Have you seen this large child?
When will Sean Monahan come back from holidays?
— chillidog (@IanIdeaman7) March 10, 2019
Whats up with Monahan? Seems invisible out there
— Kameron Gienow (@kamerongienow) March 9, 2019
There’s not really any sort of easy explanation. He might be injured again, which is something no one here is qualified to comment on, but it’s hard not to draw similarities between now and the same point last season, when it was eventually revealed that he was playing through wrist injuries that needed four surgeries. Perhaps he’s healthy and it’s just a simple slump like the ones he has gone through in seasons past. You can’t be great all the time.
But he is certainly struggling and that’s not great for the Flames. The longer this continues, the more distance San Jose builds on them for the division crown, and the more likely they’re in a serious fight with Vegas for first round home ice advantage. When Sean Monahan is dialled in, he can be one of the best centres in the league. When he’s not, well, you can see for yourself what that looks like.
Monahan’s never been a great defender, which is fine as long as he’s being himself in the offensive zone, but even the worst aspects of his game look off. He seems to be predictable and confused in the neutral zone half of the time lately, and his defensive work leaves much to be desired. Johnny Gaudreau is certainly not being paid for his defence either, so that leaves the burden entirely on Elias Lindholm and whatever defenders are on the ice. It’s not palatable.
The “when” is the hard part. Players tend to snap in and out of droughts randomly. It could be next game, it could be a week, it could be when the playoffs start. There’s no real telling when it’s going to happen, but I think you can make a strong bet on that it will happen. Monahan’s been an excellent player for the past five years. It would be extremely unlikely that he turned back into a pumpkin right now.
Will Monahan find his touch before playoffs?
— Michael Panidisz (@michael_pdizzy) March 10, 2019
Hopefully, or else the team is in danger.
It goes without saying that Monahan is probably not going to be this poor for the rest of the season, but to repeat myself, he has to find a way out of his struggles before the playoffs start. The Flames are guaranteed to meet one of San Jose or Las Vegas in the playoffs, be it in the first or second rounds. If he isn’t at his best, the team is going to have to try and get creative with their matchups. If you look at Vegas and San Jose‘s top two lines (nevermind that their third lines are also pretty strong), it’s going to be nearly impossible to shelter his line without exposing another.
What's up with top line/Monahan specifically?
— Kevin Chamberlain (@Keverman34) March 10, 2019
As for the rest of the top line, they’ve also hit a wall.
We’ll use the all-star break as a place to start, as it’s where the Flames really began struggling and conveniently breaks the season (almost evenly) into quarters. Before the break, the top line had played together for 51 games, posting a respectable 54.98 CF%, a 62.50 GF% with 59.40 OZS% at 5v5 (Natural Stat Trick). Their PDO was a little high at 103.8, mostly thanks to 12% on-ice shooting, but even when that regressed a little bit, it stood to reason they would still be a great line.
In the 18 games since, things have come crashing down, both from a performance and a luck perspective. Their CF% has dropped to a respectable yet middling 51.04% and their GF% to 35.71% in mostly unchanged circumstances (52.45 OZS%). Their luck has plummeted too, with their PDO falling to 95.5 with 5.62% shooting. Things aren’t particularly going their way, but they certainly aren’t helping themselves.
It’s hard to pin this on one particular player using analytics, as neither of them are apart from each other for very long. Monahan has certainly had his fair share of blame, but Elias Lindholm has also gone extremely quiet as of late. The only one you could really put the least blame on is Gaudreau, who has been better than his linemates visually and analytically. For example, Monahan has 25 shots at 5v5, Lindholm has 29, and Gaudreau has 40 during this stretch. Andrew Mangiapane has 32, and he’s a rookie getting his first real taste of NHL action.
None of that is good. If one player slumps, that’s manageable because that line has three great parts to it. If two slump, maybe you could juggle the lines a bit and see if that works. If all three are struggling, uh oh.
After so much like juggling to start the year, why does there seem to be no new lines that have worked to pull the Flames out of this mini slump? Specifically on the top 2 lines? It’s nice for the bottom 6 to contribute but they aren’t going to pull you through forever.
— Adrian DeCorby (@decorbs) March 10, 2019
I think the issue is that the depth hasn’t been up to the challenge. The Flames have been built so that they can get contributions from all four lines, but there’s been some issues with the depth moving up the rotation. Against other bottom sixers and the occasional shift or two against top sixers, they’ve done some great work, but moving them up regularly simply hasn’t done the trick.
Sam Bennett’s goodwill on the second line seems to have run dry, James Neal has been unavailable, and past them it’s kind of hard to justify anyone else. I think Mangiapane deserves a bit of a longer look in the top six, and maybe Austin Czarnik could use a spin, but they have 19 combined points: are they really going to fix the scoring woes? Derek Ryan and Garnet Hathaway have been formidable fourth line warriors, but that’s not going to fly outside of fourth line situations. If you didn’t like Monahan’s underlying numbers for this stretch above, Mark Jankowski has similar numbers all season long.
Even if Bill Peters chose to break the blender out, I think it’s hard to see what decisions will change the fortunes of the top two lines other than waiting it out. There might be the feeling that continuing to muddle with a discombobulated line is doing more harm than good. The Gaudreau-Monahan-Tkachuk line wasn’t fruitful, and with the options you have, who else are you going to put up there? Is it actually going to be a quick fix or will it not be enough when the Flames find themselves trailing? I think a lot of lines might look good on paper, but given that they only have 15-20 minutes or so to change the outcome of a hockey game, occasionally they’ll have to switch from “looks good” to “know they’re good.”
The Purple Gatorade line and the 3M line have been the consistent producers, and they’re likely going to get back into the groove of things. The hockey season is long and you’re prone to peaks and valleys. Ignoring that and trying to get things started immediately might be more damage than payoff.
Are we okay?
— The Hockey Guy (@TheHockeyGuyEh) March 10, 2019
The Flames are still a good team that is in the midst of their first struggle stretch of the year. If Sunday’s game against Vegas is the start of them breaking out of it, that stretch lasted four games where pretty much everything that could go wrong did. They finally lost back-to-back regulation games for the first time since November. If this is the worst, it’s pretty okay, all things considered.
Over the longer portions of the season, the Flames have been one of the best teams in the NHL. Nothing’s changed except for a few bad games. To borrow a cliche from soccer: form is temporary, class is permanent. Whatever struggles the Flames are going through right now, they still remain a great team at their core. It’s more likely they find their dominance again rather than continuing to tumble down the standings.