Consistency paying dividends for Flames’ top line

It probably comes as no surprise that the Flames have one of the highest scoring lines in the NHL.

Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland lead the Flames in scoring. They are the bulk of the team’s offence, especially as of late, with the entire line on a multi-game multi-point streak. Though two members of the line – Monahan and Ferland – have shooting percentages over 18%, leading the rest of the Flames by a fair margin, everything is clicking.

It hasn’t been perfect throughout the entire season. The line did stop scoring some in December, and the current good times will probably come to a halt again at some point later on. But they’ve been a pretty phenomenal trio overall – and consistency likely has a lot to do with that.

Before Ferland, Gaudreau and Monahan formed two-thirds of a great line, with Jiri Hudler being their final piece. Then Hudler got injured, then he left the Flames, and since then, the Flames’ designated top line was in limbo, constantly shuffling through new right wings, but without much success.

Following Hudler’s departure, in the 2016-17 season, Gaudreau and Monahan went through quite the rotating cast of wingers. Via Corsica, all stats at 5v5:

RW TOI w/ 13+23 CF% GF% Penalty Differential PDO
Ferland 250.92 51.13 61.54 +7 104.5
Chiasson 231.7 54.63 52.63 -3 98.6
Brouwer 119.45 55.65 55.65 -3 100.48
Versteeg 65.68 52.54 33.33 0 90
Frolik 41.77 57.14 25 0 90.48

When Ferland joined the top line for the final quarter of that year, that’s when things seemed to click. He scored two goals, the Flames went on a 10-game win streak, and the rest was history. It wasn’t necessarily that all other incarnations of Gaudreau and Monahan’s line previously had been failures: it’s that they weren’t anywhere near as successful as they were with Ferland. Sure, a little luck swung their way to make it happen, but it’s also pretty hard to find fault in scoring a lot of goals.

While Alex Chiasson didn’t sink their line, fact is, goal scoring is a separate talent from puck possession – and for a top line, it isn’t good enough to just be in the black. The top line has to score a lot, as well. Chiasson couldn’t provide that. Ferland, on the other hand, with a lethal shot, deft hands, and the brain to keep up with two players of higher offensive caliber, could.

Ferland hasn’t played exclusively on Gaudreau and Monahan’s line this season, but he has spent far, far more time with them than anyone else has. Consider Gaudreau and Monahan’s linemate stats so far through 2017-18:

RW TOI w/ 13+23 CF% GF% Penalty Differential PDO
Ferland 413.7 54.45 67.65 +8 104.61
Jagr 32.38 60 100 -1 116

The duo has also played alongside Michael Frolik, Curtis Lazar, and Troy Brouwer, but at that point we’re talking 11, 13 minutes. It’s basically negligible.

Jaromir Jagr is an interesting “what could have been”. When Ferland was absent from the top line, Jagr took his place. He played on the powerplay with Gaudreau and Monahan. It looked like something was on the cusp of happening there before Jagr’s injury troubles struck, and just never went away.

But ultimately, Ferland was always going to be a better long-term solution, by virtue of being 20 years younger. And while Jagr looked to be fitting in with Gaudreau and Monahan, Ferland fits with them as well, albeit in a different, but still very effective, way. The slightly elevated numbers are still there, but maybe that’s just the way things are going to go for this group. Within the past year they have played over 650 5v5 minutes together, and they’ve been successful way more often than not, percentages be damned.

It all comes back to consistency. When I spoke to Johnny Gaudreau at the start of the season, he seemed almost relieved that he was going into this year knowing exactly who his linemates were going to be. It’s likely made things much easier for the three of them. By now they’re a well-oiled machine; the way they seamlessly dish off the puck to one another doesn’t happen without that familiarity.

They’re the most used line the Flames have had all season, and it’s impossible to see it being broken up any time soon. Think back to Ferland spending most of his 2016-17 season on the fourth line to where he is today. There have been bumps along the way – demotions, scoring droughts – but it turns out Ferland was exactly the solution the Flames were looking for when Hudler’s effectiveness ran out.

That a 5’10, 190 lb. skilled player would be replaced by a 6’2, 208 lb. also skilled, but also very physical one probably wasn’t something that many would have foreseen, but this is a line that has truly grown together. The shooting percentages may drop, but even then they’re still controlling play, still drawing penalties, and still proving themselves effective through and through.

While someone else may be able to take it to another level, as things stand now, Gaudreau, Monahan, and Ferland have earned their extensive time together.

  • Jobu

    Johnny Hockey – Slippery, Dirty Mitts, Great Vision
    Sean Moneyhands – Always right place right time. Lethal Wrister
    Mike Ferkland – Screening, Rebounding, Heavy Net-driver with a lethal shot of his own

    This line is a match made in heaven – absolutely lethal on the rush or on the turnover.
    Bennetts line is forming up to be a lethal line on the cycle.
    Backlunds line is still shutdown and pest

    Shaping up nicely me thinks.

    • Alberta Ice

      Just what I was thinking Jobu. A win against Tampa Bay is very do able if they play their A game. Adding Mangiapane has just made the whole team a bit deeper too and although he is playing on the fourth line, I like what I see him contributing. Will he be playing in the AHL all star game when Johnny plays in the NHL all star game? GFG.

    • Only on the Flames team is the 2nd line the shutdown line. No wonder secondary scoring is such an issue. Send Brodie and a goalie prospect or someone else for a proven legitimate younger Veteran forward preferebly a right shooting winger but we’ll take a lefty like Taylor Hall.

      • I'm Ron Burgundy?

        This comment is ridiculous. Shutdown lines aren’t 3rd what they used to be, and most top tier teams have good defensive/possesion lines that also produce big points. Would you call the Bruins 1st line an “issue” because they also serve as a dominant shutdown/possession line as well?? Guess the Ducks have had such a tough time winning the division for so many years because their 2nd line (Kesler) is the shutdown line….oh, wait

        • Our second line which also happens to be the primary shut down line DOESN’T score big points. That was my point Jabroni. 118 GF, And since Kess has been with the Ducks their GF has dropped significantly anyway, not all on him, but it’s no surprise that they are just like the Flames chasing the pack not leading, who all have the most GF. You do the math. So I’d have to turn this around and say YOUR comment is ridiculous. But in your world, the Flames will win the Cup as is. Am I right?

          • I'm Ron Burgundy?

            Easy on the Caps Lock there kiddo. I was responding to your point that “only on the Flames team is the 2nd line the shutdown line”. I pointed out that this isn’t the case. There are lots of examples where the second (sometimes even the first) line is the shutdown line.

            I’m guessing that most teams would love to have a Selke finalist as their second line C and Byng on the Wyng.

            Also – Pretty sure the Ducks have won the division every year since Kesler has been there…I hate them with all my heart, but it’s true

      • Sven

        The offensive metrics on the Flames second unit place them 34th of all line combinations in the NHL, over both the Flames last 10 games and over the season to date-

        In a 31 team league – this would suggest that they are one of the best performing second line trios in hockey

    • Hockey for life

      And a great surprise with Ferland is his nifty passing. Singe great passing especially the second against Minnesota with his back to Monahan through the defenseman.

    • cberg

      Jobu, or whoever you are… Guess you just couldn’t bring yourself to name our 3C? For your info, Bennett doesn’t have a line. It’s Jankowski…. JANKOWSKI Bennett was an afterthought spinning down the drain until Jankowski showed up, bumped Bennett to the wing, and as they say, the rest is history. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bennett, great winger but Jankowski deserves the credit for what’s happened and acknowledgement that its his line.

  • Fan the Flames

    Adding Ferland gave a guy that can drive the net and score but his value in deterring teams from getting overly aggressive with Johnny has allowed Johnny to skate freely on the road and at home . Minnesota, Anaheim and LA were teams that can no longer get away with the abuse after the whistle.

    • aye

      I just don’t buy the Ferland as a deterrent narrative. Yes, he is a tough customer, but he has one fight this season, and is really not known as an feared enforcer. Guys that would take runs at JG are not the types of players that would be intimidated by Ferland. There are plenty of players around the league that are much bigger than Ferland’s 6’2 208, and would willingly stand up to his challenge. Heck, Bieksa is smaller, but I don’t think he’s afraid to go another round with Ferland. And to be honest, I don’t even think Ferland likes to fight, I’ve seen plenty of times when he could’ve engaged someone, but chose not to. So I really don’t buy that Ferland’s toughness is the reason for Johnny’s success this year. However, I do believe his physicality and hard forechecking does create split seconds more time and space for Johnny, and that can be a huge difference with Johnny’s skills in a game of inches.

        • aye

          Totally agree! Never really like to see fighting that much in the first place. He is a good enough player and more valuable on the ice than in the box anyway.

      • Mickey O

        @aye Have to disagree. Ferland is known as a feared enforcer, he just doesn’t need to fight as much anymore. I dare say he loves fighting, but his role has changed. Ferland is also heavier than 208 lbs. Those numbers (it looks like they came from CapFriendly) are suspect in general.

        They have Jankowski listed at 6’3 185. It has been years since he’s been that small. Mangiapane is listed at 5’10 177. There’s no way Wonderbread is 5’10 and only 8 pounds lighter than Janko.

  • Calgarycandle

    I think that over the last seven or eight games in particular Ferland himself believes he belongs on the top line. He bang them in from in front while holding off the other teams D and score a lot of goals because of his size and strength. His last two games he has made beautiful no-look backhand passes to Hamilton and Monahan that were things of beauty to watch.

    Strangely enough we’re not all that shallow on RW: Ferland, Frolik, Hathaway and Brouwer.

  • Cfan in Van

    Now if only they could make the penalty differential actually count for something. Just over here, dreaming about how much better my hockey team would be if they could pull off a 20% PP success rate.

  • Sven

    Just a little more statistical evidence of the Flames recent
    turn around
    This season to date the numbers of the Flames top line is ranked fifth overall all when looking at goals for and against / shots for and against and shooting far / save percentage against

    (Behind the top lines in Vegas, Tampa , Philly and Colorado)

    and when looking at the past ten games the Flames trio ranks as the top forward unit in the league

    similarly on defense Giordano and Hamilton are fifth over all this season , (behind the top pairings in Winnipeg, Columbus, Dallas and Toronto ) – but when looking at the Flames last ten games – Calgarys top pairing out performs all other top defensive duos outside of Winnipegs Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey…..
    Icing the top line in the NHL and the second best performing defensive duo bodes well for the playoff push

    • Sven

      Also worth noting that Calgarys “second” line of Backlund , Tkachuk and Frolik / Brouwer rank 34 this season and over the last 10 games and that the third line of Hathaway , Bennett and Jankowski have put up the 43rd best line numbers in the league over the last 10 games
      kinda nice when you have three of the top 43 lines in a 31 team league

  • Dunk

    Monahan is not pulling his weight.
    He drags the top line down. If Johnny doesn’t tee it up for him, he would have very few goals. He can’t carry the puck, his passing sucks. his compete level is weak he wins few battles and his faceoffs suck.
    Trade him now he is very over rated and over paid.

  • deantheraven

    We often talk about a learning curve for these young players. Perhaps this is part of GG’s learning curve as a head coach. He’s finally accepting the fact that these three are a perfect match and is putting them in situations to succeed. I only hope the rest of the FN accept that Ferland is what he is- a power forward with skill, smarts, size and toughness that belongs in the top 6.

  • Bawcos

    Ok. The previous comment I read was that the Lightning are on a 2 game win streak therefore their “due for a trip up, And the Flames should take the”. Flames are on a 4 game win steak and not the best team in the league. But that’s not what I wanna discuss.
    What I want to discuss is that Ferland, as of July 1st, will be eligible for contract talks. What does his next contract look like and when do you sign it? Thoughts?

  • Sven

    One final awesome statistical observation for our neighbors up north

    Over the last ten Oiler games the top Edmonton line featuring McGenerational etc is the 38th best performing line trio in the NHL
    (behind the Calgary second unit – and only marginally ahead of Calgarys third line)

    and their top defensive pairing of Russell and Nurse rank 80th of all blue line tandems .. behind all three Flames D pairs


  • Mickey O

    Apart from all of the skills Ferland brings to the table, his intimidation factor is huge as well. He’s only needed to get into one fight this year, and that was early on when he was playing down the line-up. It was against Ottawa, and Mr. Ferland didn’t like the nasty hit that Lazar took into the boards by Mark Borowiecki. A couple of big right hands in an ensuing fight sent the message.

    The rest of the league knows what happens when you get into a fight with Ferland – it is going to hurt. He’s very good at fighting, and he punches to take your head off. Every once in a while Ferland gets in one of his huge body checks too. He’s the perfect protector for little Johnny out there, and allows him to do his thing.

      • Mickey O

        Ferland had very good scoring numbers in junior hockey. Now that his off ice issues have been successfully dealt with, he’s showing the team that he’s much more than just a banger. The skills have always been there, it just took the coaches forever to see the potential.