A small, surrendered lead; a flaccid powerplay; another goalie’s good performance wasted. It feels like we’ve been watching this all year.
David Rittich deserved better
Every game David Rittich has started, he’s either won or lost in a shootout. That wasn’t a streak that was going to go on forever, but the Flames could have at least tried to help their new starting netminder out.
Rittich faced 39 shots, and couldn’t really be blamed for the four goals he let in. He maybe could have been more aware to start the game, but giveaways and breakaways sunk the Flames, and it’s not like Rittich let in any softies.
On the one hand, it was good to see Rittich his usual self, his temporary promotion to team’s number one not really affecting him in any way. On the other hand, it would have been even better to see the team actually try for him throughout the game, instead of just at the start. The third line bailed Rittich out for the early goal allowed, and Johnny Gaudreau even got them the lead soon after.
From there on out it was, apparently, all on Rittich to protect a one-goal lead for nearly 51 minutes, something every goalie is going to have problems with. The Flames went without a single corsi event for over 10 minutes in the second period.
Add insult to injury when Tim Schaller took him out, and thank goodness for the Flames Rittich was okay – not just for the scary prospect of throwing Jon Gillies behind that team, but for the fact that the Flames are getting very short on puck-stopping bodies. And for Rittich’s own sake, as well, who will get his first chance to start back-to-back games, and it’s a chance he’s earned.
Oh look another special teams loss
Five powerplays, nothing. We’re officially well past complaining about personnel: a man advantage that so heavily (re: over six minutes, each) features Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton should be scoring at least once on five tries. Gaudreau has a realistic shot at the Art Ross this season, Monahan is on pace for nearly 40 goals, Tkachuk continues to get better and better and better, the two defencemen are capable of 50+ points each, and all five of them lead the Flames in shots. These are five players who all know how to score, who are a cut above their teammates, some of them a cut above the rest of the NHL, and they couldn’t get anything done.
The Flames had seven shots total on their powerplays. The Bruins had four shots when killing penalties. Is that an acceptable ratio? When nine penalties are called in a game, your special teams have to be better than that. It’s not as though this is a secret.
And on Gaudreau being an Art Ross contender: his 67 points are second in the NHL. Forty-eight of them have come at even strength; 19 on the powerplay. About 72% of Gaudreau’s offence comes at even strength. For comparison, Nikita Kucherov, the only player who has scored more than Gaudreau this season, has scored 25 of his points on the powerplay; 65% of his offence has come at even strength.
Kinda makes you wonder just how many points Gaudreau would have if the Flames had a functioning man advantage.
It’s down to 16.6%, 27th in the NHL.
Grievances about special teams and lack of effort aside, the Boston Bruins are second in the NHL, one point back from first. They have a +52 goal differential (helps that they just took the Flames back into the negatives: -3 now). They’ve benefited some from the loser point, but they’ve also been consistently performing all season.
The Flames haven’t. And maybe they should be on that same level, but they aren’t. On occasion, they have been able to take on the top teams: they stepped into Tampa Bay and won handily; they went toe-to-toe with Vegas until a player returning from injury made an uncharacteristic error. This group has shown they’re capable of meeting elite teams head on and giving them fits.
It’s just not consistent, and that’s why the Flames find themselves scrabbling to stay in the top half of the NHL and with a playoff spot. They’re good enough to compete, but not to contend. The trade deadline is a week and a half away and they do need a roster upgrade at forward, and they might just get it, and maybe that will propel them forward.
But a half-decent powerplay solves a lot of problems, too, and there isn’t really a player out there they can add to magically fix this. Fix the powerplay, probably fix the position in the standings. And that’s what makes this so frustrating, not that the Flames can’t play as consistently well as the top teams, but that their main flaw is so obvious and nothing meaningful is being done. And it’s not like nobody could see this coming, Mike Fail wrote about it when Dave Cameron was first hired.
There’s a quote in there, that Cameron would have the Flames shooting the puck more on the powerplay; according to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames are 18th in the NHL with 55.42 shots per 60 on the powerplay. Interestingly, though, they’re fourth league-wide in both scoring chances per 60 (64.15) and high danger corsi events for per 60 (27.33). But a 10.96 shooting percentage – tied for seventh worst – isn’t a good enough explanation for this.