Turns out, when the Flames put their minds to it, they can be pretty dang good at playing hockey.
Granted, late-season games like this one are a little wonky – the Kings have nothing left to play for, and all the Flames have right now is making sure they’re in playoff form – but you can take what you can get, and this one was really good.
If they enter the playoffs like this, it’ll be a fun opening series against whoever their opponent ends up being.
Welcome to the NHL, Jon Gillies
Jon Gillies is a very tall goalie who put up some incredible numbers in his collegiate career, and appeared to be on track to an incredible rookie season when he was almost instantly sidelined with hip surgery. Upon his return this season, he hasn’t quite matched those numbers of old, but he still remains a top goalie prospect for the Flames. (Yes, yes, Tyler Parsons had an incredible 46-save shutout in the OHL playoffs last night, too, but one goalie at a time – Parsons still has to actually graduate junior, first.)
In his first game, Gillies looked like he had solid NHL potential.
He let just one goal get past him – and if we’re being honest with ourselves, it was a fantastic shot by Trevor Lewis – and he had a fair bit of help from the Kings just flubbing their attempts, too. But Gillies also had a number of great saves of his own, and was particularly strong along his posts. Nerves were apparent, and more seasoning is required, but he did everything he needed to do help his team get a win.
So he opens his NHL career stopping 27 of 28 shots for a .964 save percentage. That’s a great way to get started.
Who’s on the fourth line?
The Flames are probably not going to change things up for the playoffs. Not too much, at least.
But it was hard to be displeased with their fourth line last night, consisting of Freddie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, and Troy Brouwer. The Flames were put in a position in which they were able to roll all four lines, and the fourth line benefited from that ice time, creating a goal. The forward-playing Hamilton has doubled his career goal output this season now thanks to his 3-1 tally, while Curtis Lazar helped make his little three-game Flames statline look a little better.
Almost certainly for the playoffs Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan will draw back in, and there’s no way the Flames scratch Brouwer (I have my doubts he’ll be taken in the expansion draft, but if he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs, that would completely seal it). But honestly – Hamilton had three shots on net. Only Johnny Gaudreau had more. Hamilton is a player who’s usually just kind of there, not likely to cost his team but not all that likely to provide something actually tangible, either – except for when he does. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him actually get to sub in for some postseason time. (At the very least, it’d justify Dougie Hamilton’s jersey saying D. Hamilton on the back.)
How about the powerplay?
The Flames had two powerplays last night, one at the very end of the game, and they both actually looked pretty good – especially that first one, in which both units pressured, and didn’t spend all that much time chasing.
The Flames may have a success rate of 20.5% – ninth in the NHL this season – but it certainly hasn’t felt like that, especially not lately.
Two personnel changes have occurred in the buildup to the playoffs. Micheal Ferland has at long last taken Brouwer’s spot (considering he’s been playing on Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan’s line for like a month and a half now, you would have thought this would have happened sooner), and Sam Bennett has taken Michael Frolik’s spot.
The Bennett-for-Frolik swap does baffle me a little bit – Frolik has double the number of powerplay points Bennett does this season in roughly the same amount of ice time – but it’s hard to complain when Bennett has been playing much better of late, has greater potential, and honestly, just flat out deserves it. And there are only so many players that can go on the man advantage.
A couple of things still need fixing, though. For one thing, please put Johnny Gaudreau back on his off-wing.
— Jack Han (@ml_han) February 25, 2017
For another, swap Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie on powerplay units. Hamilton is lethal offensively; Brodie is not. Hamilton is also responsible defensively – we’ve seen him successfully backcheck on powerplays numerous times – and this would load up the top unit, while reuniting Brodie with Mark Giordano on an extremely responsible second unit. Versteeg actually has the most powerplay shots out of every Flame (54), so he works well on that top unit – but it’s not as dangerous as it could be.
Score could’ve been higher
Watching Gaudreau get multiple golden chances and simply not bury any of them was rough.
Things all even out, though it is unfair that out of all the Flames who got a point, five of their top six scorers didn’t, and not for a want of chances. The Flames didn’t challenge Ben Bishop as much as they could have – he only faced 24 shots, though the Flames had very little reason to mount a push in the third period – but at least it’s not through a fault of the top offensive players.
They’re still there, they’re still getting their chances, they’ve still got their games, and they’ll probably be ready to go for the playoffs, where they’ll probably be the ones making the most noise.
Can we get Rasmus Andersson now?
Fourteen games ago, Rasmus Andersson was called up on an emergency basis, which meant he wouldn’t be able to play unless Hamilton couldn’t go. He was able, so Andersson sat in the pressbox. The Flames converted his recall into a regular one, and he has… continued to sit in the pressbox.
It’s been silly for a while now, but it’ll be embarrassing if he doesn’t at least get to make his NHL debut in Game 82. It’s a meaningless game. The Flames and Sharks won’t face each other in the first round. Oliver Kylington made his NHL debut in a meaningless Game 82 a year ago; now it’s Andersson’s turn.
Besides – it’ll be especially nice to have a more concrete idea of what you have in case you need it sooner rather than later.