The Flames had a fantastic game, for the most part.
Because, you know, most of the game was played at even strength. Sean Monahan’s goal and their own five-on-three kill aside, virtually everything to do with special teams was garbage, and the Flames are going to lose this series in a hurry if they don’t stop taking penalties – and if they can’t capitalize on their own powerplays.
Down by one, a five-on-three in the dying minutes, and the best you can do is chase the puck around? You can complain about the officiating all you want, but when that’s the best the Flames can do, they didn’t deserve that win, period.
Stay. Out. Of. The. Box
Seven penalties is inexcusable. Three of them coming from one person – Dougie Hamilton – is even worse.
Hamilton is crucial to the Flames’ success. He’s one of their highest scorers, he’s one of their best shots; he was second in ice time with 23:40 even with spending four minutes and change in the box. The first penalty was brutal; don’t get distracted by thinking the officials should have called something against the other team and just play your game, because that’s a horrific way to start a series. The third one was so unnecessary, too – Ryan Getzlaf’s hit on Mark Giordano was clean. You want vengeance? Score a goal. Don’t make your team have to waste two minutes trying to prevent one when the clock is ticking and the game is still in reach.
If Hamilton doesn’t get his head on straight – and fast – this series is going to go poorly.
Not that he was the only culprit. Lance Bouma’s penalty was particularly rough as well, and not just because it led to the game-winning goal, but because it came immediately after the Flames had just killed a penalty and had an amazing scoring chance right away that was ruined.
Giving the opposition a five-on-three is never a good idea. Giving them two powerplays three seconds apart isn’t, either. You could feel that goal coming, because there was only so long they were going to be able to hold out.
(Quite frankly? I still wouldn’t be opposed to Curtis Lazar slotting in over Bouma sooner rather than later. Or Freddie Hamilton, for that matter.)
If the Flames stay out of the box, they’re going to have a significantly better time.
This is how you do Micheal Ferland?
The Flames had four powerplays last night. (Technically they had five, but the officials really should have just let Ryan Kesler sit on the puck to run out the clock rather than stop with .9 seconds to go. What was the point of that? He got away with it; spare us the platitudes – though watching Mikael Backlund go nuts on him was truly a sight to behold.) They scored on one. And that isn’t bad in and of itself, really…
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Kris Versteeg led the way with powerplay time which, good, they’re more than deserving candidates. T.J. Brodie still shouldn’t be on the first unit, but his job keeping the puck onside right before Monahan’s goal was outstanding – him entering the zone left a lot to be desired, though. The top defence pairing and the 3M line had the rest of the powerplay time.
Oh, and Troy Brouwer, who also got some last gasp time, too.
It’d be one thing to throw Brouwer out there if the Flames didn’t have any other options. He’s supposed to be good at the playoffs! That’s the narrative that justified his signing! He’s a leader! He gets things done!
Just ignore the part where Micheal Ferland played the game of his life, including seven shots on net – more than literally everybody else – whose last shift came with three minutes to go in the game and who didn’t get a second of powerplay time.
Ferland was, without question, one of the Flames’ very best players on the night. He was physical, he was an offensive force, he was a nightmare. And Glen Gulutzan refused to capitalize on that. Even before the playoffs started, Ferland had been making a case to be one of the Flames’ most-used players – and he’d even been getting powerplay time, too – and Gulutzan not only ignored all evidence from the last 20 games of the season, but the evidence playing in front of his eyes, in real time, to shaft him.
Ferland had seven shots. The player with the second most? Jakob Silfverberg with six – and he had six minutes of powerplay time. Third most? Antoine Vermette with five – and he had four minutes of powerplay time.
Just stupid, indefensible player management.
Even strength was quite good, though
One botched line change aside – and a super special shoutout to the third defence pairing for that one – the Flames played a fantastic game at even strength. It took a single, isolated, catastrophic breakdown for the Ducks to get through without one of their seven powerplays.
That’s the positive takeaway from this one. At 5v5, the Flames out-corsied the Ducks 51-46 – extremely good for the supposed underdogs. In all situations, it was an even 70-70. That was the away team not only going toe-to-toe with the favourited division winners; that was the away team ultimately controlling the bulk of the play.
The Flames’ second period, prior to that breakdown, was outstanding from them. They kept the Ducks away, they controlled the play, they created chances and had no problems getting it back into the offensive zone, time and time again. If they stay out of the box and keep doing what they were at even strength, then they have a strong case to actually take a game – as they were en route to before things went belly-up. (Besides, if even strength play is the only way Ferland is actually going to see any ice time…)
We’ve been saying this for a while now: this team isn’t even close to the one from two years ago. This game provided the ultimate proof of that statement. Two years ago, the Flames got clobbered in Anaheim; they opened their series with a 6-1 loss. This time, they were in the game right until Kesler plonked his ass down.
This season isn’t about winning the Cup. It’s not going to happen this year. This season is about growth: and the Flames did an outstanding job showing how much they’ve grown.
Calling it: Brian Elliott is the better goalie of this series
Brian Elliott faced 41 shots. He stopped 38 of them. He shares no blame for any of the three goals to go against him: two on the powerplay, and one the result of a three-on-zero. When the Flames struggled in their own end, it was Elliott who bailed them out and gave them their chances to regroup. A quick powerplay goal in the first minute aside, Elliott stood on his head and his team eventually rewarded him with a lead.
It didn’t last long, but the Flames should feel very, very confident with Elliott in net.
Down on the other end of the ice, John Gibson had a good game, too – he faced 32 shots, and stopped 30 of them – but man oh man, he had horrific rebound control. It’s the Flames’ fault they couldn’t capitalize on any of them, because he just couldn’t stop offering them up. If Gibson gets that under control, the Flames are going to have a much more difficult time facing him; if the Flames figure out how to actually capitalize off of those rebounds, the Ducks are going to have a much more difficult time facing them.
But Elliott? There’s pretty much nothing to criticize there. He’s a career .911 save percentage in the playoffs. Last season, over 18 games, he was a .921 guy. He’s picking up right where he left off.
It’s only one game
The most frustrating thing about that one? The Flames had it – and then they let it get away from them.
The preferred outcome would have been to be happy with, you know, a win. But frustration is an improvement from apathy – it’s better than knowing the team had no chance.
They had a chance. And they’ll have a chance next game, too. This is a seven-game series, and if Game 1 taught us anything, it’s that it’s going to be a close one.
Very few – probably nobody, actually – predicted the Flames would sweep the Ducks. At least one loss was going to happen. It happened. Now regroup. They’ll be fine.
Now stop taking penalties, and give minutes to the players who deserve them. Both will go a long way.