After a pretty rough first period from the Flames, they were able to compose themselves and play a pretty good final two periods. The team continues to play well at five-on-five, and even won the special teams battle this time around – no powerplay goals on three chances, but their first period shorthanded goal helped them pull back from the panic button.
In the end, they came out with a third straight win, as just who this team is seems to be coming together.
Regression on all fronts
The Flames were due to regress in two areas: shooting and save percentage. Their PDO of 100.1 plants them about right where they should be, and about in the middle of the NHL, but that’s with the third worst shooting percentage in the league, and the third best save percentage.
Last night, we saw neither is probably sustainable.
Let’s start with the bad news first: even with some key saves, Mike Smith didn’t have his best game. Nico Hischier forced him into giving up brutal rebounds that led to two goals, his puck playing finally burned him on the third, and finally, that fourth goal just plain shouldn’t have gone in. Nobody is going to bring out the pitchforks for Smith – this was only his third sub-.900 SV% game of the season – but these lesser games are going to happen. Hopefully not often, but the .931 he’s now sporting will probably fall a bit further.
Then, the good news: the Flames are scoring again. Their four goals in regulation are the most they’ve had since Oct. 14, when they downed the Canucks 5-2. And it isn’t that they haven’t been getting chances – they absolutely have – it’s been that they simply wouldn’t go in, no matter what they did. Sometimes they challenged Keith Kinkaid, sometimes their chances weren’t that difficult for him, but fact of the matter is they’ll probably increase their scoring output. Right now they’re at 2.36 goals per game; only the Oilers are worse. (Yay?)
Those who had A Game
A couple of Flames really stood out positively in this one.
First off, Johnny Gaudreau was outstanding, even with a lower corsi rating. He was all over the ice, doing absolutely everything in his power to try to make things happen for his team, especially speeding up through the offensive zone. He did get two assists out of his effort. As it stands, he’s still one of the NHL’s top offensive players – tied for fourth in league-wide scoring, tied for second in assists, already with five multi-point games – and he really doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Then, there’s Michael Frolik. Of all the Flames with at least 30 shots on the season, only two have lower shooting percentages than he does: Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano. Frolik went nine games in between goals, and over the course of those nine games he had 21 shots. That doesn’t mean they were all good, but you’ve gotta think at some point, they go in. And finally, one did: the Flames’ second shorthanded goal of the year, with Frolik capitalizing off of an incredible effort by Mikael Backlund on the kill to create a chance that probably should have never been, were it not for his determination.
And finally, there’s Micheal Ferland, who’s looking increasingly like he belongs on the first line, the role he was pegged to play before the season even started. Ferland may be the greatest beneficiary of Jaromir Jagr’s injury, because it’s given him that chance to prove himself up there again. He’s at five points in six games since then, and maybe could have been a point-per-game if he’d just blasted it on his penalty shot (the first chance the Flames have had in almost exactly two years! The last one was a David Jones miss against the Penguins on Nov. 7, 2015) rather than try to get too fancy.
It also certainly helps that Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are such good players themselves, but with Ferland continuing to click with them, it’s looking much better. He’s starting to creep up the team scoring list.
Those who didn’t
On the flip side, a couple of Flames just couldn’t make anything work for them.
It wasn’t that they had bad games – Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski certainly had their chances to score, Bennett especially – but it’s just, like, what else do they have to do to score? Jankowski is much less of a concern because he isn’t getting big minutes and this was only just his seventh ever NHL game, but I have absolutely no explanation for Bennett’s struggles.
I mean. He gets a breakaway out of the penalty box, gets two good whacks at it, nothing. He’s helping create havoc around the net in tight and nothing, not even an assist for his efforts. This is not a player who should be scoreless in 14 games, and yet, he just… is. I don’t know.
Bennett is probably the most likely candidate to come off the powerplay when Jagr returns (or maybe Ferland instead, if there’s no desire to bump him down to the second unit), but maybe he’d benefit more from a player of that caliber on his line. Jankowski, too. As things currently stand… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
One of the great things about the Flames’ blueline is just how deep it is. They upgraded their top four by acquiring Travis Hamonic, so when he had to sit due to injury their third pairing suffered for it, but their top four wasn’t totally screwed.
You forget what a bullet Michael Stone has, probably because he doesn’t get to show it off all that often, though he did lead the way with six shots last night (although, it isn’t always going to hit the net like that). Now, each of the Flames’ five regular defencemen have at least a goal on the season, though Brodie is still the points leader, with nine in 14 games (who saw that coming?).
As for ice time distribution, it was probably somewhat predictable: the top four were all much more heavily leaned on, while Brett Kulak and Matt Bartkowski got the shaft, playing 11:33 and 11:53, respectively. And, I mean, you put the two together, and yeah, Kulak had a poor preseason or whatever, but it’s just all the more evident when they’re playing side by side who the better player is.
Though if Rasmus Andersson draws in next game, he probably isn’t going to get big minutes, either. It’d be just his second NHL game.
Oh a shootout
The Flames have gone to extra time four times so far this season, and they’ve been perfect each time: two overtime wins, two shootout wins. The unfortunate thing about shootout wins is they don’t count towards the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker, and that could be a factor in the playoff race – but better to pick up two points instead of just one.
Last season, the Flames scored five shootout goals. Four were by Kris Versteeg, and one by Monahan. This season, those two players have appeared in both of the Flames’ shootouts, plus a brand new face in Matthew Tkachuk. Versteeg has been stonewalled both times, but the younger guys have both nailed it, leading to wins.
Tkachuk gets powerplay time now, he’s had his first overtime shifts, he’s pretty much cemented himself as a shootout staple. It’s fun to see his role keep increasing.