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Maple Leafs 2, Flames 1 (SO) post-game embers: A step forward

There are the games in which you just give up on your team. They’re bad, they suck, they just gave up a ton of goals all at once because they’re pathetic and can’t handle this league. They are, in short, losers.

And then there are games like this one, in which they honestly deserved the win, did everything they possibly could to come by it, and just got thwarted by a goalie who was on his game that night. The kind of loss you can’t really get mad at. That’s what this one was.

48 shots, one goal

The good news: in three of their past four games, the Flames have had 40+ shots on net. (And in that other game, they had 34, so it’s not like they were totally slacking.)

The bad news: other than beating the Coyotes 3-0, they just aren’t scoring enough goals, no matter how many shots they put up.

This is… familiar, actually. We saw this earlier in the season. Maybe not 40-shot level, but the Flames had one of the worst shooting percentages in the NHL to start the year. Now they’re at a not-really-respectable bottom 10, with 8.53% in all situations.

This is both good and bad. It’s bad because, well, they aren’t scoring enough goals. How useful would that surprise flurry of comeback goals against the Oilers have been last night? Even just one more would have done it. But it’s also good because at least you know they’re trying. They aren’t scoring because the pucks aren’t going in, not because they never have them. Say what you will about quality of shots, but if you’re chucking nearly 50 at one guy over 65 minutes, chances are, most of the time, more than one of those is going to go in.

That’s not to say the Flames outright dominated the game – their even strength corsi was 52.34%, definitely the superior team, but not as far apart as the shot clock would have you believe – but in a world wherein hard work trumps all else, they would have won.

Just one really bad defensive breakdown

Of course, you probably aren’t going to win many games 1-0. It’s not a sound strategy. And to be fair to the Flames, it’s not like they were trying to win 1-0; they were trying to score throughout the entire night.

But the goal they gave up – the end result of Mike Smith missing a puck he was attempting to play – that was completely avoidable. “Self-inflicted wounds” has been a favourite phrase as of late, and well, that’s what this was. They couldn’t get a handle on the puck in their own end and a weird angle shot ended up going in and that’s what ultimately cost them the second point.

On the plus side, the usual suspects didn’t have a poor showing last night. Sam Bennett got an overtime shift, and he’s looked increasingly legit these past couple of games. And though T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic had the weakest corsi on the night, they looked nowhere near as bad as they have the past couple of games. Baby steps.

Defence splits

On that note, some interesting numbers popped out at me re: the Flames’ defence for this game.

For one thing, most obvious, Brodie played 2:37 on the powerplay; Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton’s time out there was pretty much negligible (which is hilarious considering Giordano is the one who actually scored on the powerplay). Brodie had three shots, powerplay time included. Giordano had six. Hamilton and Michael Stone had five each. Again, Brodie is the only one who actually received powerplay time. Get him off of it, it’s time, this is just nonsense. Have Hamilton take over the top unit defensive role and slot Giordano and Stone in on the second unit, whatever, but at this point it’s just crying while not understanding why the square peg won’t fit in the round hole.

Killing penalties saw Giordano, Hamonic, and Stone all go over 20 minutes; Hamilton only hit 19:24 with pretty much no special teams time.

The really interesting observation here, though, is that Brett Kulak played 16:09 – more than Stone’s 15:20. Drop them down to just 5v5 time and the difference is that much more extreme: 15:12 for Kulak, 12:27 for Stone. Kulak’s role spiked. I wonder if this is something that’s going to continue.

Four for four

The penalty kill had a perfect night, which was huge in the Flames at least getting a much needed (and much deserved) point.

Johnny Gaudreau was uncharacteristically responsible for half of those – a poor judgement call in throwing his stick, a bizarre holding call near the end of overtime after the refs had let pretty much every single other thing go – but they got out of things just fine.

The penalty kill is now up to 76.34%, the fourth worst in the NHL. They are slowly, but surely, creeping their way back into respectability.

And also: it is truly something else to watch Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on the kill. They can get astonishingly aggressive and it is a genuine treat to watch two players of their ability go to work and doggedly pursue the puck not just to get it out of their end, but to create chances that should, under absolutely no circumstances, happen to a team with the man advantage. I’m friends with a number of Leafs fans, and when Backlund and Frolik ended up on a two-on-one a number of them expressed disgust in their team’s powerplay; my reaction was just, “Yeah, that’s typical Backlund and Frolik.”

They both have two shorthanded points so far this season, each. Only three players league-wide have three. I think it’s fair to consider them in the upper echelon.

Shootout personnel

Last season, the Flames scored five shootout goals. Kris Versteeg had four of them. He’s had two chances this season prior to getting hurt and failed to score on either.

Sean Monahan had the other shootout goal last season, and he’s two for three this year. Matthew Tkachuk only just started getting shootout appearances this season and he’s three for three.

So there’s two-thirds of your shootout roster, accounting for injuries.

Gaudreau is three for 15 in his career. He has amazing hands but he either needs to run extensive shootout drills to get it into him to stop making so many moves or just be barred from trying all together. Like he’s just not good in this situation. (What was his last breakaway goal? Was it that snapshot on Brian Elliott in Philadelphia? Hm.)

I didn’t hate the Backlund try but for what it’s worth, outside of Versteeg, Monahan, and Tkachuk, the Flames really don’t have anybody to go at it in the shootout (and they only just learned Tkachuk was an option like not even two months ago). Every other prominent shootout performer the team has had this decade is no longer in Calgary. You gotta go with someone. Maybe Micheal Ferland would have been more worthy. Or see what Mark Jankowski could do. But it’s not like Backlund was as bad a choice as Gaudreau was.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    “I’m friends with a number of Leafs fans”

    Ari. Ari. Ari. People will judge you for the company you keep. Please cease this unbecoming behaviour before it comes back to haunt you.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Now to get serious. That was a good hockey game. And Ari your analysis of D utilization is spot on. This is why FN has lost faith in GG. His stubbornness in the face of glaring evidence that what he is doing isn’t working is mind boggling. Switching Brodie off the PP is easy to try so why not? Likewise shuffling Bottom 2 D pairings.

  • Squishin

    I missed the game (these early ones suck because I’m always working) but sounds like it was a much better effort than the previous few. Glad to see Kulak’s role increase. I think he will be used even more as long as he keeps showing well.
    I agree with you about the powerplay. As much as I despise Hamilton’s defensive work (and thus his play in general; defencemen should always be good at defence), he is a gifted offensive player with a good shot and should see more time on the powerplay. I also agree that we should see Stone on there sometimes. He has a rocket of a shot, and his shots rarely seem to get blocked. He has the knack for getting pucks through.

  • Kzak

    Was at the game last night and it was really emotional and tense. The Flames looked very good defensively and their PK did an excellent job. Byng did a good job riling up their meat heads (Martin and Polak) and got into Andersen’s face. The officiating was odd, as they made two phantom calls on Gaudreau (still don’t know how it’s illegal to drop your stick after it breaks when the rule says you have to) and the weak late OT call, yet let Martin get away with a vicious cross check after the whistle. Late in the first period, they did the usual standing ovation for some military guy and for some reason they also showed and announced Gary Leeman being at the game, so I got the Flames honour of standing up and booing that guy while Leafs fans around me snickered (worst trade ever).

  • HAL MacInnis

    That game was glentertaining. I really glenjoyed seeing a higher glenergy from the players. I think we’re glentering a new glen of Flames glen. I wouldn’t glen a damn glen going glen.

  • Carl the tooth

    Spencer Foo with the Hatrick for Stockton last night!! Hopefully a sign that shooting percentage is about to even out . Go Spencer!!
    Anderson must be one of the top scoring defenceman in AHL?

  • Flaymin Frank

    Goals? Keep pumping those number of shots and the door will open. Big time. Its not like we were flipping muffins from the hash marks. There was lots of close quarter battles near TO’s blue paint all night and Fred was very good. And lucky. It causes me great pain to say this but I thought the Leafs were the more physical team at times and they were very good at covering their men when the pocket was collapsing around their net minder. That’s something the Flames still need to work on. Finally – Gio was extremely pissed when TO scored after the Smith snafu and his clearing attempt rim shot. That’s good, his team mates need to see that anger in his eyes. On to the La Belle Provence.

  • Alberta Ice

    Elliot and Anderson as goalies just plain beat us the last two games. (But, hey, Elliot did it to the Oil Tankers too last night.) And now we have to pay and play the Price tonight. It was great to know the D was much better against an offensive juggernaut like the Maple Leafs. This will be a tough one tonight, but that game last night gives a bit more hope than the previous two for the future.

  • Flaymin Frank

    # 3 in drawing penalties this year. Gotta luv Byng!!!!! Like Babs said last nite post game ” that stuff is for junior hockey”. Well, he is only 19, junior eligible. He’ll probably grow out of it in a few years when he’s a grey bearded 21 yr old. Until then, he’s the Pest of the West.

  • Lucky 13

    The NHL needs to get this right.
    We were all gloriously entertained by the 3on3 in OT.

    It should really be extended to 10 minutes of OT. It’s better for the players and better for the fans. Besides who wants to see a shootout after such a intense game? Not me. They take enough time selecting players anyway and you sometimes see this going 7-8 shooters. I’m pretty sure an extra 5 minutes is actually saving time?

    The game has sped up from previous years by introducing the penalty for offside challenges that are erroneous.
    The no time out after icing has resulted in the same, a quicker game.

    In a effort to make this game a better one, we need to slowly rid ourselves of the shootout.

    A simple extra 5 minutes would probably do this and would go a long way in creating a more balanced and real hockey game.

    My 2 cents.

  • Zalapski

    One observation,

    Bennett and Jankowski have looked good the past few games with Jagr and kind of doing an East to West type of game, but last night with Hathaway they played a lot more North South and up tempo. I really liked that line combination and wouldn’t be sad to watch it ripen on the vine if Jagr is out. The Board battles weren’t quite as legendary though. Bennett is moving his feet a lot more when he is one on one with a defender. He’s turned the corner and if he can keep doing it nightly he’ll be just fine.

    Brett Kulak is going to develop into what Peter Chiarelli is paying Kris Russel to be. Dependable #4-5 depending on depth, two way defender. I think he has more offense than he has shown. He hits the net when he shoots.

  • Puckhead

    And herein lies the reason as to why there will be no significant changes to the Flames roster or coaching staff this season – stink out the house for a game or two and then counterbalance those games with some good promising ones.

    My Xmas wish is for a team with an identify that plays a consistent (and confident) brand of hockey.

    Go 🔥 Go!!!

  • 50below0

    I don’t trust Hamilton as the lone defenseman on the first PP unit. He’s slow in moving the puck to the open man. A few plays I saw him holding on to the puck too long while open players are waiting for the pass. Once he does pass the defender is already in position to deflect the puck and/or intercept the pass. Hence, the puck leaves the offensive zone. It’s very frustrating. I am confused why he does it.

    • Zalapski

      I’d say he does it often because he doesn’t get legitimate PP time. He is a sniper for the position he plays, he need not be a distributor on the first PP, he needs to be a trigger man. Johnny sets up a right handed Dougie who takes a snapper, with Monny or Brouwer(puke) in front. Monny is a so good at finding space in highscoring areas in front, PP production goes way up! If that lane is blocked Dougie passes it to Ferland for a one time or to reset, he can make plays as well and is a very underrated passer. Having an Umbrella type of PP would probably the best with those 3 up top and preferably Monny and Tkachuck in front of the net or slot. So I think it should be, Johnny-Monny-Tkachuk Dougie-Ferland 1st pp.

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    Byng is getting another Christmas conference call this afternoon from Bettman’s little helpers at NHL headquarters. Hope he’s available for tonite’s game. Amazing. The linesman was right there, pulling the stick out of the gaping stab wound. No call.

    • Lucky 13

      Matt Martin said he didn’t even feel it. But 18,000 fans somehow saw it with binoculars. I’m sure that every time Tkachuk is on the ice you’re going to see a forensic squad looking for something to remove him from the game.

      He played a great game yesterday, his agitating self was fun to watch. He does it so well.

      However, he needs to be smarter, that stuff needs to be held in check. Keep your stick inside the bench, chirp if you must, but keep it stick work out of it. Zero sticks- plain and simple.

      That’s how you go from agitator, to crossing the line.

      I love our Byng, he’s a rare talent at his tender age, he just needs a veteran attitude. But again, he’s just a kid.

  • oilcanboyd

    Only good thing about playing the Make Believes is the extra coverage the game gets on Sportsnet Connected at Noon. Talking heads say that is the way GG would like to see the team play every game . Much ado about Tkachuk and a hearing with the Goons on the NHL Disciplinary Committe, which is a joke in itself. Talked to Debrusk by phone on the show and he says that little jab was nothing.

  • The Doctor

    I only caught last half of the game, so can’t comment on the first half, but in the half I saw we were clearly the better, dominant team. Leafs iced the puck a ton of times in the third to relieve the pressure we were putting on. Plus what really made me happy was our D zone exits. They were calm, crisp and efficient. I thought we looked great.

    • The Doctor

      One bad thing was that for some reason especially in the O zone our guys were putting passes into our teammates’ skates a bunch of times rather than on their sticks. If those passes had been on target there are a bunch of really good scoring opportunities we could have generated or converted.

    • deantheraven

      First half looked like that too. I got the NHL.com package ’cause I’m overseas & can’t make puck drop unless it’s a matinee. I can watch stuff over and over and over… Flame were beat by one guy. They dominated almost everyone else in blue all night in every situation.

    • Lucky 13

      Haha I just read that too.

      Although I do credit Spector for describing Tkachuk in this fashion;

      “If you don’t want one of hockey’s premier 19-year-olds — who scores, hits, fights, pesters, and skates as well as Tkachuk does — your hockey acumen requires a reboot.”

      The rest of his column seems to have overlooked that remark.

      What do you expect from a Oiler writer? I’m surprised he said anything good about Byng!

      • TGIF

        The article is pretty much bang on. The problem with Tkachuk is that 90 % of the time when he does something a fight or scrum ensues and then it’s one of his teammates that ends up in the fight and not him.

    • Lucky 13

      I’d like to add Nurse will fight with his own teammates and give raccoon eyes to them.

      Excuse me, I mean.. allegedly fight. Lol

      So forgive me if I don’t applaud Spector’s thoughts on Nurse.

      • Lucky 13

        Didn’t you lose last night to the Flyers?

        Why are you chirping here today?
        Is the sun shining and you’re happy?

        I’d be more worried about the Oilers if I were you. And no the trainwreck isn’t over. Sorry pal.
        Or as Carl says , Lol not sorry!

        • That’s why the ??? have not been removed. (They were last year) As long as we keep the 3 Amigos/Dumb , Dumber, Dumbest hanging around collecting paycheques and spreading their wisdom throughout the organization, nothing will change for the Oilers. I cheer for both Alberta teams and thought we would be battling for first place in our division. But we keep the morons on payroll while the Flames hire Eakins 2.0. Doubt either of us make it to the dance. Was not chirping, just a response to a poorly worded post. Tkachuk has an open invitation with Nurse, and has declined repeatedly. Sam Bennett stands up for himself, Tkachuk hides behind bigger teammates. The evidence is irrefutable.

          • Lucky 13

            Maybe my post wasn’t worded correctly for Oilers eyes, that’s true. However, wouldn’t you want Tkachuk on your team? Don’t say no out of spite.

            Your Oilers and 30 other teams would love to have a 19 year old who plays hockey like him.
            I don’t know of any player his age that can change the tone of a game in the agitating way he does. Do you?

            I’m not sure why you’re so invested in our Nation, but I guess you’re more than a fan then you care to admit. That’s ok, I’m not judging you. Welcome aboard. Though you might need to change your member name.

            Until we have a great coach, you’re probably right in saying that we’re not making the dance. That’s fair.

            I like Nurse, so at least we have that in common!

      • Cfan in Van

        He’s the description of a guy who draws a whole lot of penalties. It’s actually a good thing, unless you’re the other team… Oh right, you’re the fan of another team… Beat it.

  • Alberta Ice

    Just read the Spec article and saw the video. Yep, Matty is gonna need to clean up his act on taking the cheap shots. He’s too good a player to get sidelined by these careless antics. And more importantly, the Flames need him to be around the offensive net to cause havoc for all.

  • Squishin

    Wow. Shut up. It’s one thing to post a well-thought out critique of Ari’s writing, but it’s another thing entirely to revert to this kind of lame insult based on gender. Put your thumb back in your butthole; maybe that will stop it spewing this garbage all over a hockey forum.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    See, for me, this is how Swayze gets banned. Come on Ari, I don’t want this sh!t tolerated on my fave blog. This wasn’t a “heat of the moment” comment.

    He’s asking for it.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I’m sorry but there is no room for this kind of insensitive, Neanderthal drivel on this site. If you can’t be respectful and inclusive of female hockey fans (especially ones that know way more about hockey than most of us here) then I would ask you to stay out of the discussion.

  • WillyWonka

    swayze, this isn’t an azzhole competition, so just pull your head outta you know where and have a snickers and try to be a half decent human being instead of the jerk you like to portray here. what kind of loser goes online and makes sexist comments to decent people just because they can? passive aggressive spoiled millennial’s that are confused about manhood, that’s who. don’t be that guy.