago, one of the reasons the Flames were able to beat the Canucks was because Willie Desjardins realized far too late he didn’t have to roll four lines. The Sedins had limited ice time against the Flames because for some reason, getting… whoever was on the Canucks’ fourth line at the time, like hell if I remember… their fair share of ice time was more important than actually playing the guys who could score. And I shouldn’t have to remind you who one of Desjardins’ assistant coaches was back then. (I’ll give you a hint, his name was Glen.)
Late in a time game against a potential playoff opponent, potential division champion, and the Flames’ already very suspect depth continued to be used. I can’t really figure out why.
… If it’s to rest players, then could we see, maybe, like, Rasmus Andersson instead? It’s not like the Flames have a whole lot left to play for in these three games.
3M line back on the board
Mikael Backlund’s line has done virtually everything for the Flames this season. They kept them going when nobody else could, and they were quickly identified as the line that could handle just about anything thrown at it.
With an added bonus: while Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan slumped, Backlund became the Flames’ leading scorer, and even hit 50 points for the first time in his career.
And then he stopped scoring all together for six games.
Well, Backlund got back on the board, as did Michael Frolik, who had been undergoing a three-game pointless streak. Frolik is now at 44 points on the season: one off from his career high from way back when he was a rookie.
Frolik also led the way for the Flames with four shots. He’s been shooting a fair amount this late in the season; it was nice to finally see him rewarded, six games after his last goal. He’s been due.
Rough night for Johnny Gaudreau
Plus/minus is a hell of a mostly pointless stat. But remember earlier in the season, when Gaudreau was struggling, and one of the things brought up was how he was proud of having never been a minus-player in his career, and yet there he was throughout the year, carrying a negative on his stat line?
He still has the chance to dig himself out of it, but he was a -3 against the Ducks (-6 on the season now), and the Ducks only scored three even strength goals.
It was the game-winning goal he takes the most blame for, outright leaving the would-be goal scorer so he could do… well, I’m not entirely sure what.
Gaudreau isn’t a bad defensive player – I think that label gets assigned to anyone who’s a high scorer; then you throw in his size and, well – but he could have had a better night. It’s also odd just how much lower his corsi was from his linemates’ (Gaudreau 42.31%, Monahan 50.00%, Micheal Ferland 55.56%). When he was away from them, four or seven more shot attempts went against the Flames. All it takes is one bad shift for that to happen. Gaudreau is one of the players the Flames really need for that to not happen to.
Here’s to Kris Versteeg
Seven Flames are over half-a-point-per-game: Gaudreau, Monahan, Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Dougie Hamilton, Frolik, and… Kris Versteeg.
That’s the top two scorers, a fabled lined, a great offensive defenceman, and Versteeg, who looks out of place among that group.
Remember, he did start the season alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, and through no real fault of his own ended up shuffled onto another line (and another, and another until Glen Gulutzan appears to have finally figured out that he should be playing alongside Sam Bennett). Two powerplay goals brought him up to 15 on the season, matching his goal total from last year. Tkachuk is the only one among the top group who averages less ice time than he does.
Versteeg is tied with Gaudreau for second on the team with 16 powerplay points. (Monahan is first, with 17.) He’s seventh in powerplay ice time. He’s alright, and should probably be re-signed. To think teams weren’t signing him during free agency seems awfully silly now.