41Austin Czarnik
Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

Depth players, don’t go disappearing on the Flames now…

The Flames are finding ways to win at a time when things seem like they should be falling off the rails.

They’re getting enough goals to rack up wins even while their stars are slumping. The goaltending plan seemed to get tossed out the window twice already, and they’ve been winging It ever since with no clear idea of who might be their go-to guy come the playoffs.

Injuries have spawned opportunities, with a rookie defenceman now refusing to relinquish a spot on the top pairing, and the biggest question on everybody’s minds is what the team will do when their top free-agent signing from last summer is healthy again.

Not doing anything at the trade deadline was probably the right move for the Flames, factoring in the other teams’ asks for any player who might actually come to Calgary and make a significant difference down the stretch or in the postseason.

Adding impact without taking away assets who could use the experience themselves for what could be a nice long window of Cup contention is impossible.

Adding another body for defensive depth was all they managed to do in the end. More than any other reason, the performance of their internal depth players was a massive factor in GM Brad Treliving’s decision to stick with the group that got them here.

Here (as a surreal reminder because it’s still so nearly incomprehensible to the fan base at this point of the season) is safely in first place in the Western Conference, with a healthy lead in the Pacific Division and, after their third win in four nights Wednesday in New Jersey, seven straight wins to close out the month of February.

Usually when you’re talking about a seven-game win streak, you’re mentioning the impressive performances of the team’s top line. In this case, however, it’s been the team’s most regularly scratched forward, Austin Czarnik, their best two-way centre, Mikael Backlund, fourth-liners like Derek Ryan and Andrew Mangiapane, and rookie blueliner Rasmus Andersson scoring most of the big goals during the current streak.

For perspective, superstar Johnny Gaudreau has just one goal and three assists in the last seven games — with two of those helpers coming in the last outing. His sniper centre Sean Monahan? No goals and four assists. One in the last victory as the trio (Elias Lindholm has scored with other groups and has been the best of the top three with a goal and seven points during the stretch) looked more cohesive than it has since the all-star break.

Meanwhile, Czarnik has been the recent feel-good storyline offensively for a team that has been winning low-scoring games by narrow margins. His four goals and five points in the last seven games includes three game-winning tallies.

Derek Ryan was one of the heroes in Pittsburgh to start the winning streak with three important assists. Michael Frolik, who bounces around in and out of and up and down the lineup, had key goals in Pittsburgh and against the Arizona Coyotes a couple of nights later.

If the Flames truly want to contend for the Cup with what got them here, to 89 points in 64 games so far, they can’t afford to see that secondary production slow down even when the top line’s contributions come back.

There can be no Byron Ritchie moments.

Yes, Byron Ritche. You remember him, right?

He’s the guy who stepped up heroically when Jarome Iginla — the man getting his jersey retired on Saturday night and I dare say the guy with the largest of big skates to fill — hurt his knee in the early weeks of 2007.

Scrolling through Ritchie’s game-by-game stats from that season and you’ll see the magnificent blip. A goal in the game Iginla was injured. Two more the following contest. Another in the next. One more would come while Iginla was out (a month’s worth of games) and then nothing. Not a second assist, in the games from February to April.

Ritchie punctuated his time with the Flames with one more goal in the season finale. He dressed for one game in the playoffs — a disappointing first-round exit.

This isn’t to suggest Czarnik won’t pan out, or a snipe against the Flames’ deadline non-moves or faith in their current roster.

It’s just a reminder at a time where people are high on the success of the Flames that the depth performances Treliving trusted so heavily will have to pan out consistently in order for this team to cap off its best regular season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989 with the same sort of result.

And that’s a huge ask.

So enjoy the ride, wherever it takes you. Just don’t be disappointed if as the team gathers its important experience, that it stumbles a little along the way.

  • Puck Head

    Being able to roll 4 lines is the only way to make a deep push in the playoffs. I think we were all questioning the abilities of our bottom forward lines in the first half of the season but they have turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises for me so far. There are no indications that their play will regress and you get the feeling that the players have bought into BPs system and understand that he rewards effort and results.

  • Chucky

    Depth is not one or five guys, it is the entire team. Don’t expect that Czarnik or Ryan will be the answer but we can expect that when they need a goal and the top line is having trouble somebody will score. By the end of the season they will have 10 guys over 10 goals maybe as many as half the guys dressed on any given night could have 10. That just challenges another team to focus on a few.

  • freethe flames

    There are forwards on the Heat that are part of the depth as well; Quine did not look out of place when he was up, Dube had some very good moments when he was up, Rychel has some size and skill, Graovic has some size and skill, Lomberg is what Lomberg is, Pkillips is trending the right direction, and Gawdin is doing some goods things in the AHL
    But the question is can any of them play up the line up.

    • freethe flames

      He has been much more engaged this time around. Not only has he scored but he has been around the puck more and done a better job in the 200 foot game. Not great but noticeably better.

      • The Fall

        I see him make basic plays that put other players in vulnerable situations. He takes risks and then dumps off to let someone else cover up his mistake. He’s not as talented as he thinks he is out there.

          • While I was looking at the stats to refute your ignorance I saw something I found very interesting… Crosby is top ten in scoring and plus 19. Kessel and Malkin join him in the top 25 with +/- ratings of -15 and -19.

            BTW… to refute your ignorance I came up with this… who cares, you’re jjust a smelly old jockstrap anyways!

          • Joel Ottos Jock

            How do Malkin and Kessels plus minus, let alone Crosby have anything to do with Monahan being softer than baby sh!t? What do those Penguins numbers have to do with Monahan disappearing when the games get tighter and physical? What do those players have to do with Monahan being invisible in his own end? I am all for having a debate, but to call me ignorant and have nothing but dribble as your back up. Stats dont show these attributes. Go drink the stats koolaid and think because someone has scored 39 goals he must be playing great! Thanks for proving my point.

          • Joel Ottos Jock

            Too add, this is the biggest issue I have with the parents of the kids I coach and have coached. I have parents coming to me complaining little Johnny scored 40 goals in 30 games at aa, but I called up the kid who has 10 goals. Well te kid who scored 10 plays in his own zone, back checks, sacrifices his body for the team. The stuff that isnt counted on the stat sheet. The stuff us coaches love. The stuff that makes a guy a hockey player. Guys like you are what’s wrong with the game..go back to house league thunder.

          • Hockeysense9393

            So you would bring up the less talented player who can’t be taught raw talent in place of bringing up the talented player and teaching how to do the fundamentals that it takes to become a truly great player (with talent)? …and you are using this to justify an argument? Sounds like lazy coaching to me…but that’s just me.

        • wot96

          I’m no fan but he really has been much better lately. And in a what have you done for me lately kind of sport, if that is what he is delivering, you go with it.

    • MDG1600

      Now that we have had a chance to watch Czarnik more I have to say I see why BP isn’t a fan. He looks like he is dragging a piano with him when he is back checking and has blazing speed when he thinks he is going to get a scoring chance.

      • Atomic Clown

        As a response to Thunder’s and Otto’s debate, I can understand why Monahan needs to do more. He’s the 1C on this team, and alongside his scoring prowess, he needs to be a more 200 foot player. However, as to why you’d prefer a 40 goal score vs a 10 goal scorer, I digress. The hardest thing to do in hockey is score goals. If you can outscore your deficiencies, I’m all for it

        • Joel Ottos Jock

          I agree to some extent..although all the best #1 centers have put personal success to the curb to play a team game..see Jonathon Toews, Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar when they won cups. I’d rather see Monahan focus on his 200 foot game and be able to be a solid guy if Backlund is unable to go head to head against the other top teams. Also, if the Flames run into the likes of the Jets where they are formidable down the middle..could be a long series otherwise..

    • Stu Gotz

      Quine is an experienced playoff performer with the Islanders. He can also score as demonstrated in the playoff run with the Isles and in his 9 game appearance with the Flames. I agree the Flames need to find a way to slot him in as he would be valuable down the stretch!

  • bork bork bork

    I did a quick calculation at the all-star break to guess how the stretch run would go. It wasn’t particularly complicated, just took our road and home winning % and projected that they’d maintain that pace. I had the Flames getting 17 points in February (they got 18), and projecting 21 in March, 4 in April.

  • Sven

    Direct comparison is difficult given that Peters blends his lines with such frequency but

    In the Flames last 10 games

    The line of Mangiapane, Ryan and Hathaway sits as the 34th most effective line league wide
    (as compared to the Gaudreau/Monahan/Lindholm line who sit at 32nd)

    5G 8A +12
    they haven’t surrendered a goal over the last 10 games
    and they have out shot the opposing lines they faced 76 v 52

    I’m kinda liking that as a fourth line option

  • ComeOn

    Two alternative articles or points of view that are part of the whole picture.
    1. What if the top line performs as they have for almost the entirety of the season.
    2. What is the above occurs and the depth contributes more in line with how most depth does.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think it is time to face the elephant in the room…that being 1C. This has been Monny’s spot forever and part of the Johnny and a Monny dynamic duo. However, Monny’s game has dropped significantly bringing down his linemates. I wonder if it is time to promote Backlund or Janko.

    A line of Backlund centering Lindholm and Johnny would be deadly. People complain about Backlund’s offense yet he is clearly one of the most talented on the team and who knows how much offense he has with more OZ starts. Janko has only played 1 game with Johnny on the top line and did well.

    It is clear that Monny is not 100% and he is having a difficult time keeping up with his linemates. So where Should he play? He likely would fit with Bennett ant Tkachuk on the second line but not in shutdown role. This would make our 3rd line with Janko and Frolik as our shutdown line.

    I am a big Monny fan but the team is winning without him contributing lately and your 1C really should be a lot more noticeable at this time of year. There must be a reason why BP has never considered taking him off the top line…perhaps he knows that Monny is working through injuries. Personally, I would leave Backlund as 2C and swap Janko with Monny to get a spark.

    • Jimmyhaggis

      Yes I agree, Monny has been almost invisible lately, don’t recall any situations where he got injured. But Johnny seems to be hanging onto the puck way too much and not getting those nice touch passes to Monny. Lindholm seems to be playing well, getting into position but again the passes are not there. Hopefully just a prolonged slump.

        • Getpucksdeep

          Thats not really so. 2 years ago in the Anaheim debacle, Monahan had a big late season streak and then had a goal in every game in that short 4 game series. I’m not defending his play right now and maybe Backlund on top for a few games would help. Monahan used to find a way to get open in close. He isn’t getting open like he did earlier IMHO. Skating issue? His back acting up? Heads somewhere else?

    • TKO

      If Monahan is nursing an injury, it would be better to rest him fora couple weeks than to demote him down the line up and expect him to play a more shut down, physical role while trying to recover from said injury.
      In fact, if Flames can hold their lead in the west, I am wondering if the Flames dont bring up people like Quine ans Lazar and Dube to get them some games (up to speed) while giving guys like Monny and JG a few games rest

    • Albertabeef

      If I moved Mony off the first line I would have Lindy center with Ryan as RW. Maybe even just to try that combo on the PP1. Just to switch things up a little. I still think Mony is our first line center going forward. I wonder if one of his four surgeries last summer have caught up with him.

  • Puck Head

    So it sounds like the flavour of the day whipping boys are Neil (less chatter as he’s been out of the lineup), Brodie and Monahan. That’s actually a pretty decent group of players. This must mean the team is performing well ?.