That’s what’s up.
Good job, good effort
Have we considered that the Flames might actually be a legitimately good team, here?
I know it’s been brought up time and time again. On paper, this looks like a roster that should be able to get a lot done. They have 14 forwards capable of playing a regular shift, including whoever gets healthy scratched on the night. They have six quality defencemen. The goaltending should be better than last year. But for all of that, it’s still been a somewhat bumpy start to the season.
And yet, when everything comes together, as it did last night, they’re a good team, full stop. They gave up the early goal, but otherwise, outclassed the Capitals for most of the game. Pressure was laid on. Timely saves were made. Four goals is a fair bit – look at that, the Flames are still one of the top CF/60 teams in the league, and their shooting percentage has been slowly improving – but there could have been more.
Consider how well the third line was playing last night. Consider how they didn’t score. While Johnny Gaudreau continues to go on a tear, this team is showing other players who can put the puck in the net – whether they do, or don’t. Should Gaudreau’s offence suddenly dry up (and he will probably not keep scoring at this pace forever… although he’s only gone three games this season without a point), yes, it will be missed, but that’s when someone else might score, too.
This team has the talent to do it. It’s not going to be perfect every night. But when they’re on, they’ll compete with the best of them – and give themselves a fair shot at winning along the way.
Won the special teams
The Flames capitalized on two of their five powerplay opportunities. It would have been three of five, if Mark Giordano had shot the puck like a second or two earlier. They’ve now scored at least one powerplay goal in the past four games, and have scored seven total in that time, including Sean Monahan’s hat trick from Saturday.
They now have a powerplay success rate of 21.9% – 10th in the NHL. It’s been rolling as of late. The puck movement on Mikael Backlund’s goal alone – courtesy of the five-man unit consisting of him, Jaromir Jagr, Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton – was outstanding. They were consistently dangerous.
And there’s probably still more they can do. I maintain that Hamilton should be on the top unit over T.J. Brodie; Michael Frolik or Sam Bennett could even stand to sub on every now and then. The Flames have a lot of personnel with which to make all this work. They’re going through a good patch right now, though, and hopefully it’ll be a sign of more things to come.
Even better was that the penalty kill was perfect on the night, stopping all three of Washington’s powerplay opportunities. The Caps’ powerplay is now about middle of the road, clicking in at 20%, but we all know just how dangerous their top players can be. That it was completely shut down – Mike Smith doing a lot of it, a surprising amount of offensive zone time for the penalty killers also contributing – was a massively needed boost.
It’s still the worst penalty kill in the NHL – a success rate of 71.8% – but baby steps.
Things won’t always be this good. But again, when they are, you can really start to see what this team is capable of.
Top two guys are unreal
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Gaudreau is pretty good at hockey.
Let’s run everything down: six-game goal streak (seven in that time, six at even strength). Ten-game point streak (19 in that time, 12 at even strength). Five-game multi-point streak (12 points in five games). Third in the NHL in scoring, two points back of Nikita Kucherov and four points back of Steven Stamkos (the only three players with 30+ points so far this season). He keeps inching towards being a career point-per-game player (235 in 252).
Oh, and he’s a two-way player now! Have you seen him backcheck? His stick lift on what would have been a very good scoring chance for Alex Ovechkin just outside of the blue paint has garnered quite the bit of praise. At this point in time, I’m not sure what there could possibly be to criticize him for. He is legitimately one of the best players in the world at the moment, and on pace for 127 points this season (likely won’t happen).
Gaudreau scored 61 points in 70 games last season. That was considered a down year for him. He’s already over halfway towards that points total in a fraction of as many games. Good stuff.
Not to discount Monahan here, either. He isn’t as offensively dynamic – almost no one is – but his 12 goals currently has him tied for the fifth most in the NHL. Six shots last night, too! His shooting percentage is still a little high but when he’s putting that many pucks on net it’s the furthest thing from a concern.
That he’s also over a point-per-game is a pleasant surprise, as well: 22 in 20. They aren’t a Kucherov-Stamkos duo, but they’re pretty much the next best thing.
Micheal Ferland went pointless in this one, but to give him a shoutout, his forechecking is tenacious and unreal. He doesn’t have the offensive talent his linemates do – he’s good, but not elite – but he definitely makes up for that in pretty much every other way imaginable.
There will always be concerns
The Flames are not a perfect team. No team is a perfect team.
For one thing, the fourth line was the only one that really seemed to suffer last night (and even then they had a scoring chance or two). It’s not ideal, but it’s also pretty unlikely every single player on the team is going to outplay the opposition. And when your fourth line is the problem – the guys clocking maybe 10 even strength minutes a night – you’re in a very good position.
A little more troubling is that Brodie and Travis Hamonic still seem to have their struggles. Not every player is going to be good; your second pairing now causing concern multiple games in a row would be better than the opposite, though. They were at fault on the only goal to get past Smith – one he didn’t really have much of a chance on thanks to that – and still have to work their way back up towards inspiring confidence.
Will this last, though? Just like you hope the good times will, you hope the bad times won’t. No guarantees. But while the Flames can live with a faulty pairing when everyone else is clicking, at other times, it might cost them. And when they’re the ones leading the way in even strength ice time – well. You want more from them.
We’re 20 games into the season, though. At this point, I think the only thing there really is to do is hope improvement comes. Because we’ve seen both players be better earlier in the year.
It seems as though every time the Flames get a positive goal differential, they get blown out like right after to shoot them back into the negatives. Thanks for the erroneous five minute major slashing call in Detroit, NHL. Without that they’d be +1 instead of -1 right now.
This was their sixth multi-goal win of the season. They’ll need to improve on that.
And finally, at the quartermark, the Flames are a top three team in their division, both in terms of raw points and points percentage. There isn’t anything in their numbers to suggest they’re a mirage or that they should fall off. They’re probably about where they should be – and still with the potential to be better.
Yeah, the Flames will keep losing games this season. They’re also winning more than they’re losing. It’s all good. They’re a good team.