Three for three
Ever since Mike Smith was traded for, I’ve been saying – more in casual conversation than actual written word – that Mike Smith was going to win this first game in Anaheim, and be elevated to god-tier status amongst the fanbase and media for it.
Well… yes, and no. He didn’t just get the Flames’ first win in Anaheim in over a decade; he shut out the Ducks to do it, too. And in fairly dramatic fashion with 43 saves, a number of which were fairly frantic and heart-stopping (and in one point at the end, almost injury-inducing) in their own right. Smith legitimately earned his shutout.
But here’s the thing: three games into the season, and Smith has looked great three times now. This game was already the second time this season he’s had a 40+ save game (something Glen Gulutzan and his defensive players have acknowledged is not a thing that they can keep allowing to happen). He was far and away the Flames’ best player in their season opener in Edmonton; he kept the Flames in the game against the Jets before the skaters in front of him went on a goal-scoring explosion, as well.
Presently, he has a .957 SV%, which is the highest amongst all goalies who have played three games, and 10th in the NHL overall. His even strength save percentage is .967%, and those same league-wide rankings apply. It’s incredibly early – hey everyone, Smith is a top 10 goaltender not even a week into the season, hooray! – but how much were people talking about how this team absolutely needed to get off to a good start?
Smith was poor to start preseason. He turned it on at the end of it, and he’s been on ever since. So far, he’s following through on his end of the bargain.
Kill all the penalties
In previous efforts in Anaheim, there would always be something stupid to undo all the Flames’ hard work near the end of what would almost be a winning victory.
Such as, say, taking three penalties in the final period of the game? Whatever you may think of the calls themselves. #TkachukDidNothingWrong
The Flames went five-for-five on the penalty kill, including killing off a 5v3 in the first period, long before anyone had scored and the Ducks had the chance to put creeping doubt in minds. They did absolutely everything they needed to do on the kill. I’d like to give extra credit to Mark Giordano on this one, who was an absolute machine on the final and scariest penalty kill of all: the call against Mikael Backlund with just 3:31 to go, when the Ducks pulled John Gibson and turned it into a 6v4, and Giordano was thwarting them all over the ice.
Giordano led the way with 6:04 in kill time, with Travis Hamonic (4:17) and Michael Stone (4:02) following suit. Oh, and also Troy Brouwer, with 4:06 clocked in – quite a fair amount, especially considering how he took a penalty himself. That could be a sign that, when Jaromir Jagr draws into the lineup, Brouwer’s spot should be safe. I mean, if he’s going to see more kill time than every other forward…
Scrolling through Natural Stat Trick’s fancy PK data – only 4v5 available, no 3v5 – the Ducks didn’t get any HDCF (though the Flames did – probably Matt Stajan’s shorthanded effort), and gave up anywhere from 6-9 CA, depending on how much time they were spending on the kill.
Line mixing and matching
The shutdown and fourth lines have been made readily apparent, but there doesn’t appear to be a decision on the other two quite yet. The Johnny Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg lineswap was kept in place to start the game, but they had been switched back around to their original lines later on (and, I suppose in fairness, they hadn’t exactly been scoring right off the bat in this one). The ice times between lines were fairly evenly split, albeit the new ones got a little more attention.
So, considering the relatively even split, what to make of things? A number that stands out to me is that Johnny Gaudreau, with Sean Monahan, had an 83.33% CF; with Bennett he was at 30.00%. (In fairness, Gaudreau’s offensive zone starts were almost 50% higher than Bennett’s were, and Bennett faced tougher competition [but not the toughest, as Gulutzan was able to keep the 3M line out against Ryan Getzlaf and friends].)
Even without the looming addition of Jaromir Jagr, the ideal line makeup hasn’t been settled quite yet. But this isn’t a bad thing, not with the way this team has been going. Besides, it’s proving that mixing and matching, so far, shouldn’t be a problem for this roster: that’s what happens when you have enough capable players in your lineup, as the Flames now, evidently, do.
The book is kind of still out on Curtis Lazar, though. He remains a mystery commodity, and as such, is the most likely one to be bumped from this group once Jagr joins it – but it’ll be hard to justify scratching him again.
Micheal Ferland, making the most of it
In the Flames’ first game of the season, Micheal Ferland had four shots on net.
In their second game of the season, he had four shots on net.
In their third game of the season, he had… four shots on net.
He’s currently trending for a 300-shot season, because extrapolating small sample sizes is incredibly fun. But to put that into a bit of perspective, only four players last season had 300+ shots: Brent Burns, Alex Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. Ferland is great, but that’s a bit of a different class of player.
Still: last season, he had 106 shots on net total. He also averaged 11:33 in ice time; so far this season, he’s up to 15:22. He only has the one goal to show for his work so far, but the effort is very, very clearly there, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
In the meantime, Sean Monahan has the second most shots for the Flames so far this season with 11. Keep Gaudreau or Kris Versteeg with those two: someone who will dish the puck. Because so far, it’s working. And in the long run, it’ll probably pay off a lot more.
And lo, Travis Hamonic was good
Show me a stats nerd and I’ll show you someone who rolls their eyes and scoffs about the presence of fighting in hockey. Fact of the matter is, fighting just doesn’t have any real impact on the outcome of a game. It seems dubious as a “protection” measure, too, as often times a fight will break out after a player has already been hit. In which case you’re avenging your teammate, not exactly defending them.
But that’s not to say fighting is all bad. For example, I quite enjoyed Travis Hamonic’s assault on Corey Perry as he defended Giordano’s honour. It didn’t really do anything to affect the game – the Ducks lost one of their better players for five minutes, but the Flames were down a top four defenceman, too – but seeing the team’s captain smacked around as he was and having nobody respond in some way would have been… off.
Chemistry is still a thing, too. And not just the WOWY-version, but like, personality-wise. If the players don’t like each other, it’s going to be a miserable work environment. It’s not conducive to success. Not that everyone being best friends guarantees success – there is a lot more that goes into a championship-caliber team – but it certainly helps when they actually like what they’re doing and want to stick up for and see their co-workers succeed.
Also: agitating Perry got the Flames a powerplay. Matthew Tkachuk pissing off Getzlaf got the Flames a powerplay. Some incidents have to have someone answer for them, but otherwise? Use it to your advantage. The Flames did that last night.