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Predators 2, Flames 0 post-game embers: Close doesn’t cut it

The powerplay may have looked better, but it still didn’t score. The Flames may have looked better, but they still didn’t win. And moral victories don’t count with this group.

If there was ever a time to score

The Flames’ powerplay now has a success rate of 17.54%, 20th in the NHL. They have now gone five straight games without a single powerplay goal, even with 19 opportunities, including multiple extended five-on-threes. Sean Monahan’s hat trick was about a month ago; since then, a success rate of 13%.

It’s not just that five chances gave them a lot of opportunities: it’s that they had a five(/three)-minute major to work with (score just one goal, still get a crack at more), not to mention a lengthy five-on-three being a part of that. Sure, the powerplay looked a lot better, but that was a situation in which it had to look good. You don’t get kudos for doing the absolute bare minimum. You don’t get a pity clap for having an instance so specifically designed for you to score and looking like you might have scored but ultimately didn’t.

They had to score there. No excuses. Sure, Pekka Rinne earned his shutout. Doesn’t matter. A five(/three)-minute major including nearly a full two-man advantage warrants at least a goal. Full stop.

What do you call a team with a 20th place powerplay and a 27th place penalty kill?

Also: where the hell was Dougie Hamilton during the five-on-three? Load up with the top line but take your best offensive defenceman – a guy who had 50 points last season, the guy who is currently leading the entire team in shots – off the ice for… what? I like T.J. Brodie a lot but he does not and never has belonged on the top powerplay unit, let alone a five-on-three.

Brodie didn’t even officially register a shot last night.

Dirty

Then there’s what led to those powerplays.

I don’t know if it makes it worse, somehow, that the Flames couldn’t score in vengeance of the absolute crap some of the Predators saw fit to pull.

Austin Watson was suspended two games about a month ago for boarding. There was absolutely no reason for him to blindside hit Garnet Hathaway in the head. Like… how stupidly malicious can you be?

I’ve since lost the link, but there was an article years ago in which Flames players were asked about Matt Cooke. It was during the 2011 season, in which Cooke had been suspended four games for hitting Fedor Tyutin from behind; he returned to the lineup only to elbow Ryan McDonagh in the head. Alex Tanguay had the best response to that: you have to stop suspending guys two games, four games, and start handing out 20, 40-game suspensions, because if players are going to lose half their season’s pay, they might start thinking it’s not a good idea to be that reckless or vicious or both. But that was six and a half years ago and of course the only thing that changed was Cooke’s time in the NHL came to a natural end.

(Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, what about Matthew Tkachuk – except neither of Tkachuk’s suspensions this season have been on plays that have actually hurt anybody, or even had the potential to. One game there made sense. For this kind of crap? Nah.)

Compare Anthony Bitetto’s boarding on Sam Bennett to any of the hard hits Bennett threw – especially one in the second period shortly after – and those aren’t comparable, either. Bennett’s hits were hard but clean; Bitetto smashed his face into the glass for no apparent reason.

The Predators are a very talented team. They’re also gross.

Ineffective line shuffling

Johnny Gaudreau played 9:43 five-on-five minutes with Monahan. That’s normal. He also played 8:22 with Micheal Ferland, which isn’t too far off the mark.

Gaudreau’s other linemates included: 1:10 with Jaromir Jagr, 1:03 with Michael Frolik, 0:55 with Tkachuk, 0:55 with Mark Jankowski, 0:27 with Mikael Backlund, and 0:25 with Matt Stajan. Some of that is just the natural effects of a typical line change, but that’s also a full rotation of wingers Gaudreau went through, and nearly a minute with each.

And for… what? The Flames were getting scoring chances. They weren’t going in, but it wasn’t their fault they hit four posts and Rinne made some unworldly saves. They were never really out of the game.

The game before, Gaudreau and Bennett swapped lines. It ended up paying off in the form of a goal. But that was just one line swap: you could break their ice times down by linemate and see four frequent linemates over the course of the entire game. No one-and-oh-that-didn’t-work-done shifts. How is that supposed to get anybody going? If the Flames had lucked out and one of those posts had gone in would those lines have stayed? There’s no strategy to that – it’s a blind panic move and it wasn’t warranted.

Good to have Jaromir Jagr back

Jagr missed another six games. It’s not great when that happens, especially because he’s still a pretty good player.

He played 12:48 in his return, including 2:35 on the powerplay, and was credited with two shots on net, though he definitely had more scoring chances than that. Just by my memory, there were three: right on his first shift, another Gaudreau-to-Jagr play that Rinne had to be amazing to stop, and the post he hit.

Not to mention, dang, that’s a good offensive zone cycle.

It’s easy to forget because it’s easy to buy into the “Jagr is old and done” meme, but Jagr is certainly not done, and the Flames are a better team when he’s in the lineup.

Tumble on down

Steve made a lot of good points yesterday as to why the Flames are probably better than what their record shows. They were really unlucky to not get a goal or more last night. If there’s any fairness to the world, their fortunes will change. They went toe-to-toe with Nashville for most of the night; the Predators may have earned the win, but the Flames still deserved a better fate than no points, and that’s against a really good team.

But this isn’t a vacuum. The Flames now have a -10 goal differential. Teams with negative goal differentials tend to not make the playoffs, and the Flames keep falling down that hole. The reanimated corpse that is the Ducks’ roster just crept ahead of them standings-wise. December standings mean very little, and things are still very close, but alarm bells should be going off.

They are playing well for the most part – powerplay aside – and are getting absolutely nothing to show for it. Three-game losing streak. Six of a possible 16 points so far this December.

If they were still rebuilding, this would be fine. But rebuilding teams still have their first round picks.

  • BendingCorners

    The Flames are a good team. Nashville is the hottest team in the league right now but for the most part the Flames outplayed them. A little puck luck and a better power play would have done it.
    The PP does need a major shakeup but that will be coming soon – it’s too obvious for anybody to miss.
    The defence played well, including Brodie and Hamonic. The two goals against came off mistakes but they will (I expect) keep working on those.
    As long as the players keep providing an effort like this one the wins will come.

  • Kevin R

    Time to change a few things up & not just the 3rd period when we’re losing. 3M line has been invisible & no where near the elite pace they played at last year. There was a point where I believe I saw Gaudreau on the right wing last night & he looked fine. Move Tkachuk to LW of Monahan & Gaudreau on the RW. Push Ferland down to the 3rd line with Janko & Bennett. Move Brouwer up to Backlund & Frolik. Jagr Hathaway & Stajan or Lazar on the 4th is fine.

    Boys played fine last night. Every team hits issues with scoring 5V5, every team. The more successful teams take advantage of the PP’s they get. This is a parity league & the only time you have any kind of advantage is when you get a PP.
    You have to score. I hate to pound this dead horse more, it’s been marinated enough to throw on the freaking BBQ already, but this has to get addressed, has to get creative, has to change. If it doesn’t soon, this season will slip & we’ll be fighting mathematical countdown by the end of January & cringing at every 3 point game the occurs in the NHL.