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.
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.
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.