The Calgary Flames we’ve been expecting – the ones that improved on paper over the offseason, the ones that traded away their 2018 first round pick, the ones that should be contenders now – showed up in a big way.
Sure, things didn’t look pretty to start. And there was some justified worry. But when they turned it on… geez. Save some for Jaromir Jagr.
Have a night, TJ Brodie
There are several reasons T.J. Brodie has become a much beloved Flame. His partnership with Mark Giordano over the seasons was a primary one: the two worked so well together, did such a good job defending, and both were so capable of scoring, the top defence pairing of old was often a lone bright spot on many a colder night in years past.
But last season, that was not the case. Brodie found himself with Dennis Wideman a lot. Or sometimes Deryk Engelland. Or Michael Stone, to end the season. He was said to prefer playing the right side; he was put back on his left. And he floundered. And it was rough to watch, and easy to forget he was just a season removed from averaging over 25 minutes a game and scoring 45 points.
That Brodie made his triumphant return Saturday night, to the point he found himself on the verge of his first career hat trick – this was the second multi-goal game of his NHL career – the crowd chanting his name, and his team actively trying to get him the milestone in the dying minutes of a settled game.
All the while leading all defencemen with a 64.29% 5v5 CF. And with 25:49 in ice time. And with five shots, which is a bit of a rarity for him (and, in asking him about it after the game, was something he said he wanted to work on more – which, can you imagine if he does become a regular shooter?).
All in all, Brodie had pretty much as good a night as one could have possibly imagined for him, if a goal shy. It was a reminder of the Brodie of 2015-16, of 2014-15, even of 2013-14 when he really started to break out. And if he’s back, for real – not that anyone’s expecting him to lead NHL defencemen in scoring all season, as he currently is now – then there’s that top four to get excited about.
Also, Johnny Gaudreau
Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau had four points each. Three of them came on the same goals, the most prominent one being Brodie’s ridiculous pass to a wide open Gaudreau that finally put the Flames ahead. They are now tied for the lead in Flames scoring.
Gaudreau has been the Flames’ leading scorer the past two seasons, and he was their second best scorer as a rookie. He will probably be the team’s leading scorer again this season. He has it in him to be a point-per-game player, though it hasn’t happened yet, but the offensive talent is overwhelming when he’s on.
Problem is, scorers usually aren’t on every single night. (For example, Alex Ovechkin will probably not score another hat trick in his next game. … Probably.) But the really good ones are on just enough to make a real difference for their teams, and enough of a difference throughout the season to propel them to future success. Gaudreau is one of those guys, and it should be of no surprise that he helped get the ball rolling.
He played the most of all the forwards, with 18:46 in ice time, including 7:02 on the powerplay. He had three shots on net, an improvement from the zero he had before. He had the fourth four-point night of his career. He is still someone for opposing teams to focus on and fear.
… And we’re still not entirely sure who he’ll be playing with throughout the season.
Line shuffling and payoffs and Jagrs
Roughly halfway through the game, Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg swapped spots. Conventional lines had Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland remaining together, and Versteeg – Bennett – Lazar as the third (with Curtis Lazar presumably keeping Jagr’s spot warm, if practice is anything to go by). But Glen Gulutzan made a change, and there were immediate dividends, and now it’s a little more interesting, even if he reverts right back to the old setup.
See, Gaudreau and Sam Bennett work well together. We saw it to close out last season; we saw it in the preseason when they were given the chance. And Versteeg is probably going to play well with just about anybody. And Micheal Ferland isn’t the ultimate scorer, but he has just enough talent both in scoring, physicality, and all around play to be an asset to whatever capable line he’s on. And no offence to Lazar, but you replace him with Jagr and…
There’s that top nine again. Say the 3M line remains untouchable, which is all well and good; then you still have two other lines you can mix and match and probably most combinations will yield you some level of success. That’s what happens when you have six talented players, including some at an exceptional level.
I think it’s back to the old lines to start the next game, but now, this new option is there.
Another point: should Jagr draw in next game, I’m not sure Gulutzan can justify booting Lazar from the lineup. Getting knocked down to the fourth line by a legend certainly isn’t shameful, but then you knock a fourth liner out of the lineup… and Matt Stajan probably isn’t going anywhere, he isn’t a candidate to be sat, but then you go to someone with a $4.5 million cap hit or someone making $650,000 and…
It’ll be interesting, that’s for sure.
And lo, the corsi was good
The Flames had an overall 5v5 CF of 58.24%. Their worst period was the second, in which they fell to a mere 50%. But wait, in that frame they had a 75% high danger CF. And still over 50% in scoring chances. And they absolutely dominated the third period, which they played with a three-goal lead. (If you switch to all situations, the numbers get even better, though that’s probably to be expected with six powerplay opportunities to the opponent’s three.)
In their season opener, the Flames gave up 45 shots. This time, they had 45 shots of their own. And Natural Stat Trick’s heat map is very flattering this time around:
Drive to the slot. And keep the opposition away from your own. If they can replicate this throughout the season, this team is going to be in for a very good time.
And some credit still does go to Mike Smith on this one. He let in three goals, but it would be tough to place too much blame on him for them; also, he made a number of very big and very dramatic saves that kept his team in it long enough to start potting their own. Again, if he can keep this up, then, well, things will be good.
You get a point, and you get a point, and you get a point…
The Flames worked to make up for being shut out with 11 players getting on the scoreboard last night. The big winners were obviously Brodie and Gaudreau; Versteeg had a two-point night himself, as well (which helps make up for that turnover that led to the Jets’ shorthanded goal).
Also: Mikael Backlund, Ferland, Giordano, Michael Stone, Dougie Hamilton, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Lazar.
Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, Travis Hamoinc: you’re up. Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer, Tanner Glass, and Matt Bartkowski all got pretty close to getting points of their own, too.
Offence is cool.