It was almost like a bit of deja vu.
The 2016-17 season opener in Edmonton was a chaotic mess; one that saw the Flames thoroughly outclassed en route to a loss. The 2017-18 season opener went a similar way, except nowhere near as chaotic. Maybe that’s not a place to take solace in a season with heightened expectations – but it’s at least something of a starting block.
But, well, only if they actually do something with it.
Really you couldn’t have scored one goal for Mike Smith
No wonder Mike Smith was adamant about preseason games being meaningless. Until the final one, he had poor showings; in the final tune up before the games really started to matter, he stood tall.
He did so again in this one, easily looking like the best Flame on the ice. He stopped 42 of 44 shots, introducing himself with a .955 save percentage. The two goals he surrendered were hardly on him; the first coming as the result of sustained Oilers pressure and a wide open Connor McDavid (how did that happen? Follow up, why?), and the second McDavid’s third of three breakaways on the night.
Smith stopped the first two.
And the myriad of other good chances the Oilers threw his way.
The Oilers absolutely dominated when it came to high danger scoring chances – think, 69.23% at 5v5 throughout the entire game (not nice); think, the Flames had all of two of their own through the final two periods.
The skaters in front of Smith let him down last night, big time.
A little more shot generation, please?
So here’s one area the Flames improved upon hiring Glen Gulutzan: they nipped their CA in the bud, dropping it by something like 400 events against them in just one year. (I know this isn’t the game to talk about limiting chances, but bear with me; that was a thing that happened and over the course of the next 81 games could happen again.)
However: they were one of the worst CF teams in the NHL last season, sitting eighth last. Generating shots is one area they absolutely need to be better in, particularly in tight. Observe, Natural Stat Trick’s heat map:
Where did the Flames lose the game? Right there. They needed to be all around better, but their inability to really get anything going sunk them. You can’t win if you can’t score, and the Flames rarely threatened Cam Talbot throughout the night. Smith gave them every chance to get back in it – and nothing.
A silver lining? Offensive help should be on the way, because if there’s one thing Jaromir Jagr can do, it’s play with an offensive edge.
Matchups: A thing to pay attention to
Only one guy bothered to score any goals for anybody in this one, so let’s focus on him.
Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano saw the most of McDavid, which, as the Flames’ top pairing, is good. He was still a 58.33% and 57.14% CF player against them, but a 73.33% and 72.733% guy away from them. The Flames’ top pairing made a difference – if it wasn’t noted enough by how all three of his goals came with T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic on the ice.
But that’s one thing. The Flames’ second pairing was going to see McDavid, no matter what.
Todd McLellan got the best of Glen Gulutzan in the forward matchups.
Mikael Backlund faced McDavid for 3:06 5v5 minutes. Over that time, McDavid was a 28.57% CF player; away from Backlund, he shot up to 72.34%. In other words, Backlund absolutely dunked on McDavid; we saw evidence of this particularly in the first period, where his line trapped McDavid’s in the Oilers’ zone for an extended period of time. McLellan noted this, adjusted, and kept his star player away from the Flames’ shutdown man.
McDavid mostly faced off against the Flames’ top line, but the real damage was done when he faced the third line.
Roughly four minutes against them. Roughly an 80%+ CF when facing them. So I’ll just say this again: the Flames signed Jagr for multiple reasons. Helping create offence was one. Making the third line that much stronger was another, because it needs it.
Here’s just the one part I genuinely do not get. It’s not like home ice advantage is going to lead to the Oilers winning every single home game. Teams will come in to Edmonton this season, and they will see McDavid, and they will win anyway. So… uh… what gives?
Good news: It’s just one game!
The sky has not fallen. The Flames can still go 81-1-0. All will, likely, be well. Yes, this one counted, and yes, losing out on an early two points, particularly against a division rival, and especially against this division rival, was not ideal. But it was still just one game.
This isn’t even the Flames’ final form – although perhaps there might be a little more pressure for Jagr to be ready for, say, Saturday. And mayhaps a little more enthusiasm to, say, return Mark Jankowski to the NHL sooner rather than later.
The bad news is that they lost. The good news is that there are improvements available, like, right now. And the sun has risen again.
This and that
- The defensive ice time was broken down pretty much exactly as Gulutzan said it would be. Hamilton played a little less, but there was a penalty taken that’s likely to blame for that.
- Giordano, Sean Monahan, and Kris Versteeg led the way with four shots apiece, making up nearly half of the Flames’ output. Micheal Ferland and Hamilton had three each. Seven Flames had no shots on net, including the leading forward in ice time, Johnny Gaudreau – but seeing as how his two linemates had seven shots between them, it’s probably not worth stressing too much.
- Sam Bennett on the penalty kill is pretty awesome, and he’s definitely going to get in on some shorthanded points at some point.