Hurricanes 2, Flames 1 post-game embers: Get it together

The Flames were outmatched, plain and simple. Whether it’s because they were lackadaisical, whether the Hurricanes were simply that much better, it doesn’t quite matter – they were the worse of two teams, and the other guys deserved the win they got.

The only saving grace is that it was close at all.

No shutout, barely

The season is seven games old. The Flames have already been shut out twice. Had it not been for a late third period goal to draw them within one, it would have been a third time.

Nearly shut out three times in seven games. That’s… really not great. It happened to them all of four times in 2016-17, and certainly not in efforts sandwiched so closely together.

There is some justification for bafflement. Seven games in, the Flames have a CF/60 of 63.11 – 10th in the NHL. (It’s their CA/60 that’s suffering, and keeping them just under 50% in CF%, but we already knew Mike Smith was earning the praise directed his way, so.) Their SCF/60 is 29.21, 14th in the NHL. Their HDCF/60 is 11.23, also 14th. Their GF/60, however, is 2.04 – 20th in the NHL. Their on-ice SH% is 6.25, tied for 22nd.

There is reason to believe the scoring will come back. (We already know they’re capable of outbursts, see five- and six-goal games.) This could just be a streak of unfortunate luck coincidentally timed with their goalie keeping them in games. After all, how many incredible, surefire chances did they have last night, only for the puck to just go wide or ding off the post or Scott Darling to stretch out and thwart it? It’s there.

One thing that certainly isn’t helping, though…

Six penalties are you serious

Here are the number of penalty minutes the Flames have incurred through the first seven games: nine, six, 15, 12, 17, 16, 12. No, they do not lead the NHL in PIM – they are sixth, thank you very much – but it has gotten completely out of hand, and the frustrations surrounding it all are almost tangible.

It especially does not help when the winning goal comes off of the one powerplay the Hurricanes were successful on – they went one-for-six – that was the result of a penalty that by no means needed to be taken. Matthew Tkachuk got pointlessly aggressive at the end of the second period. He took a call for it. That ended up being it.

But I will point out that as far as penalties go, Tkachuk has been one of the best Flames. He entered this game with a +4 penalty differential, having drawn four more penalties than he himself has taken; he left it at +2, which has him tied for the team lead, alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer.

Consider that for a moment. As bad as Tkachuk’s penalties were, especially the one at the end of the period, he’s still pretty much the best Flame when it comes to the penalty differential.

Only four other Flames have a positive penalty differential: T.J. Brodie, Michael Frolik, Tanner Glass, and Sean Monahan. Micheal Ferland and Kris Versteeg are neutral, as is Curtis Lazar. Everyone else is a negative, with Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Dougie Hamilton the worst at -3 (Mark Giordano, meanwhile, is a -2).

The more penalties you take, the more stagnated your offence is going to be. It certainly doesn’t help when two of your best penalty killers keep taking them, when someone without a single point on the season does, when all of your top offensive players are sitting and twiddling their thumbs because what else do they have to do?

A clear split

Switching gears back to 5v5. After two periods, all of five Flames had CFs over 50%: Backlund, Frolik, Tkachuk, Giordano, and Hamilton. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. They were one of the best five-man units in the NHL last season and this is exactly why. It’s really difficult to beat them.

The Flames were also demolished in the first two periods. The third period was the only one in which they had a positive CF (52%), and surprise – a handful of players managed to get into the 50%+ club.

Brodie and Travis Hamonic were two. So were Gaudreau, Monahan, and Jaromir Jagr, otherwise known as the top line, otherwise known as the players who got significantly more ice time in the final frame. You know, not just when they were pressing, but when their team took fewer penalties, too.

The Flames have to let those three get on the ice. That’s the top line now, no doubts about it. And sure, maybe there was some small element of score effects, but teams tend to do much better when their best players are out there – and that trio completely turned it on for the third period.

I’m not sure what anyone else was doing.

Speaking of the top line

So, I wanted to get a little more specific here. For one thing, when those three are in the offensive zone, they are a whole other level, and it’s all thanks to Jagr. Not to say that Gaudreau and Monahan are slouches themselves, but Jagr gives them that extra presence. He looks huge out there, in a great way. He is nigh unbeatable along the boards. He goes to the dirty areas and they’re keeping that puck. He gets the cycle going. The Flames’ lone goal last night started with him thanks to all of this.

As 3M is elite defensively, this line has the chance to be elite offensively. And they deserve the ice time to prove that they can be – especially now that Jagr is looking more and more up to speed with each passing day.

As a side note: when the Flames were making their last rush to tie the game, Jagr had the puck in the defensive zone. He was carrying it up the ice. And the crowd at the Saddledome just got so insanely loud in that one, innocuous moment. He wasn’t going to score, he was starting a north transition, and still, people lost it. He came close to scoring a couple of times and if he had… I mean, people are going to lose it.

As frustrating as everything is right now, Jagr isn’t the problem. And you always knew it would be special to see a living legend like him play for the Flames, but there are these little daily reminders of how special it really is.

And on the Versteeg incident…

I know Ryan covered the logistics of this, but soapbox rant time!

There is very little that pisses me off more in sport than dangerous, easily preventable injuries. It’s especially worse when it’s a player on your preferred team suffering them, and there is some degree of bias to that, but any fan is going to be apoplectic when it happens to someone they cheer for.

Versteeg caught a shot on the inside of his knee and went down. And stayed down. By my count, it may have been about 10 seconds; his shift is listed as having lasted for 11 of them, and he went down almost right after the faceoff. So for roughly 10 seconds the officials saw a player writhing on the ice, unable to get up, and just let it happen because the other team had the puck, and the rule stated that they made the right call.

And the right call resulted in a shot that cracked his helmet. Everyone got lucky on this one, but all of the pieces were in place for things to be significantly worse. And there’s just no excuse for things to be allowed to go that far.

I don’t care if it had been the other way around; if it had been Jeff Skinner down on the ice and Versteeg taking a slapshot. Seeing a player down get nailed in the head and then fall over is horrifying. My first thought was Daymond Langkow. I don’t want to think about that, to see something like that again, no matter what jersey the player is wearing.

The spirit of the rule was followed. Versteeg wasn’t in imminent danger while he was on the ice – until he was.

So… it’s just a bad rule, plain and simple. I didn’t like it when the Flames scored in preseason when Andrew Copp couldn’t get back up after blocking a shot. I like it even less after seeing a player get nailed in the head.

In what world is a scoring chance more important than someone’s safety.

  • Vinnsanity12

    Gully is going ‘old school’ 101; show great loyalty to the old vets, sit young pups who don’t deserve to sit (Sutter/K. Huselius anyone?) and hope that things get better. Carolina is the perfect new generation NHL team; youth, speed and skill. I can’t say for sure, but I think Janko, Lazar and F. Hamilton (hell throw in Kulak as well) would have fared better than Glass, Stajan, Brouwer and Bartkowski. Gully has made his bed and now he has to live in it….hope he doesn’t wait too long…

  • Raffydog

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what kind of team the Flames are. They’re supposed to be a possession team, but are certainly not that. With only 10 goals in 7 games that aren’t a fast high tempo offensive team. And they aren’t a strong, hard to play against defensive team. I guess maybe they are just a bad team, with a good goalie.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    These Flames have systems issues clearly.
    A superficial improvement, maybe:
    1 Put Bennett next to Frolik and Backlund. Tkachuk plays next to Jankowski and Versteeg/Ferland. Glass goes down to Stockton.
    2 Bartkowski swapped for Kulak–that pairing can’t possibly be worse. But GG keeps going to it because he can trust it…to be awful.

    • flames2015

      my thoughts exactly. Ideally a 4th line of either Versteeg/Ferlund – Lazar – Hathaway would be a far better improvement on skills and speed. Does any other team in the league ice a 10 million 4th line whose this bad and slow as we have?

    • everton fc

      Bennett w/Backlund and Frolik would be interesting. Bennett w/Gaudreau and Jagr may also work. But Benntt’s dug himself a hole. GG will either demote him to the 4th line, or bench him. Both are wrong moves.

      A line of Tkachuk-Bennett-Ferland would also be interesting. If Kulak can push Bartkowski out of the lineup, is our defence really that deep? (Again, Kulak/Engelland was superior to my eyes, versus Bartkowski/Stone – and Engelland continues to pull his weight, in Vegas…)

      Finally… Versteeg-Lazar-Hathaway should be our 4th line. Ferland-Lazar-Hathaway might also work, and allow us to roll four lines capable of scoring, if you call up Jankowski and move Bennett to the wing. Brouwer needs to be moved. Somehow. Two of Glass/Freddie/Stajan are the extras (I’m quite okay, personally, with Glass being one of those two extras).

      (Extra note; Ferland’s only penalty was his fight vs. Borowiecki. He continues to show on-ice discipline).

  • Puckhead

    Smith has been carrying the team. I don’t know anything about his leadership skills but my guess is that if he unloaded on the guys in the locker room they would respond positively – because he would be one scary dude and the guys all owe him big time.

  • Puckhead

    Did anyone else notice the turning point in the game? The Flames were generating some chances and gradually gaining momentum until….the BS BS Glass line ended up on the ice. It swung the momentum and that Flames never recovered from it.

    They played together a couple times and when they did my sphincter puckered so tight it fused together.

    • Pizzaman

      That’s a difficult medical problem that will require surgery: specifically Dr. Gulutzan removes TB, SB and MB. Sorry Puckhead you will need a real Doctor to actually fix your sphincter!

      • Puckhead

        Thanks Pizzaman. I was going to try a bushman remedy that I found online that involved a burning spear and a hallucinogenic mash made from roots and berries.

  • freethe flames

    I was worried that the line with Johnny and Jagr would be horrible in defensive transition yet I was pleasantly surprised how hard they both worked getting back on D; heck Johnny even had a hit getting back.
    Watching the Canes and their speed and puck support last night reminded me why I love the game and why I want the Flames to build 4 effective lines. Then I look at how this team is ran by GG and I think this will never happen.

  • BendingCorners

    It’s too early to panic but they are not playing well together. Hopefully they start supporting one another positionally and show better results over the next few games. Mike Smith can’t steal every game.

  • BendingCorners

    Playing with more structure and patience, and especially with more energy, would help.

    The problems in the D-zone may be a byproduct of the forwards playing solo and abandoning them. I don’t think we need to worry too much about Hamonic and Stone. Bartkowski probably should be replaced sooner rather than later and I’d prefer Wotherspoon to Kulak since he is the more consistent and calmer player. (Minority opinion I know but I like 6D that plays a simple game).

    The top two lines would benefit from not being blendered on a nightly basis so I’d argue that they should be left unchanged for a while, at least until after the NJD game.

    The third line I think should be Ferland-Jankowski-Versteeg and the fourth line should never see the ice together but would nominally be Bennett-Lazar-Brouwer. Send Bennett out for the PP, Brouwer out for the PK, and Lazar out either for PP and PK or to provide relief for a player (any player) in the the top-nine who just finished PP/PK duty. The top-nine will end up playing a lot of minutes but that’s what it means to play three lines.

    And bench anybody who take a stupid penalty and then bag-skate the team the next day to share the punishment and drive the point home.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Did anyone else notice that the Canes did not have any players like Stajan and Glass. Teams can’t afford to gift spots to role players even on the fourth line.

      • everton fc

        While I don’t mind Glass as much as many here, I hear what you’re saying. And the Canes have a solid 1/2 goalie tandem. We are an old team. Outside Smith, we have Jagr, Stajan, Brouwer… Versteeg… Gio’s 33… Bartkowski and Frolik, closing in on 30.

        Jankowski and Hathaway should be in Calgary. Brouwer is already -4. He shouldn’t be here. Stajan is an extra forward, like Freddie. Freddie is a good extra forward. Bartkowski is not an everyday NHL player. Kulak’s career is being toasted.

        Is our depth on the farm as good as we think? Foo has done nothing down there. Klimchuk, Poirier and Shinkaruk seem stalled. Outside Jankowski, Hathaway and Mangiapane… Our forward “depth” may actually be quite shallow. Andersson, Wotherspoon and sometimes Kylington are promising. Ditto Rittich (who I think is more ready) and Gillies…

  • freethe flames

    The issue I have after watching Bennett play and then watching Janko in the preseason and the highlights from Stockton is how come the organization not see that Janko’s game looks more like an NHL center than Bennetts. Janko is calm, can enter the zone, distributes the puck, is patient with puck, fines the scoring area and is solid defensively; Bennett is helter-skelter, all over the place, explosive at times (in both a good way and sometimes a bad way), seems desperate to get things done and has significant lapses on D. His play needs to be channeled and to me that means he needs to play wing not center. For GG’s great prediction to come through(that Bennett will have a breakthrough year) the only way I see it happening is move him to the wing. How long will this experiment continue? Bennett is struggling and is frustrated that should be obvious; the old saying is true “What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” What GG is going with Bennett is insane and it’s causing this young man, the team and many of fans a great deal of stress. Move him to the wing. Send either Glass or FHamilton down (personally I would send them both down and maybe even the two older guys as well but I know that is highly unlikely) and bring Janko and Mangiapane up and create 3 skating lines and one possession line.