The Flames are playing some very solid hockey, as they have been for most of the season. Now that they’re riding a four-game win streak and the points are starting to come in, things are definitely looking better. Just as a two-goal deficit can be erased – uh, again – so can feelings of negativity when Dougie Hamilton is scoring that one last goal.
Now that the Flames are down to just one Hamilton, he has scored two game winners. This has brought his goals total of the year up to six, on pace for 12, which is what he scored two years ago, and one shy of the 13 he had the season before. With three shots last night – including the final one of the game – Hamilton still leads the Flames with 124 shots on net; his shooting percentage is now up to 4.8%.
Hamilton played 14:10 5v5 minutes, the second most on the team, behind only Mark Giordano. He also got a shift in overtime, but only because T.J. Brodie was in the box, which is pretty wild if you think about it. Brodie is an excellent skater and a responsible player – also, he had a team-high five shots which I don’t think anybody would have expected – but for the most part, he’s not an offensive guy. Hamilton jumped on the ice and three seconds later, the puck was in the back of the net.
I think it’s fair to wish for this to be the start of Hamilton getting more trust in key situations. His game-winner over the Ducks was basically an overtime goal. His game-winner over the Wild was actually an overtime goal. He’s caught up to Brodie in points with 18, only without the generous helpings of powerplay time. Good things keep happening when he’s out there. Maybe more good things would happen if he got the chance to be out there a little more.
Top line rules
The Flames’ first two goals were all the top line. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland were all able to show off just what makes each of them so special: the passing, the vision, the hands. The Flames are on a four-game win streak; most of the top line is on a four-game point streak (Gaudreau and Monahan are; Ferland is on a three-gamer but picked up a point in the loss to Anaheim, which the other two failed to do). In that time, Gaudreau has picked up eight points, Monahan seven, and Ferland six.
Ferland, with 18 goals and eight assists, has slightly lopsided numbers – and an 18.9 shooting percentage, while we’re at it – but he does have three assists in his past three games. He’s on pace for 36 goals and 51 points. It seems unlikely he’ll get there, but this is without a doubt an incredible season and game in, game out, he’s proving he’s right where he deserves to be. The faith placed in him to start the season wasn’t unfounded.
Monahan scored his 20th goal of the season, the fifth straight time he’s done so. He’s ninth in goals league-wide. Like Ferland, he has more goals than assists (19); also, he’s got an 18.7 shooting percentage to match. He’s on pace for 39 goals and 76 points. It’s a little tough to see a 40-goal season come along, but an 80-point season could be possible here if his line continues at this pace.
Gaudreau, meanwhile, had his fifth three-point game of the season (one of those games ended up being a four-pointer for him). The patience he exhibited on the overtime goal – after getting dunked on/uh, very much interfered with earlier in the shift – was exquisite. His 49 points in 42 games has him not just on pace for 96 points, but presently, ninth in league-wide scoring. Unlike his linemates, he doesn’t have a really high shooting percentage (10.7%), so he might just get there. He’s an offensive phenom, and though there may be another bad stretch sometime after this one, a 100-point season still remains a possibility.
Penalty kill saved it, powerplay almost killed it
On the one hand, it’s brutal there were no special teams goals in this game.
On the other hand, it’s a very good thing there weren’t any.
The Flames killed off all five penalties that they faced, and it kept them in the game. Travis Hamonic played the most out of all the penalty killers with 5:45, while Mikael Backlund (5:10) and Troy Brouwer (5:07) followed him up, Brouwer there because Michael Frolik is unavailable for the next little while. Even without Frolik, Backlund still looked like a potential threat to score at one point, though I do wonder if there’s a better penalty killing partner out there for him (Sam Bennett played 2:01 on the kill and he’s an intriguing option, both as a younger player and as someone who can score).
But the game wouldn’t have gone to overtime, and would have given the Flames a greater cushion, if they could have scored on just one of their powerplay attempts. Just one. Asking for just one powerplay goal shouldn’t be too much, and yet, here we are.
This is a gentle reminder that the man advantage is 0-for-three tonight and is eight-for-68 in 20 games since losing Kris Versteeg.
— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) January 10, 2018
— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) January 10, 2018
That’s an 11.6% success rate. At least it’s not in the single digits? Still, the Flames keep giving up shorthanded chances (though you’ll be happy to know the five shorties they’ve allowed are tied for only seventh worst in the NHL), and their powerplay continues to actively hurt them game in, game out. The personnel has been switched up a bit, but this is all kinds of putrid. Remember how the Flames still aren’t in a playoff spot? This powerplay could be the thing that keeps them on the outside looking in. And unlike their even strength numbers – which have been excellent – there isn’t exactly anything underlying that suggests they should be better on the man advantage.
… Other than the part where they have the ninth best point-getter and the ninth best goal-scorer.
Season-long, the Flames have a 17.1% powerplay (22nd), and Kris Versteeg isn’t coming back any time soon. Their penalty kill has climbed up from league-worst to 79.6% (T-22nd), though.
Mike Smith had a good game
The Flames had a very strong first two periods, controlling the flow of the game. Even with that, though, they still needed their last line of defence to stand tall for a number of huge saves, and Mike Smith did just that.
When the Wild took it to the Flames in the third, they were in a position to afford to give up two goals because Smith had kept them in it before. Though he was beat in the same spot twice, that third period could have been much worse without Smith in net. And that’s without mentioning Smith’s performance in overtime, particularly on one breakaway stop moments before the game ended.
Smith had to face 35 pucks to Alex Stalock’s 29. He had something of a shaky December, but his .943 save percentage last night was excellent; he hasn’t fallen below .900 since Dec. 14 against the Sharks.
His durability should still be at least somewhat in question – he remains one of the NHL’s most active goaltenders – but the Flames do have three games to go before five days off, so he’ll likely still get another two starts in. After that, the Flames play four times before the All-Star break, so that’s likely another three starts; after that, it’s 14 games in 26 days before the trade deadline. Just something to keep an eye on.
The Flames have played in eight straight one-goal games. Their last multi-goal differential came on Dec. 17, when they beat the Canucks 6-1. Since then, they’ve won five of these one-goal games, while dropping three of them. Three of these one-goal games have gone to overtime, with two wins, both over non-divisional opponents (and the one loss to a divisional opponent).
The Flames still have a -3 goal differential. That has been oh so very slowly rectifying itself with all of these one-goal wins, but it’s gotta be better. They don’t let Chicago and Minnesota back into their games, and the Flames are above them by one point – and in a wildcard spot.
They’re up there. The signs are positive. But another step forward is needed.