… They had it.
If you look at the Flames’ overall body of work this season, like Glen Gulutzan said, they probably deserve to be a .500 team. And they are, now. But this game against the Wild may have been their best game of the season, and they came away with nothing to show for it, all because they quit playing for a few minutes with half a period to go.
They should have scored more than just twice. They didn’t. They got a lead and they slept on it. And then, they lost. The close ones like this just hurt.
What a start
The Flames had their chances to cash in early and often. They had an outstanding powerplay to kick things off that they were simply unlucky, several times over, to not score on. Their passes were just off, but so was the Wild’s defending. And while they couldn’t quite match that initial flurry of activity, they still came away the better team.
At 5v5 alone, they had a 57.69% CF and 73.33% SCF in the first. In the second, they held it, with 60% and 52.94%. But they lost it as the third went on – 43.75%, and 46.67%. They were never totally out of it, but they also just weren’t able to find the success the Wild were.
I feel like that can be pretty common when watching a team of choice play a game. Why is it the other team can do all of these things mine can’t? Like capitalize at opportune times, on opportune chances – with the added gut stab that the Flames had more of them than the Wild? They were dangerous for most of the night.
Especially with that one guy.
The Flames were short on right wingers. Jaromir Jagr was by far the best right winger on the market. The Flames finally signed him. He started getting his legs back. What he brings to the ice is becoming increasingly evident – at least, for as long as he’s out there.
Jagr played just 3:49, 3:00 of which was spent on the powerplay. He served four shifts all together. And he was a big part of the reason why that first powerplay looked as dangerous as it did – he probably had at least three surefire scoring chances on it alone, let alone picking up another couple in his remaining ice time. Jagr has yet to score a goal as a Flame; he could have had a hat trick the way he started last night.
Say Jagr is out a little longer than desired; you’re either replacing him with Matt Stajan or Mark Jankowski or Andrew Mangiapane or whoever. And that’s a net loss, because none of them are as good as he is. Few are.
Jagr was a part of the engine that generated so many chances to start the game. On the other hand, I also felt his linemates were kind of trying to force the puck to him, attempting to set him up for a goal rather than take the shot themselves. Maybe that was just me though, but you’ve gotta think once he gets that first one things will be coming a lot easier, both for him and the team.
In the meantime… so close. And if he’d been able to finish the game, they may have been able to pull it out.
All those minutes to Johnny
With Jagr out, there was some line shuffling. Micheal Ferland got his chance back on the top line, but then someone has to take his shifts on the third line, and they were given to Johnny Gaudreau.
Whenever the Flames are down a forward, it’s always Gaudreau picking up the extra spot. This was a much more extreme case, though, considering just how much time Jagr missed.
Gaudreau finished the night with 22:01 played, including 7:05 on the powerplay. Mikael Backlund played 19:47, Sean Monahan played 19:19. Hell, forget the forward comparisons – Gaudreau played 10 fewer seconds than Travis Hamonic and 15 fewer than Mark Giordano. He was leaned on, hard, to fill out the forward lines. He has 11 points in eight games, he’s leading the Flames in scoring; it makes sense, especially when the team needs offence. He will, in all likelihood, be the Flames’ leading scorer again this season. He’s the go-to guy.
Though Monahan had the more impressive game, by my eye. Seven (!) shots don’t lie.
Those two really need the chance to develop and put everything together alongside Jagr. It feels like they’re still just on the cusp.
Special teams not a problem
The Flames are no longer making Mike Smith face 40+ shots a game. They’ve corrected that habit. And in this one, they were relatively disciplined (though I still have no clue how that was a slash on Dougie Hamilton. Really… that? That’s what you’re calling?).
This time around, the Flames drew penalties. Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau are two of the Flames’ top penalty generators, and they did just that last night. And they really, really, really should have scored on the first powerplay – they did a great job on it, especially considering how they didn’t even have a chance to get into the flow of the game just yet before going straight to the man advantage.
It was good they scored on the five-on-three, but then, they also gave up a five-on-three goal. They had six powerplays to work with and could only capitalize on the one. A goal in that first powerplay probably changes things a fair amount. At the very least, an extra goal send them to overtime.
Still: improvement. There’s your silver lining.
Brett Kulak finally drew into the lineup after having sat there for seven straight games. The Flames’ bottom defence pairing has been, uh, not great to start, but while Kulak had the worst CF% on the team, he still looked like an upgrade.
At the very least, he did what he said he wanted to do: kept play largely to the perimeter. He didn’t get many cracks at creating anything himself, and had some of the lowest zone starts on the team outside of the 3M and fourth lines, but he looked calm, composed, and collected throughout the 8:25 that he played.
Maybe, with more regularity, he can build on that.