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FGD 34: Back(-to-back) to basics in Vancouver (6pm MT, SN West)

After a battle with the Nashville Predators last night in the Saddledome, the Calgary Flames (16-14-3) are back on the road for a quick visit to the Vancouver Canucks (15-14-4) at Rogers Arena. The Flames played well for much of last night’s game against the Predators, and now they face a team that’s been sitting at home since Friday. It’s a key divisional game for the Flames and, somehow, the final regular season meeting between these two rivals this season. (Yes, the Flames play four games against Vancouver before they play Vegas even once, because the NHL’s schedule is really weird.)

The puck drops at 6 p.m. MT on Sportsnet 960 The Fan and Sportsnet West.

For a look from the other side, go visit our dear friends at Canucks Army.

The Flames

Last night’s lines, courtesy of Daily Faceoff:

Gaudreau – Monahan (A) – Ferland
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Bennett – Jankowski – Hathaway
Brouwer (A) – Stajan – Jagr

Giordano (C) – D.Hamilton
Brodie – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone

David Rittich starts for the Flames, given that it’s the back half of a back-to-back. He’s 2-1-0 with a 2.57 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. (For a trivia note, he’ll tie Eddie Lack for appearances this season as he suits up for the fourth time this year.) He’s backed up by Mike Smith. The healthy scratches last night were Matt Bartkowski, Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton. I’d expect some changes for tonight, but they’ll become more clear when the team has its media availability in Vancouver.

The Flames have played pretty well over their last seven or eight games. Heck, if you look at Natural Stat Trick’s “high-danger chances” – which are as close as we can find for a metric that resembles the coaching staff’s “scoring chances” – they’ve out-chanced their opposition at five on five 10 times in their last 12 games. Unfortunately, combinations of wonky bounces, frustrating special teams and a few goaltending gaffes have translated those 12 games of pretty decent hockey into a four wins.

It’s hard to justify after four wins in 12 games, but the best bet for the Flames – at even strength – is to stay the course. If they can keep plugging away and the bounces start normalizing, the pucks will start going in.

The Canucks

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

D.Sedin (A) – H.Sedin (C) – Vanek
Eriksson – Gagner – Boeser
Goldobin – Burmistrov – Virtanen
Granlund – Dowd – Gaunce

Edler (A) – Pouliot
Hutton – Stecher
del Zotto – Biega

Jacob Markstrom starts for Vancouver. He’s 9-10-3 with a 2.57 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. He’s backed up by Anders Nilsson. The healthy scratches are Ashton Sautner and Michael Chaput.

The Canucks are almost the opposite of the Flames. In the same span where the Flames have out-chanced their opponents in 10 of 12 games, the Canucks have done so just twice. They’ve also won four games, but their record is arguably more “earned.” At the same time, man, these guys have been hammered by injuries. They’re missing six regulars right now. It’s a minor miracle that they’re anywhere close to the playoff picture – and a bit of a triumph for their remaining players and coaching staff.

Injury Report

Flames: Daniel Pribyl (knee) and Kris Versteeg (hip) are on the injured reserve.

Vancouver: Derek Dorsett (neck), Erik Gudbranson (upper-body), Brandon Sutter (undisclosed), Bo Horvat (foot) and Sven Baertschi (jaw) are on the injured reserve. Chris Tanev (groin) is also out, but remains on the active roster.

When Last We Met

This is the fourth and final game between these teams this season. The Flames have won two out of their three meetings this season, most recently a 4-2 win in Calgary eight days ago.

The Numbers

CGY VAN
Wins 16 15
Points 35 34
Adjusted Corsi 52.3% 47.6%
Power Play 17.5% 21.9%
Penalty Kill 77.4% 79.5%

Know Thy Enemy

These folks will be tweeting about the Canucks tonight. Try to be nice to them.

Sum It Up

Coming off a bit of a heartbreaking loss roughly 22 hours ago, the Flames look to bounce back as they finish off their season series with one of their top rivals.

FGD BROUGHT TO YOU BY ATB FINANCIAL

Let’s show Vegas something they’ve never seen before—Alberta hockey fans.

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  • Lucky 13

    Nice picture. Apparently Johnny loves bubble gum too?

    Can we please not blow any bubbles tonight and score a few? Thanks

    C’mon Rittich, let’s get you another win tonight.

    I have no idea how the Canucks are still in the hunt, with all those injuries? You’d almost think coaching has something to do with it!

    • Lucky 13

      Amen SF, I agree. Smith is a warrior, but expecting him to play almost 60-70 games is not smart coaching.

      You can see the fatigue is slowly creeping in on him.
      Give Rittich the crease for a small stretch and allow him to build his confidence.

  • Justthateasy

    Lots of blather about last night’s game but many good points were made.
    The hitting (rubbing out) along the boards has improved.
    Johnny had a good chance coming up on the left side to crash the net and show his power move. Instead of the usual trying to pass out front through a crowd and getting picked off. You don’t have to be at power forward to make a power move to the net. You just have to have some guts.
    I totally agree that Riddick should get more than one game in a row here regardless of how the game goes tonight.

    • Lucky 13

      Fun fact:
      Almost 0.7% of the world is in a drunken stupor right now. That’s 50 million people at this moment of writing.

      Ask anyone that’s drunk if they believe in unicorns, leprechauns’ fairies, Bigfoot, Lochness, UFO’s
      or Aliens?

      Btw: 30% of Irish still believe in Leprechauns and it’s the national animal of Scotland. However being of Scottish decent I’m not surprised!

  • canadian1967

    Tkachuk NEEDS to be with Janko and Bennett.
    Call up Mangiapane and play him on the new 3M line, with the 3 standing for 3rd line.
    Play Jagr with Lazar and Brouwer

  • WillyWonka

    go Flames go! gotta win ONE game!
    Actually, i think the Flames have played quite well lately, and would not be surprised if they go on a streak and win 8 of 10 or something.
    I would also not be surprised if they keep free-falling. anything is possible with this team.

    • HOCKEY83

      it doesn’t even have to be an 8 of 10 winning streak. Just a 3 game streak will get them right back were they should be. Right along side 8 other teams fight over 2 spots to the end of the season. Any transactions made over the summer shouldn’t have lead anyone to believe it would have been any better than that for the flames this season. A bunch of good teams fighting over a couple of playoff spots…that’s the parity

  • deantheraven

    OK, maybe it’s too early today for our regular ‘Can The Coach’ thread, but couldn’t we at least suspend Cameron if the PP flounders again? This power play does more to hurt the game than a little tap on the ankles from Chucky.

  • Skylardog

    Had way too much time on my hands today while sitting at the South Health Campus, so this is what you get. You may want to get a coffee.

    18 Stats On Why We Need A Coaching Change

    Possession looks good, really good. It was one of the reasons Bob Hartley was let go. The improvement has been dramatic. The Flames sit 5th in the NHL in 5v5 Corsi at 52.93%.

    But does Corsi tell the true story? It is a tool, when used in conjunction with other stats, that can tell if team is playing well. But alone it is weak, if not laughable. Case in point, LA last season. Although first in Corsi rating, they did not make the playoffs. And this season appears to have even more discrepancies than last. The top 5 are Carolina, Edmonton, Boston, San Jose, and Calgary. Only Boston and San Jose are in a playoff spot, and Boston is only in because they play in the weakest division in the NHL. They sit tied for 9th in the East, 4 points out of a wildcard spot, but they are 3rd in the Atlantic.

    Carolina is 21st overall, Edmonton 27th, Boston 19th, San Jose 13th, and Calgary 22nd overall. When none of the top 5 Corsi teams are in the top 12 in the NHL standings, there is a problem with Corsi accurately reflecting play. But for some reason, it is used almost exclusively to show that the Flames are an improved team since GG took the helm. They are not. Corsi on its own is not reliable.

    Do We Have The Players To Justify Being Considered A Top NHL Team?

    Lets check some boxes.

    Top line – Check. JG is a talent and one of the young stars in the NHL. He is tied for 7th in scoring. That’s elite. Monahan is a top centre and the highest scoring player in his draft year. Ferland is a power forward with scoring touch. That qualifies as a Top Line.

    Second Line – Check. Backlund, Frolik are one of the best shutdown pairs in the NHL, and when you add Tkachuk, they may be the best shutdown line in the NHL. Backlund is Selke quality.

    Third Line – Developing, but Check. Jankowski and Bennett are beginning to gel with either Jagr or Hathaway on the RW. It has taken some time to get going, but the line is posting some impressive numbers, even better than the Monahan line offensively, and better than the Backlund line defensively this season. Go with these stats. In roughly 157 minutes together, those 2 units have 9 goals for and only 4 against. In every way you can measure it, that is superior to both the Monahan and Backlund line, 5v5.

    First Pairing – Check. Gio and Hamilton are elite. Love or hate Hamilton, they are one of the best pairs in the NHL when together.

    Second Pairing – Questionable. But it shouldn’t be. Before GG arrived, Brodie was considered one of the bright young stars on the point in the NHL. Hamonic should be a solid top 4 defenceman. Stone is a top 4 on any other team and Kulak has been solid. On paper, the defensive core should be one of the best in the NHL.

    Goaltending – Check. Smith is, and has played at a top level this season and for many seasons.

    We have the players to justify expecting the Flames to be one of the top teams in the NHL. I would argue, that Treliving has provided the players for a team that should be a contender for a cup this season. I am not saying that every piece is in place, or that they are going to win the cup, but it is a solid base, and should be good enough for a top 10 spot, if not top 5 in the NHL.

    Stats That Matter, And Should Matter – Goals And Wins

    I played competitive hockey for 15 years and I know 2 things from my experience. At the end of the day, only goals matter during the game. A good shift was one where you walked off the ice with a goal scored. A bad shift was one where you were scored on. The second thing I know is that only wins matter, and they matter more than goals. So forget Corsi, it tells a partial story, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Dominating a shift for 40 seconds and having 10 shot attempts meant nothing if the puck didn’t go in. You came off the ice mad and frustrated. Today, on the Flames, that type of shift gets you praise, and a bump in pay when your contract is up.

    13 Team Stats That Say The Flames Are Not A Very Good Team

    1. The Flames are 22nd in the NHL with 35 points. Philadelphia is 20th, had a 10 game losing streak, and fans calling for the coach to be fired. We are also behind Carolina, the worst team in the Metropolitan Division. Vancouver and Colorado were 2 of the worst 3 teams in the NHL last season, and are in transition mode. They represent 23rd and 24th, and are within striking distance of catching us given that we play Vancouver tonight, and Colorado has a game in hand.

    2. The Flames sit 25th in regulation win% at 10-14, a 0.417 decision percentage, 4 games below 500. We are tied with Florida. Ottawa sits in 27th, also at 4 games below 500, at 9-13, and their struggles are well documented. The talk in the Capital is on gutting the team, including Karlson. The Flames, in regulation, are playing at their level. In regulation, we fall below Detroit, Carolina, Vancouver, and every team in the Central Division, including Colorado. In the West, we are only ahead of Edmonton and Arizona, and we all know where those teams seasons are at.

    3. The Flames are 21st in Goals For. We are not lighting it up offensively, but that’s okay if we are keeping the puck out of our own net, right?

    4. The Flames are 21st in Goals Against. We are tied in this category, with Ottawa. Enough said.

    5. The Flames are 24th in GF%. We neither score nor keep the puck out of the net very well. There are teams that don’t do either as well as the Flames, but only 7 that don’t do both as well as the Flames. When you consider that those 7 teams are Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Florida, Detroit, Buffalo and Arizona, we really are playing with the worst of the worst in GF and GA categories. Edmonton and Carolina are better. Does that put it in perspective?

    6. We are 23rd in Goal Differential at -10. We are tied with Edmonton.

    7. The claim has been made that we are a good team 5v5. Goals for and against tell a different story. 5v5, we are 23rd in GF/60. On a bright note we are 14th in GA/60, but that still leaves us at 20th in GF%, and we have a -2 in Goal Differential. The special team may be bad, but we are not lighting it up 5v5 either. If 14th is acceptable in GA/60, we are shooting for mediocrity, not top 5.

    8. The Flames are 31st in hits with 552, a pace of 1371 for the season. By contrast, the Flames in Hartley’ last season had 1700, 22nd in the NHL, and 1782 in the 2014/15 playoff year, only good enough for 21st in the NHL. That is a 23% drop in hits since 2014/15, and that team was in the bottom third in the league. I am not saying you need to be first in this category. But you can’t be last. It is an easy night playing against Calgary.

    9. We are 29th in blocked shots per game. Again, not saying you have to be near the top, but players simply are not paying the price. Or is it a symptom of the system the Flames play?

    10. The Flames are 20th in the NHL in PP% at 17.54.

    11. The Flames are 27th in the NHL in PK% at 77.35.

    12. On Special teams we have been outscored 22-28, despite having roughly 11 minutes more time on the PP than time killing penalties.

    13. As we all know, the PP is 30th since November 27th, in the last 10 games, at 6.06%. During that time, the Flames have only 2 goals. Making matters even worse, the PP has also given up one goal against in that time frame. Momentum killer – nope, the PP can kill a game all by itself.

    There are no statistics to evaluate coaching decisions such as player deployment, ice time, line matching, situational decisions, line combinations, and system issues. The above stats are measurable statistics that reflect how the team is performing, which is a function of decisions made by the coaching staff. It is not all on the coaches. However, if all the parts are in place, if the lines, pairings, and goalies are top 10 quality, and they are, then the only logical issue to explain a dismal record is coaching. Simply put, there is no other explanation.

    If you have a 1st line that is among the best in the league, the best shutdown line in the NHL, a third line that right now, statistically, is outperforming both of your top lines, one of, if not the top D-pairing in the NHL, one of the best defences on paper in the NHL, and a goalie that is a proven veteran that has played above expectations, then it simply cannot be the players that are the issue. It can’t be all of them at the same time.

    5 Stats That Show The Backlund Line Is Struggling Badly

    The Backlund Line is a barometer for how things are going. They are the model of consistency. We would all agree, the 3M Line is one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL. It is one of the best 2-way lines in the NHL. So if there is a problem with the team, that line would show if there is an issue. How bad is it?

    It is worse than you could imagine.

    Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik have played together 5v5 for 345:43 minutes this season. Only 2 lines have had more ice time this season. There have been 185 line combinations in the NHL this season that have played more than 50 minutes together.

    When talking about Janko line below, I am referring to Bennett-Janko, and either Hathaway or Jagr, and they have played 157:41 during the season so far.

    1. The 3M is 150th in GF/60 at 1.56. Mony’s line is at 2.88, and by no means, should we expect Backs line to score at the same rate as the Monahan line. But the Monahan line is only 79th in this category. Neither is really performing well offensively. The Janko line is 49th in the NHL at 3.42 GF/60. With Hathaway, the Janko line is 8th at 4.66.

    2. The 3M is 76th in GA/60 at 1.91. By contrast, the Janko line is at 1.52 GA/60, and Mony’s line, 1.92. Hardly sounds like a shutdown line statistically.

    3. The 3M is 124th in the NHL in G+/G- per 60 at -0.35.

    4. In the last 23 games, the 3M GF/60 is only 0.97. GA/60 is 2.20. They give up 1.23 goals more than they score every 60 minutes at 5v5. That would put them at 164th out of 185 lines that have played more than 50 minutes this season.

    5. The 3M line as a whole is at -13 in the first 33 games, on pace to go -33 this season. Last season the line was a combined +36, a difference of -69. That represents a 23 goal difference year over year.

    Did any of you see the cliff that line went over?

    These are not numbers produced by one of the best 2-way lines in the NHL. To the contrary; the Backlund line is one of the worst lines in the NHL that has played more than 50 minutes this season. But as you can also see, Mony’s line is not producing at a level it should be either. How can it be only 79th in the NHL in GF/60? This despite Johnny being 7th in scoring.

    I have said since game 20 last season, if one or 2 players are struggling, its the players that are at fault. But when most or all of the players are struggling, the blame has to fall on the coach. We have the team to be top 10. Why are we 20th or worse in almost every category? Why are elite players, performing in the bottom half of the league statistically?

    • ZKman

      Sigh… firstly – that’s a lot of work you put into this – good on you for digging in. Secondly, what you say makes good sense. Thirdly, it’s really quite depressing …. big sigh…

    • buts

      I agree 1000% skydog. The eye test for me is watching them compete for 60 minutes, that is my reason for canning this staff. Just look at everybody’s body language on the bench, from the players to coaches, there’s something wrong. There’s just to many good players underachieving for it not to be the coaching.

    • Lucky 13

      Skylardog, I’m really happy you decided to come around.
      Btw, I hope you’re feeling ok?

      Thanks for all that work!
      I’ve looked at some of those statistics myself, (not as in depth as you have) and it’s pretty clear that we are underperforming as a team.
      Symptomatic of the system we deploy? It seems to fit the answer to the question that eludes us. We can’t be this bad or unlucky right?

      Great analysis, when you produce your first book, (hint hint) I’ll be sure to read it.

    • Stu Cazz

      Skylardog…seriously if I wanted to read a book I would go to the library. Try and gather your thoughts before you start with your keyboard. After 1 paragraph people move on to the next post…..Bear down you can do it!

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    Great work with the boys at 5 on 5, Gully!! The numbers prove it!! Keep doing what you’re doing and when the PP gets rolling we’re gold!!

    (I had a big long post backed up by a week of 8 hr day statistical research, but I’m not deluded or in love with myself enough to post it 😀 )

    #JoinGeneralGelsHairForce
    #ItsSafeInTheGlen

    • Skylardog

      3 hours when I could only sit on my butt and wait, and a nice distraction to think about other things. But that’s ok BTF, your stuff gets trashed more than mine around here now. That wasn’t always the case, but stats rarely lie, and the Nation sees it.

      Sorry – in your 8 hours X 5 days, did you find a stat to keep him around. Go ahead – give me one (and Corsi doesn’t count, that got wiped out at the top).

      And I know that if I said the sky was Blue, you would trash that too.

      • Lucky 13

        Not to worry Skylardog, no one here really cares what BTF2 has to say.
        Apparently, He’s the only real fan on this blog and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not supporting our team blindly.

        My guess is that BTF2 is one the youngest members on here (based on his comments) and probably GG’s hair stylist.

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          “Apparently, He’s the only real fan on this blog and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not supporting our team blindly.”

          You are CORRECT sir.

          • Lucky 13

            BTF2, I’m sorry for the remark. It was immature of me.

            I’m not sure what happened — but I liked BTF, he was excited about getting married in the future and not arrogant like number 2.
            Calling members ‘morons’ isn’t the best way to endear yourself to others. It’s just a friendly reminder. Don’t be offended.

            Go back to being just BTF.
            Thanks 🙂

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        I don’t know if he should be kept around. All I know is that anyone with a tenth of a brain knows that he’s not getting fired before the season ends. Fin.

        But of course, that will all change when Tre reads YOUR divinely inspired essay. Yes Skylar, you’re going to change the team-nay, hockey itself-with your power.

        From the comment section of a blog.

        • Skylardog

          If it somehow some way, puts even the slightest doubt in the mind of someone, anyone, that is close to BT, and it gets them to take a hard look at the way this team is being coached, then it succeeds.

          And there are more than a few writers on this blog, that in their articles are beginning to repeat what is being said by the fans on this page. There is hope. It won’t be tonight. It won’t be before Christmas. But it will happen.

          I doubt BT reads it – always have. But maybe someone he knows and has coffee with once a month, heard from a friend, that there was a post, referring to a stat on this page, made by someone else 2 weeks from now, and that guy over coffee, brings up the stat on being last in the NHL in hits, and BT decides that he should take a closer look at the coach. That is what I hope for.

          If I arm the masses, with the facts, the Nation will be the army.

          • Franko J

            If GG is fired or let go in the next few weeks BT will also be gone at season’s end. While Hartley wasn’t BT chosen coach, GG is and he has tied his career here with the Flames to their current coach. Personally I think the players have unacheived with exception to the goaltender and a couple of defense men and a few forwards. So much for the off season acquisition’s to bolster their defense. Look no further to the team they played last night to see how good of a defense this team should have.

        • ZKman

          I have to agree with you in so far that GG is not getting fired before the end of the season. BT, is calculating, measure three times cut once kind of a guy. He is a great believer in continuity, GG is his hire, and the Flames are already paying coach Bob to not coach. The measured evaluation will be made at the end of the season and acted upon at that time…

        • Skylardog

          BT will be fired if the team misses the playoffs this season. He gave up too much short term to fall short. So it comes down to 2 things.
          1. He hired GG and it was the last coach he gets to pick for whatever reason.
          2. As the playoffs begin to slip away, he has no choice but to make a change to save his job.

          If GG lasts until the end of the season, they both go. BT may be between a rock and a hard place.

  • Franko J

    The Flames need to rebound from last night loss, they are slowly losing ground in the playoff race in the Western Conference. At the very least they manage to be playing better on the road compared to being at home this year.

  • MontanaMan

    Sometimes I wish JG would make the simple and safe play. There’s passes to be made out there but Johnny often tries the high risk option instead of making the easy play. Unfortunately 90% of the time it ends in a turnover.

  • cjc

    If you’ve been watching the last 6 or 7 games, this team has actually been playing great. Pretty much everyone from the SN play-by-play folks to newspaper analysts agree that the team is close, things just haven’t broken their way lately. If they could sort that PP out, holy hell this team could be a tough out. They are not on the same level as Tampa or Nashville, but that’s not really expected right now. They need time to figure it out, just like those teams did. Nashville scraped into the playoffs last year, but then went all the way to the finals. Tampa missed the playoffs entirely last year, but they look like a shoo-in for the presidents trophy this year, and I’m not sure anyone in the East will stop them getting to the finals. They didn’t change coaches, they stayed the course. There will be ups and downs, and as fans we only seem to remember the last 5 results. If you change course now, you’re hoping a new coach can come in and get instant results – sometimes that happens, but usually it doesn’t. Ask the team north of Calgary how changing coaches every time the going got rough worked out.