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Sharks 3, Flames 1 post-game embers: Goaltending!

Two goalies with sub-.900 save percentages enter the rink. Two goalies… play well? And the rest of the Flames were, in theory, also there.

Feel of the game

After David Rittich got his first career shutout, and considering Mike Smith’s play as of late, there was understandable opposition to his starting the game. That was only reinforced when the Sharks opened the scoring just 50 seconds in, and there was an immediate vibe of “oh, great, Smith is old and bad, here we go again.”

But for two things: while it was a shot Smith theoretically could have had, the Flames had every chance to clear the zone and couldn’t. And as the game went on, Smith’s play went from shaky to good to game-saving. It’s a team game, has always been the excuse. You can’t blame it all on Smith was the line a lot of people like to parrot. That hasn’t exactly always been the case (see: Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Ducks), but this time, it was actually right.

The Flames got a few good scoring chances in, including Mark Giordano’s shot off the crossbar right after the Sharks’ first goal, and it developed into a pretty back-and-forth game. At least until the second period, when literally every Flame on the ice but Smith completely forgot how hockey worked, and they completely left their goaltender out to dry, giving him absolutely no chance on the goal that made it 2-0.

It wasn’t all despair, though, as not even five minutes later Mark Jankowski and Sean Monahan combined to turn it back into a one-goal game, but the Flames’ defence and skaters were otherwise disastrous. They made a game of it in the third period, as they are wont to do, but just couldn’t capitalize (including the most lethargic possible penalty shot attempt by Sam Bennett), giving up an empty netter in the final minute and taking the loss.

There are plenty of times this season Smith has probably needed to apologize to all of his teammates. This time, back-to-back circumstances and scheduled loss be damned, all of them need to apologize to him.

The good news

The Flames have one of the worst penalty kills in the league at time of writing, but the past two games, it’s been legitimately great. They killed off all three penalties they took this game, and at times wouldn’t even give the Sharks an inch. Here’s to hoping they can keep that up.

Jankowski is slowly but surely coming alive. He was in exactly the right place to pick up the puck that led to Monahan’s goal, and he had a couple of good scoring chances himself, including a dynamite point blank one in the third period that could have tied the game. Granted, he’s still going long stretches without scoring – he had two points in three games a couple of weeks ago, six games with nothing, and another two points in three games on this road trip – so I don’t know if this is the start of a positive stretch, but good games are good games and should be recognized.

Smith has been rough this season, and has definitely been outplayed by Rittich overall, but this was a great effort from him, and easily one of his best games of the year (the only other particularly good ones, if I’m remembering correctly, are the Nashville shutout and the win over Boston). But Smith playing well is better for everybody: the team, obviously, because it gives them a chance to win; but especially Rittich, who retains a safety net when the other goalie can play like this. The Flames still need to transition to playing Rittich more, if only because that’s the only sensible long-term approach, but knowing Smith still has quality NHL performances in him is definitely a relief. … He just has to do it again.

The bad news

Mikael Backlund had another rough night, particularly on the Sharks’ first two goals (though he was great on the penalty kill? The dichotomy of man). At least his track record suggests this does not last, but the Flames were sloppy defensively and he’s one of their primo defensive players; you do the math.

Noah Hanifin didn’t have a great night, either, and this time Travis Hamonic came way back down to earth. Like with Backlund, hopefully it was just a bad weekend, but this can’t continue.

Bennett can’t score. And Sunday night, it went beyond “he’s getting so many chances but he’s just so unlucky.” Coming into this one, he had one point in 10 games despite frequently coming close. But nothing encapsulated just how brutal it’s been to not get anything on all of those chances more than whatever that attempt at a penalty shot was. He did a great job in creating the scoring chance (Backlund just missed the rebound from it as well), but once he was put in a do-or-die situation he… didn’t even whiff, he skated through the motions. It was defeatist. “I’m not going to score anyway, so why even try?” kind of thing. And it was just sad. He led the way with six shots on net, but that penalty shot attempt is going to be the defining moment.

Absolutely nothing points to the incompetence of refereeing more than completely missing what’s an automatic call. Missed and botched calls happen all the time (and did indeed happen in this game) but the delay of game penalty is as automatic as you get in hockey. There’s no room for debate. Except when there apparently is, and instead of the Flames getting to close out the game on their first powerplay of the night, they were left trying to defend an empty net with no extra attacker. There’s bad, and then there’s that.

Numbers of note

50% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF for the night. They made up for a garbage second period with a strong third, but it was too little, too late.

17:25 – Hanifin’s ice time. He was the only defenceman to not get any penalty kill time whatsoever. TJ Brodie, Giordano, and Hamonic all had no problem going over the 20-minute mark thanks to their time on special teams, while both Michael Stone and Juuso Valimaki’s time on the kill helped push them up towards Hanifin’s minute range.

8:03 – James Neal’s ice time. Neither he nor Austin Czarnik (6:41) got a single shift in the third. There’s kind of a rotation of whipping boys going on here (remember when Michael Frolik would get benched for some reason?), and now, it’s Neal’s turn. I would like to posit that any Troy Brouwer comparisons are just lazy – Brouwer consistently made his teammates worse, and Neal does not – but the need for urgency is making itself very well known, even without the implications of Neal’s five-year deal. I’d also suggest that I’m very well aware there’s a massive difference between skaters and goalies, but I wonder if there are any parallels to be found between Smith and Neal’s underperforming and the clear insistence on letting a veteran work out of his struggles.

19 – Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Monahan all lead the Flames with 19 points in 18 games. Elias Lindholm has 18 in 18. Giordano has 16 in 18, and Backlund has 10 in 18. After that it’s all single digits, including a slew of guys with four points each (Bennett, Czarnik, Jankowski, and Neal included). Something’s gotta give with the second group. That was the entire point of overhauling the forward corps in the offseason.

.929% – Smith’s save percentage, the fourth time this season he’s clocked in a save percentage over .900 (now double from the two times he’s been pulled this year). Great game from him, but he’s yet to put two good games back-to-back in some time (at a glance, it looks like January 2018 was the last time he actually did that). Just like the rest of his team, it’ll be hard to trust him until he takes at least that first step.

Final thought

This is absolutely stupid, but: the Flames played well enough to take away four points on this road trip instead of just two, even with the back-to-back and scheduled loss scenario. If the Flames had had this Smith against the Ducks, they’d have won that game. If the Flames had played against the Sharks the way they did against the Ducks, they probably would have won this one. They got their wires crossed, and instead ended up with a losing road trip against three divisional opponents.

I think, at this stage, it’s fair to call them a team that oscillates between mediocre and good with goaltending that really needs to figure itself out in order to give them that extra boost. The good news out of that is we know they can be better (all the while getting mostly good results to date); the bad news is we don’t know if they will be (and if they’ll continue to).

  • withachance

    This just really needs Neal and Bennett to start capitalizing on their chances when the top line is going through cold spells. It’s a long season and the team’s got a ways to go but really hoping the dam breaks open soon for those two.

    • Derzie

      This is about as likely as them sprouting antlers. What they are is what they are. One has wheels but no brains or hands. The other has the opposite. Need all three to play in today’s NHL.

  • buts

    Put Lindholm as a Center of a second line. Get MT away from Backlund and Frolik. There’s enough talent to have 2 really good scoring lines. JH, SM and MT…..JN, EL and either SB, AC or DD even try MJ on the wing. Backs can be and should be on the 3 rd line to shutdown others not getting PP time.

      • Flames First

        The blender has certainly been out all season, though in the last few games (this road trip) they stayed fairly consistent to begin with anyway. I wasn’t initially a fan of splitting up the 2 groups that were actually working well together but I’m starting to agree that something needs to give…

        Maybe a line up like this will help wake up those that are still hibernating and change the perspective of those that struggle with consistency.

        • MDG1600

          You think Johnny sick of playing with that fast, smart swede with the lightning quick release and itching to get himself some of that slow paced, low energy vibe that Neal is dealing?

          • Off the wall

            Am I reading this correctly Skylar?
            You have Czarnik with Tkachuk.
            I’m proud of you.

            No Ryan? Peters will love that.

            In all honesty, I like your new lineup.

          • Skylardog

            This is a no win for the Flames by sitting him. If he doesn’t get going, he sits back, takes his cash and eventually gets bought out. We pay for 7 to 8 years for the stupidity. I

            You bring him in as a playmaker, so put him with a goal scorer (or 2). If he can’t make it on this line he needs to be done.

            I have been advocating giving guys the proper opportunity for 2 ‘
            years. Czar deserves that opportunity as well.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Neal should really be opposite JH. Tkachuk can be the start of his own line with Lindholm and anyone else. I would set up the line as follows:
        JH/Monahan/Neal – Elite passer and two closers
        Tkachuk/Lindholm/Frolik – Skilled passer, finisher and some speed
        Bennett/Backs/Hathaway – At least Bennett and Backs can defend.
        (Dube)/Janko/Ryan – North/south speed and two guys to split faceoffs.

        BP benched Neal because of Backlund being dumb on two goals against? The first one due to Matty getting high stick in the face, but Backlund on the ice. The 2nd one was all Backlund puck watching.

        Since Peluso was sent down, perhaps they could actually call up a NHL player to fill the extra man scenario. Rychel is doing okay. Quine has 6 points in 5 games. Bth have game experience and couldn’t hurt.

  • _vntony

    “… he skated through the motions. It was defeatist. “I’m not going to score anyway, so why even try?” kind of thing.”
    Well said Ari. Bennett has to be one of the most frustrating players to watch on this team. I find myself watching games and everytime he’s on the ice, I want to root for the kid. After each game I find myself looking at his TOI, SOG, Corsi w.e.
    He’s literally doing everything right but can’t put up the points to reflect that.
    That penalty shot was truly pathetic. No creativity, no confidence… Please let there be more to his game.

    • Redleader

      Was it pathetic that his blazing speed got him two chances to score? Bennett is playing great ,hardly the guy I would pick on,best Corsi in that game too. We need more Bennett s ,

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        More Bennett is not going to help us on the scoreboard. Bennett’s game is like Nana’s smile when you have a flat tire “useless” heart warming but “useless”. (Fountain Tire, 2018). I like the kid but he is not going to be our scoring saviour.

    • Toma41

      Unfortunatly, looks like this might be it. A 4th line grinder who might out up 3o points a year. It really sucks because we all know the flames and Treviling are counting and him to become more. If this is all he is, our bottom 6 takes a big hit. We NEED Jankowski to start lighting it up or it will be another long year relying on the top line. Top line dissapears, so does the scoring.

  • MDG1600

    For the love of all that is obvious – how long is it going to take for people to get it through their heads that Sam Bennett is not going to become the offensive threat people expect out of a top 5 draft. Hi energy – yes. Physical – yes. Passionate – yes. Gritty – yes. Good skater – yes. Excellent bottom 6 forward – yes. Driver of offense in the top 6 – not so much. I know a lot of people won’t like this post but I think the sample size is large enough that we can’t just he has lost his confidence unless you want to say he’s lost it for 3 years now.

    • Redleader

      Bennett was creating the most and his defence is miles ahead of Backlund s at the same age,except he is way tougher. We would get steam rolled with out him as most of the team has not much for backbone.

      • Toma41

        Nobody is saying we dont need a player like Bennett. What we dont need is the flamest highest draft pick ever at 5th over all, turning into a 4th line grinder. Thats what the 2-7 round of drafting is for.

  • KeepitReal

    Your goalie is the last line of defense. If it skaters are bumbling & stumbling around their zone the net minder can’t afford to let a softie get past him. He has to come up big and help reset the game for his boyz. With Smith you are guaranteed at least one soft goal per game. That’s a steep price for a team like the Flames to pay.

    • Rudy27

      If you are referring to the first goal as soft, I disagree. Watching in slow-mo, that was a perfectly placed shot inches above the pad, under the glove and off the post. Kane snapped a great shot and hit the six inch hole!

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        True, but goalies know that you gotta come out and challenge for those shots, especially for those shooters. I’m not gunna beat Smith up for last game, but he was well within the blue paint. Playing big is also about angles

    • Luter 1

      The first goal was a total team effort crapshow. What a horrible first shift, rematch it if you want to see like five turnovers including our hero from the other night Hamonic to the end with Backlund sleepwalking in his own end, to Smith being too deep in his net. Unacceptable first shift and Backlund better wake up.

  • MDG1600

    What if the players were truly anonymous to us fans and all we had was the jersey numbers of unknown players? Pretty sure the comments at this point of the season would be pretty unflattering for #’s 10 and 18. What I don’t like about their signings is that neither of them is a particularly good skater at a time the league demands team speed.

    • Flint

      UFA’s who are not elite skaters in this league are going to start coming in at 50% or more discounts and they need to get used to it. I’m willing to give Neal more time at this juncture…. but really.

      Brouwer / 4 yrs $18mil, 4,5AAV – 22G, 51pts in 163games.
      Lucic / 7 yrs $42mil, 6AAV – 34G, 89pts in 181games. on pace for 5G/20pts this season… they’re going to be playing more than 1mil/goal! with an untradeable, unbuyoutable contract.
      Ryan / 3 yrs 9,375mil 3,125AAV…. 3 pts. on pace for 5G this season.

      Neal on pace for 13 goals….

      The game is so fast now, first and foremost you gotta be able to skate. UFA’s who can’t skate… put em on black friday sale.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Neil benched in third period, oh oh, I see deja vu all over again. BT must be getting nervous, signing aging vet to a big fat contract, and nothing to show for it. Boy is he a sucker.

    • Skylardog

      Appears to be a disconnect between Peters and Treliving. Never a good thing and can only end in one or both getting fired. Neal’s use from day one says that Peters and BT are not even close to being on the same wavelength. Czar scratched, then riding pine when in and the team needing a goal adds to the obvious vision differences.

      • BendingCorners

        Not sure how you figure that. BT has always said he leaves player usage to the coach.
        Neal was expected to provide more goals than he has and Lindholm has provided more than expected. Their usage reflects reality so why would BT object?
        As for Czarnik, he is a fringe player and always will be. Treliving hoped an opportunity in the top six would let Czarnik become this year’s Karlson. Peters tried it and Czarnik wasn’t up to the task.
        I don’t see a rift between BT and BP but instead some iffy signings by BT.

          • oilcanboyd

            Frolik was taken off the second line because Peters felt that on the road the 3M line would be by-passed on last change by the home team when putting out their scoring lines. \So he split them up.

        • Skylardog

          BT did not bring in Neal to see him start the season on the 3rd line with guys that haven’t shown a proven ability to set up goal scorers. I am certain he didn’t bring him in to ride the pine in a third period when the team needs a goal.

          I am certain BT didn’t sign Neal to a $28.75 million deal to have him as a buyout after just one season.

          I get if there are 6 forwards going out that can score, but Ryan was getting a regular shift.

          • Brian McGrattan's Salute

            Ahhh I think that’s looking in to it too much. BP totally would have loved to have Neal in a higher role–he’s not just making him ride pine just cuz.

            Neal’s play has dictated where he’s landed, including being benched. Also, he’s never shown much chemistry with Backs and Chuck. I’m not sure how this leads to some disconnect between BP and BT. Neal just needs to find a fit. Some of that is switching up the lines, sure. But at the end of the day Neal just needs to find a way to contribute.

            Its tough to keep seeing lines where no one can drive play too much. Neal was brought in under the partial assumption that he could drive a line, either on his own, or with other guys on a good line–in other words, score goals, boost momentum.

            If a guy can do both of these, great. If they can do one of these, good. If they can’t do either then things dun change

          • BendingCorners

            I agree BT didn’t do any of those things. He bought a 30.06 that turned out to be a pop gun. BT is honest enough with himself I think to acknowledge the fairness of BP’s usage of Neal.

  • 左翼二

    Smith played really well. He wasn’t flopping around like fish in a bucket. If he can manage to keep that up, he’ll make a decent backup for Rittich, which is what he should be now.

    Oh Sam. You’re so sad and defeated. I feel bad. I want you to do so much better. Didn’t you score 4 goals in one game? Maybe go watch the highlights of that game so you can feel better.

    • Redleader

      Did you watch the game? Bennett was probably Flames best player next to smith last night , he got on the second line as I mentioned he deserves yesterday mourning , and I said smith was far from washed up , so peters,Bennett and Smith proved me right . Watch and learn, Bennett is becoming a force and your blind if you can’t see that, also he’s staying out of the penalty box and was on the pp last night ,wow what a checker he is ,

  • ZZMiddle

    Some of the stuff this site tries to pass off as Sports journalism is pathetic. What a waste of time. This article is defeatist, Ari just going through the motions. “Im not going to write an interesting article anyways, so why even try” kind of thing. And it is just sad.

    • oddclod

      Agreed. Ari is a joke. He has zero idea of what psychological projection means…. IE twice he commented others being lazy. This article is lazy. Sam Bennett is on a resurgence… That penalty shot actually happened because he stormed into the zone at full pace and forced the defender to take him down. Then on the penalty shot we saw Jones cheating on the deke and gave Bennett five hole and then shut the door. That was veteran Goaltending at its finest. Bennett is playing like a beast this year. Leave him the eff alone. Call it like you see it now how you prefer it.

      Truth Czarnik is playing in his head. He thinks twice then goes. Instead of reacting. I can see him turning into a good player if he just shuts his brain off and starts reacting.

      Ryan is clearly only a shut down guy. Pair him with Backlund as a third line shut down option and thicken up the second line.

      Glad to see Neal benched he’s barely skating this year. Needs, and deserves a smack in the mouth from Coach after getting elevated to the second line last game and floating.

  • MontanaMan

    I love that Peters has the stones to bench any player at any time. Neal appears to be entitled, something that would never go over with the coach. If sitting on the bench an entire period in a one goal game doesn’t motivate Neal to get going, nothing will. Something’s got to give in the next two weeks.

  • Kevin R

    Honest Question: Are coaches allowed to have a penalty(missed penalty) reviewed? I dont think so but this has to change. Why wouldnt the refs review that Kane delay of game??? Treliving should be on league office & that replay be reviewed by Gary Boy & the head of the league officials. They seem to have no problem giving us penalties at critical late stages of the game, WTF??? We arent the only fans that think this league officiating is a joke, how do fans protest this with the league? Getting sick of it.

    • oddclod

      They gotta change the rule book on that. They can’t go upstairs for delay of game calls which is pretty stupid. I mean pucks are flying fast… You’re not always finna get a read. Clearly a botched call tho. I feel you. Gotta love future Captain Tkachuk. He called that one!

    • Captain Ron

      The officiating in the league is so bad some nights it infuriates me. How do 4 officials miss that call when the play is front and center on the ice at that time. There was no possibility that it was tipped by a Flames player and the puck is up in the netting over the glass. The only possible call here was a delay of game penalty and if they though a Flames player tipped it out then the faceoff comes outside the zone. It’s so bush league it is laughable. That play alone may have influenced the outcome of a game with points on the line in a divisional matchup. Never mind the other two calls that were missed. There is no excuse for that level of incompetence at that point in a pro game. Unfortunately it happens too often in the NHL.

  • Korcan

    When Dube returns, maybe Peters can try creating a second scoring line by moving Lindholm to center and go with:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
    Dube – Lindholm – Neal
    Bennett – Backlund – Frolik (all lhs)
    Czarnik – Ryan/Jankowski – Hathaway (all rhs)

    With the current top-line slowing down, it just might be a good time to try this rearrangement.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    We have tried it BPs way with Janko and it has not worked. He is starting to find some secondary scoring and getting some grade A chances that he should have finished. What is the harm in trying him on the top line and spreading the scoring.

    JG-MJ-EL (like it or not but Janko gets an extra bounce in his step when he moves up the line up)
    MT-SM-JN ( if this doesn’t get Neil going nothing will…foot speed is suspect)
    GH-MB-SB (New shut down line.. promo for GH)
    AC-DR-MF ( likely little offense but won’t hurt defensively)

  • calgaryfan

    Neal with Backlund is not working. Backlund dumps the puck in too much. Neal needs a better playmaking center, Neal is not fast enough to play dump and chase.

  • The Doctor

    That second period was the difference maker in this game IMO. That may have been the worst period I’ve seen the Flames play this season. If it weren’t for smith it could easily have been 5-1 after the second.

    • Captain Ron

      Smith was very good last night finally. That’s what your goalie is supposed to do for you on a back to back in a tough building. Give you a chance to win.

  • Geeker 98

    This coming from an Oilers fan. If I had the choice between between Bennett or Eberle I would take Bennett. His offence might be struggling but you can’t coach toughness and heart. I know we have are own problems but when ever I see Neal’s teeth I scratch my head. If those are implants it must go through his mind that a good puck or stick will mess that mouth up. I have implants and play beer league. Full sheild and mouth piece . Just seems like something a player does when he is retired.