Flames 4, Avalanche 1 post-game embers: Win the games you’re supposed to

Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

If you’re going to do anything, you have to be able to beat the bad teams.

Some might consider the Flames a bad team. That would be a bit silly – they’re not fantastic, but they are eighth in points percentage in the Western Conference, otherwise known as “looking pretty comfortable in a legitimate playoff spot,” and bad teams generally aren’t in such a position.

Of course, it’s beating those truly bad teams that has helped get the Flames there. “Winners of 11 of their last 15” – their last 15 being all the games they’ve played since their lengthy eastern road trip – is all well and good; eight of those 11 wins have come against teams below them in points percentage. (The three that didn’t? The Leafs, the Wild, and the Ducks that one game.)

The Flames are currently in the midst of a favourable schedule stretch for them. And that’ll continue; of the 12 games they have left to play in January, six of their opponents are below them in points percentage, and the other six are probably beatable, too.

These are the games they have to win. It’s good that they are.

Everyone’s streaking

The Flames are back on a small winning streak, having won their past two games. Since the Christmas break they’ve been 3-1. They have a lighter schedule stretch at the moment, and with a home-and-away coming up against the Canucks next, well…

I know the Canucks are on their own winning streak right now, too; they’ve won their past four games. Two were against the Avalanche and Coyotes, which are notably awful teams; two were against the Ducks and the Oilers, which are a little better than that. 

On the player personnel side, Mikael Backlund is currently in the midst of a five-game point streak, during which time he has scored nine points. His latest was the 200th point of his career, which doesn’t sound like a ton – until you realize he’s only ever actually played 420 NHL games, so he’s pretty much a half-a-point-per-game player. (Then you try to remember how many of those 420 games he was treated like a fourth liner for no apparent reason; then you stop because you start feeling sad.) Backlund isn’t going to roll like this forever, but he is on pace for what would be his first 50+ point season, and that’s neat.

He’s also second on the Flames in scoring, one point back of Johnny Gaudreau (who has played two fewer games). Matthew Tkachuk stands alone in third with 23 points in 36 games.

Speaking of Tkachuk, he’s on a seven-game point streak, over which time he has scored eight points. We should also note that with this being the 40th game of the season, Tkachuk is officially locked in to enter unrestricted free agency a year early – not that that was a question at this point. But it is official now.

Kris Versteeg, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie are on mini-point streaks of two games now, too, for what it’s worth.

Three powerplay goals, and all rejoiced

The Flames had a powerplay success rate of 43% last night, which is entertaining.

Their powerplay is now clicking along at 20.7%, which is 10th in the NHL. That’s good under normal circumstances, let alone how disastrous it was to start the season. The fact that they’ve travelled up this far is nothing short of miraculous.

Aside from the whole Alex Chiasson thing, the personnel on the man advantage is all highly logical and clicking. Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Brodie, and Versteeg all played over five minutes each; Giordano, Chiasson, and Tkachuk clocked in at over four; and Dougie Hamilton, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik at about three and a half each. When Troy Brouwer comes back, you know Chiasson is off; that’s a pretty good group of 10 players, though.

That’ll actually be 10 of the top 11 players on the Flames in scoring, Brodie being the 11th, with Sam Bennett the only one missing out. Put your top scorers in a position to score, and they probably will.

Back in late November, I went through the Flames’ games and figured that if they had even average special teams, they could maybe be at the top of their division. That’s probably getting a little out of reach now, but lo and behold: things start clicking (for the time being), and the Flames are comfortably in a playoff spot (for the time being).

(The penalty kill, by the way? It’s at 81.6%, or 16th in the NHL. You know, about average.)

So is T.J. Brodie back now?

Brodie isn’t much of a shooter, but he can still put up points. Now with 16 in 40 games, he’s on pace for 33. That’d be the second highest total in his career. He’s probably capable of more, but considering how offensively anemic he was to start the season that’s a fantastic turnaround.

And that assist on Chiasson’s goal was fantastic.

The quality of opponent wasn’t exceptionally high – when only two players on your entire team are negative corsi guys, that says a lot about how well you played, or how poorly your opponent did – but Brodie has been slumping pretty bad throughout the year. Has it been the side he’s playing on? Has it been having to play with Dennis Wideman? Have we just been overrating him all this time?

Whatever the answer has been, he’s starting to look a lot more like the top pairing Brodie we’ve gotten used to the past couple of seasons. And maybe it really is the quality of opponents as of late, and that’s helping the entire team and Brodie is one of several benefiting from it – but more likely, I’m going with the Flames have three really good defencemen, and when they can get a fourth, they’ll probably really be guys to reckon with.

When is Brian Elliott going to get a shutout

That said, Brodie did kind of lose Patrick Wiercioch when he spoiled Brian Elliott’s shutout.

Elliott didn’t have a ton of work to do this game, but he at least deserved his first shutout of the season. Then again, this isn’t the first time this has happened to him; way back in October the Flames went up 4-0 on the Blues and still ended up winning only 4-1.

And this isn’t the first time the Flames have gone way up on an opponent only to let them score garbage goals in the dying minutes for no apparent reason; we just talked about this last time

The Flames have a -3 goal differential right now, which is significantly better from where they were even just a month ago. They’re so close to getting back in the green. But if they’d stayed focused over the course of their blowouts this past month, they’d be at about +5 or so. 

That’s the difference from being fifth in goal differential in the Pacific Division and third. And while this may be something a little overly specific to harp on, goal differential is cumulative throughout the entire season, and the teams with good ones tend to be in the playoffs.

Lots of emotion in this one

Well, not so much from the Avalanche. Being on that team must be so depressing right now. Yeah, you get to play hockey for a living; having a -52 goal differential and knowing your season is already over? Being on pace for 54 points this season?? I would… not want to be there.

Nah, the emotion was more from the nostalgic Flames fan side. And I’m not much of a proponent of fighting, but like, I was at that Stanley Cup Final game where Jarome Iginla fought Vincent Lecavalier. That’s the kind of fighting that’s awesome.

Iginla vs. Giordano wouldn’t have been close to that level, but it was just… so surreal seeing them almost go at it. And kind of distressing, like your two dads getting into an argument. But I guess that’s one of the beautiful things about hockey: it opens up the possibilities for that level of emotion to spill out, intended or not.

That said, I’m happy they didn’t fight. I choose to remember the good times instead, like when Iginla literally bled for Giordano.

I miss those two being on the same team; grant me my nostalgia for a moment.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Thats Av’s goal was a fluke. Guy was going cross crease, Elliot followed. The puck slid off his stick into five-hole.

    BTW, no big deal, but a streak is 3+ games.

  • Toofun

    I was at the game last night and ended up watching Tkachuk a lot. What does he do that makes him so effective night in and night out?

    Given the nature of last night’s game, a couple of things he didn’t do was be an agitator or take any dumb penalties.

    What he did do that stood out the most for me, was anticipate the play, get in position and make smart plays every time he got the puck. The play virtually never died on his stick. Amazing composure out there for any player let alone one that is a teenage rookie. He had a pass first mentality and I thought he looked great on the power play – I’d like to see more of that please. The one time that he did shoot the puck, he rifled a howitzer off of the crossbar.

    He’s not fast out there but he’s proving that you don’t really need to be if you play as intelligently as he does.

    There has been discussion about splitting the 3M line up. I wouldn’t do it. Those guys complement each other perfectly out there.

  • FlamesRule

    Brodie should have an assist on that Ava goal too. Sooo soft it’s depressing. Same with Mony. When will he ever throw a check?

    These two should be some trade bait to build us a real winner that’s made for playoff hockey, not just getting us there.

      • everton fc

        On the surface, this may be a reasonable comment to make…

        When we make the playoffs (and we will make the playoffs!)… Brouwer’s experience, grit, style of play, on ice and locker room demeanor… Will be invaluable.

        • redricardo

          That’s not real.

          If the Flames are ever in a position where Brouwer’s “style of play” and some other made up stuff are invaluable… instead of something else, like having lots of players that are good at hockey, all that means is that the Flames are in big trouble.

        • OKG

          Just a reminder that

          – Teams with terrible possession numbers generally perform poorly in the playoffs, and players with terrible possession numbers generally follow suite.

          – Brouwer has less playoff experience than Kris Versteeg

          – prior to his 2016 PDO driven playoff explosion, Brouwer was historically one of the worst playoff performers in the NHL

          – This core has been to the playoffs before, and performed admirably as it gets even against a ducks team they were out-talented against by a triple margin. Nothing Brouwer adds in the locker room is going to be of any real value.

  • OKG

    Tkachuk/Backlund have the best chemistry of any Flames Centre / Winger since Conroy and Iginla. Even Johnny and Monny, Hudler and Monny, or Iginla and Langkow never played so well off each other.

  • everton fc

    The great thing about Backlund is he’ll only be 28 when the season ends. He’s still got a lot of mileage in the tank, and will continue to improve – at least in this fan’s opinion.

    Ferland needs to start scoring. He’s had the linemates, “of late”.

  • flames2015

    Backlund’s streak should continue here in the next few games as hes always done well against the canucks.

    It would have been nice for the boys to continue playing in the final 2 mins to give elliot the shut out. 5 guys in the frame only to let wiercioch up the middle for that garbage goal was a bit of a buzzkill.

    • Deef

      Elliots just as much to blame for losing his shutout (was looking cross crease when it went between his legs).

      I’m glad he got another win under his belt though. A hot Elliot could go a long way down the stretch.

      • flames2015

        Definitely agree with you there. However, it seems everytime the boys get a good lead, they start getting lazy and let in a few bad goals. May not hurt us against under 0.500 teams but once we play sone contenders, it’ll be a different outcome. Considering the fact we have yet to win a comeback game. All i’m getting at is they need to play a better full 60 even when leading.

  • Arminius

    Johnny has played 10 fewer games than Backlund. Always enjoy reading your articles Ari, even as you are an unabashed Backlund supporter. But a line has to be drawn somewhere lol

    For the record I am warming up to Backlund. All I ever wanted from him was more scoring..Enter Tkachuk