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.