When the third period started with the score all tied up at one, I felt as though I was watching a loss. Sure enough, that’s exactly what it turned into.
And it was the exact same problems that have been plaguing this team as of late. Now, for the first time this season, they’re under .500 – which shouldn’t be that high a bar to begin with. Especially not with this year’s expectations.
Special teams were bad again
The Flames lost 2-1. The Dallas Stars scored two powerplay goals. That’s kind of the game right there.
Well, that and how the Flames failed to score on their own powerplay yet again, but let’s take this one thing at a time.
For the third game in a row, the Flames have surrendered two powerplay goals. Twice they lost; the third game, well, it’s nice they were able to tie things up. But really – this absolutely has to stop.
Over the course of three games, the Flames’ penalty kill has fallen from top five in the NHL to 26th. They’ve fallen 10 points, from 86.8% to 76.6%. Three games. Glen Gulutzan has gone off about the penalty kill a couple of times now (hell, he did it yesterday morning, too): the Flames are being too passive, allowing for too many easy zone entries, and it’s costing them. He hasn’t liked their kill when Mike Smith was masking their failures; now, he isn’t even doing that.
It’s not acceptable. And so, a threat emerged: that the penalty kill personnel may be changed up.
Against the Stars, the primary penalty killers were Michael Stone, Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan, T.J. Brodie, and Travis Hamonic. Some of these names don’t belong – I’m sure you can figure out which ones – but in the spirit of a new penalty killer, I’ll toss out a suggestion.
How about Matthew Tkachuk? He doesn’t have the two-way reputation Backlund and Frolik do, but he’s still a contributing member of a really good shutdown line. I think it’d stand to reason he could probably kill a penalty or two. What’s the harm in trying, at least?
As for the powerplay, the last goal Calgary had on the man advantage was Kris Versteeg, with a five-on-three, against the Wild. The last 5v4 goal they scored was Johnny Gaudreau against the Canucks. They have a 15.0% success rate now, tied for 21st in the NHL. Not good enough.
Speaking of that, though…
Let’s complain about the refs!
When it comes to a horrible call in a regular season game, the worst one that immediately comes to mind was Jim Joyce taking away Armando Galarraga’s perfect game in 2010. The widespread reaction after was nothing but support for both pitcher and umpire, in part because Joyce owned up to his mistake immediately after the game and apologized.
I get that baseball is very different from hockey, and there’s one way: an umpire was held accountable for his bad call.
We’re not going to see that in the NHL any time soon. We’re not going to get an explanation for why the refs watched Dougie Hamilton and Kris Versteeg both get high-sticked and let play continue. Or how crosschecks right in front of the Flames’ net that send players careening to the ice are okay. Or why, exactly, Travis Hamonic’s lightest of light taps when getting up after being crosschecked hard into the ice was called a slash.
here's the penalty on Hamonic: pic.twitter.com/6FR8MXjeZb
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 28, 2017
If you open the replies to that tweet, you’ll even find an Oilers fan baffled that Hamonic was the one who got a penalty out of that. Any given night in the NHL, I can open my Twitter feed and find fans of just about any team losing their minds because they have no damn clue what is and isn’t a penalty anymore. Every single night.
Reporters can go to the dressing room and ask Hamonic about the penalty. They can ask Gulutzan what he thinks the team needs to do about taking penalties. But they can’t ask the officials what they were thinking when they called only Hamonic for an infraction, or what they were watching when Versteeg took a stick to the face and fell down to the ice that apparently everyone else in the building saw, if the roar of outrage was any indication.
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 28, 2017
There is not one single hint of accountability. Last night, it hurt the Flames: that Hamonic penalty ended up being a goal against, and it was a one-goal game. And maybe the Flames’ powerplay wouldn’t have done anything with more opportunities, but you can’t let players swing their sticks around like crazy and catch guys in the head with no repercussions. It’s a pretty cut and dry call to make.
Maybe the horribly inconsistent reffing helps the Flames one day! But it shouldn’t. It’s frustrating across the NHL and occasionally results in games devolving into utter chaos. And as of right now, there is absolutely no reason to think it will ever get better.
That said, though…
So if the Flames play a completely clean game and don’t take a single penalty, maybe they win 1-0.
How many 1-0 games do you think a team is going to have over a single season? Only scoring once isn’t anywhere near good enough.
Here’s the thing: the Flames were getting chances. Brodie’s shot doesn’t go wide, it’s a different game. Backlund scores on his shorthanded effort, it’s a different game. But not every scoring chance is going to result in a goal, so the best bet is to generate as many scoring chances as possible, and eventually, they will probably start going in.
One way to not do that is to get odd man rush after odd man rush and not shoot the puck at all. How many times in the first period did the Flames have an odd man rush, only to make one pass too many and immediately turn the puck over and back down the ice? Gaudreau’s goal was scored on an odd man rush; he had the audacity to actually shoot the puck and what do you know, it went in.
The Flames were trying to play cute all night and all they succeeded in doing was limiting their own chances to actually get on the board. Yes, they’ve had chances. Yes, they’ve by and large been the superior even strength team. But it means very, very little if they don’t even try to get a shot on net.
Their penalty kill hurt them; not scoring any more goals hurt them more.
Optimal lineup or
Brett Kulak is a better player than Matt Bartkowski. He just is.
Now that that’s out of the way, Gulutzan leaned heavily on the 3M line all night. They were the top forwards in ice time, with Sean Monahan’s line following right behind. That’s cool, Backlund was being matched against Tyler Seguin and those are the forwards most likely to score, anyway. (Versteeg aside, the rest of them kind of haven’t? At all?)
Brouwer played 14:16. Stajan played 13:23. Versteeg played 10:51. Tanner Glass played 10:39.
Sam Bennett played 9:06. Mark Jankowski played 7:53.
You can’t really talk about how you need more out of the bottom end of the lineup when Tanner “69 points in 518 games” Glass gets a regular shift. Dude had the chance to go on a breakaway and he lunged forward, falling, to poke the puck up the ice. I get that Bennett’s start to the season is disappointing but you always play the disappointing player over the guy who straight up can’t provide anything offence-wise because the disappointing player at least has the potential to do something about it.
And I get that Jankowski is new, and Stajan has the unfortunate cap hit, but you have to give the recall with five goals in six AHL games this year a chance to do something. Playing established veterans over kids with potential doesn’t mean a thing when you already know those veterans aren’t going to contribute on the scoresheet.
It’s just neutering the team for no reason.
Jankowski watch, part 3
So, even though Gulutzan was previously very insistent that Jankowski is an NHLer, he was basically never seen last night because he was only allowed to play four shifts a period. He had the first bad corsi night of his season – 37.50% – but it’s not as though he got much of a chance to actually do anything.
Who gets sent down when Jaromir Jagr comes back? Jankowski, apparently. Why would they keep him up? Some home debut.
Andrew Mangiapane leads the AHL in scoring! So if he gets recalled maybe he’ll have the privilege of playing less than a guy whose career high AHL point totals he’s about to pass. (Glass had 15 points in 57 games for Hartford in 2016-17. Mangiapane has 14 points in eight games for Stockton right now.)
The Flames lost in a predictable way with well-established mistakes coming home to roost once again, but they also decided to shoot themselves in the feet on the way there for some reason.