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FlamesNation Mailbag: A formality

The Flames have clinched the playoffs, and the division and conference are hopefully soon to come. Without much to talk about, let’s look forward to the playoffs and see how the Flames could approach the postseason.

I think what they have is mostly ideal. If the first line can remember that they’re a first line and if the third line could chip in more often, they’ve got one of the most solid top-to-bottom playoff rosters. They’ve made it this far, and the typical lineup has been the one that has brought them the most success. Various experiments haven’t been fruitful for sustained periods of time, so I think they’ll go to battle with them come playoff time.

I say “mostly ideal” because the third line is the one that really needs tinkering. Since March began, Austin Czarnik is the top scorer on that line with three points in nine games (Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett have two). That’s a bit generous even, as that line has only combined for a goal on one of those points. To add more insult to injury, it was actually only two-thirds of that line (Andrew Mangiapane’s goal against Columbus: Jankowski and Czarnik assisted, Bennett was out).

So, what do you do? Do you scratch Czarnik in an attempt to get James Neal going in the playoffs? Do you scratch Bennett for Neal? Czarnik for Bennett? Do you want to promote Mangiapane to reward him for his good work, or is that going to disrupt the good work of the fourth line? Do you try Dillon Dube and see if his AHL time has formed him into an NHL player? Do you try some other combination of strong AHL performers? Do you just leave it be and see if they can dig themselves out? There’s a hundred different ways you could go about this, but I’d be lying if I said that there’s one simple trick to make them a good line.

But that’s mostly hand-wringing. The Flames haven’t leaned on their third line heavily this season, so any improvements from them is just gravy. If the individual parts of that line can continue to make noise on special teams, the Flames are fine.

As for the other game one element, it should absolutely be David Rittich starting game one.

Mike Smith is undoubtedly playing his best hockey this season during this stretch, but a lot of the underlying issues that have sunk his SV% to below .900 still persist. He still bellyflops when trying to make saves, he still makes dubious puck playing decisions, and he still loses track of the puck. I’ll admit that he’s settled down on some of his nastier habits, but that they still exist is a problem. I counted two times Vancouver shot wide when Smith was lying prone on the ice. Playoff teams aren’t going to miss those.

Smith is unpredictable in net and that’s not going to fly in the playoffs where the margins are so tight. Every game counts. Going on the road with a 2-0 lead versus a 1-1 tie (or, hopefully not, an 0-2 deficit) can make all the difference. I’m not saying that Smith is going to let beach balls in while Rittich is going to turn into a brick wall, but one is more stable while the other can fluctuate between the two extremes. The team needs to trust the goalie that’s put them in the playoffs.

When we last checked in on Elias Lindholm and the first line, things were rather dour. Besides Johnny Gaudreau, the rest of the first line was struggling heavily.

The day after that was posted, Gaudreau had a six-point night and his linemates picked up four points each against the Devils. Everything was back to normal, right?

Not exactly. Starting with New Jersey, Lindholm has picked up six shots and 19 shot attempts at all situations in six games. Monahan had similar numbers, picking up seven shots and 15 shot attempts in the same time frame. However, Monahan missed two games and two-thirds of another one with illness. To put it simply, Lindholm has similar production in nearly twice as many games as Monahan. To compare to Gaudreau, the standard of excellence, he had 21 shots and 44 shot attempts in those six games. Yikes.

It’s a small sample, so take what you will from it, but consider the 2.667 games Lindholm played without Monahan. He was fine against the Jets, but was held shot-less in the game against Columbus and in the two-thirds against the Rangers. In fact, the game against Columbus was a complete donut, with Lindholm not attempting a single shot in 21 minutes of ice time.

I said it in the link above, but it’s worth repeating: the first line is good enough that they can survive one player struggling, but they simply can’t survive two players struggling. Lindholm’s struggles have been more concerning because he’s seemingly been reduced to a non-entity when he’s fighting it. You can expect a great player to have some sort of floor to their performances, at least putting forward a good effort even if it doesn’t result in points, but Lindholm seems to have gone completely invisible.

I think Lindholm rebounds soon enough. He’s been a great player for three-quarters of the season thus far, and he hasn’t had purely luck-driven results, so it’s very likely that he comes back to form. The Flames shouldn’t think that Lindholm has turned back into a pumpkin, but they should worry that he can be reduced to a non-factor.

Dillon Dube is probably number one. His NHL stint is far behind in the rearview mirror, but he was still acceptable during that time. He’s found his footing in the AHL and is probably ready for the show. It’s unlikely the Flames trust him given that it’s the playoffs, but they also threw Bennett into that fire, so it’s not entirely unprecedented.

I don’t think they call up Lazar for anything other than insurance. They didn’t make any significant use of him during his emergency stint, and they probably won’t go back to him for the playoffs. He’s been okay in the AHL, but he’s certainly not on the level of Dube, and definitely not on the level of Alan Quine (who is already here in Calgary). If they want experience, Quine somehow leads the AHL pack with 10 playoff games and five playoff points.

The only other forward call-up is likely Anthony Peluso for very dumb reasons. Please do not play Peluso.

Calling them “the fourth line” with quotes attached is a good enough nickname. It indicates irony, you see.

  • withachance

    Fourth line has dubbed themselves the DAG line (Doc, Andrew, Garnet)

    The main priorities for BP after clinching the West must surely be getting the 1st line back to mid season form. Not sure what that would mean coaching wise (i personally dont think blender the 1st and 3rd lines is the best thing here, maybe as a last resort). Im sure BP will get do the best thing when it comes to it.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      But I do wonder about switching Neal with Lindholm for a game? I still have no clue what you do with the extra player when Benny comes back, but yeah.

      I’m really hoping that Neal starts to pick it up wherever he plays…him and benny and Janko were playing some decent hockey before Neal went down…but man, the Benny/Mangiapane-Janko-Czar line looked pretty good there.

  • 😬

    100% Smith should start. His last kick at the can so he should be dialed in. If he let’s in softies and flames lose game one he should be pulled for Rittich.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    The “4th Line” is called DAG by the players themselves. Breat Eater let the cat out of the bag. As for the struggles of the 1st and 3rd lines, it might be a good time to try a few swaps while we have breathing room. You have a couple of games to try it out, but can always go back to original if it doesn’t work out, even within a game.

    JH-Lindholm-Neal
    3M
    Mangiapane-Monahan-Ryan
    Czarnik-Janko-Hathaway

    This takes advantage of a lull in Monahan’s play to get Neal some quality linemates. Monahan gets two players that can pass and shoot, pllus Ryan can take strong side draws. Neal gets an elite playmake to set him up, while Lindholm may actually rediscover his shot playing in the middle. The 4th line puts three guys that can skate together. Hathaway can annoy players while Czarnik can get open. He’s also played a lot (in the past) on LW.

    • withachance

      Why mess with one of the lines thats been contributing consistently? I’d like to apply the same logic of the team has some breathing room, why not keep giving the top line some time to work out of the funk? I’m of the ilk that elite players dont simply lose it overnight, they will perform just gotta trust in their abilities to work out of it

      • Albertabeef

        I think Johnny is the problem. He tries to do too much alone and doesn’t always trust his linemates for help. It was fine in his younger days but it’s not good for NHL play. But other guys have to shoot it more and stop passing it back to Johnny instead.

  • Inglewood

    I am actually very concerned who we’ll be going with in net. Christian believes it should be Rittich, and I definitely agree. The last two starts though are very confusing to me. Rittich plays strong, wins 4 games in a row, and having a save % north of .930 for each. He also stood on his head in the 3rd against CBJ making saves, that IMO Smith hasn’t either had to make this season or has been unable to make.

    Smith then get’s the next start against OTT which I’m fine with after Dave starting 4 in a row. But then, in a game against Van, which I get should be a game you win with either guy, Smith get’s the start. I may be pulling straws here, but I had no doubts that Rittich was going to get back in that game. From what I’ve seen from Smith this season is enough for me to put Dave in and give him his fair shot. Easier to pull Rittich come the Yoff’s and have Smith come in as relief, than have Smith be Smith and let in a few bad goals in game one or two and cost the boys a win. If the latter occurs, I can ensure you that the Dome Faithful will be none to pleased, including myself.

    I suppose this will be all for none later today if Rittich get’s the call, but my palms will start getting sweaty if Smith’s numbers called again. Whoever starts that SJ on Sunday, will likely be starter come game 1.

    • Cup hope

      Every goalie lets in bad goals sometimes. Smith’s are just often spectacular. Look at his work over the last several games and think about his experience. When I have done this l believe he should start in the playoffs if he continues to perform.

      • Inglewood

        IMO, Rittich has outplayed Smith all season. Don’t let a couple of games against OTT and VAN fool you. Rittich has carried this team and pulled his weight against stronger competition. Numbers don’t lie. Dave also appears to be more calm between the net game in, game out. Smith’s flopping and flawing around provides no calmness to the team, that is required in the playoffs.

        Another reason I am against starting him, because of what I’ve heard, seen, and get the sense from general population, is Smith will not be returning next season. If so, why wait to see if Dave is the solution going forward? Like I said above, easier to pull Rittich in the playoffs and go to Smith rather than vice versa. Big decisions will need to be made in the off-season on our goalie situation moving forward, why not see what you have in Dave, who has played to date, as the best goalie on this team.

        • Inglewood

          …and it’s Smith again. Happy he’s playing well, but I certainly don’t believe for one second that he’s our best option. Interested to see who get’s the start against Dal on Wednesday and SJ on Sunday. That will go a long way imo to seeing who’s day 1 starter. Even with a Smith win tonight, I don’t think we can be letting a 3 game win streak against OTT, VAN, LA tell the tape.

          • HOCKEY83

            I was thinkig that myself Albertabeef . The team does not care one bit about what the gen-pop thinks at all. It would not be shocking in the least if Smitty got game one. I do think they should go with Rittich though. In that last game even when Smitty made a save he acted as though it went through him. Hard to have confidence in him compared to rittich.

        • Albertabeef

          Forget the start of the season, you go with who’s hot now.
          Since the allstar break
          Dave Rittich 12 starts 7 wins .894 sv% 3.02GAA
          Mike Smith 12 starts 7 wins .918Sv% 2.29GAA
          Although at this point I am okay with rotating them every two games if needed. I still think Rittich might not be able to handle high pressure games and might crumble in the playoffs. His numbers this year and last year’s post allstar break are horrible.

      • Le Fiamme di Calgary

        Glad to see Mike Smith referred by name and not by “the inferior netminder” as in previous blog posts.

        He deserves respect for the way he put his stuff together despite the haters: that said I would go for Rittich in the playoffs.

  • MDG1600

    In an ideal world the decision would be made objectively based on measurable statistical performance on the ice. In this scenario the forward who heads to the pressbox should unquestionably be James Neal.

  • Vinnsanity0412

    I think as the playoffs progress you will see Quine and Dilly in, Czarnik and Janks out. D looks good as is, and I really think Smith will play a much larger role (in a positive way) during this playoff run than most people think.

  • Beer League Coach

    Promote Peluso to Kansas City, not to Calgary if he is healthy. Rumoured that he is injured and out for the season. Neal was not noticeable in any way (good or bad) on Saturday. He should earn his way back into the lineup with hard work in practice. He should not be thrown in just because he was good a year ago or 2 years ago. Dube has earned another shot. Neal has not.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    “I counted two times Vancouver shot wide when Smith was lying prone on the ice. Playoff teams aren’t going to miss those.”

    I was keeping an open mind on goaltending until this. Go with Ritter, but it’s not the end of the world if they go with Big Mitt Smith.

    I still believe in him.

  • Herringchoker1971

    Sometimes I read the comments on here and laugh. I’m not sure if some of the posters have no idea what they are saying and believe it or they are just posting for reactions. Here’s a little reality from a big Flames fan on the east coast. If everyone is healthy Dube will not see one minute of ice time in the playoffs. He’s a snot nosed rookie with good potential (see you in the fall buddy….hopefully a little heavier). Quine will for sure not see one minute of ice time in the playoffs if everyone is healthy…..he is only injury depth. Czarnik is going to be hard pressed to see ice time if everyone is healthy. He will also become injury depth.

    Get this out of your weird little brains, Monahan will not be moved down to a lower line anytime this playoff or next season. No matter how quiet he goes for a couple of weeks. The guy is over a point a game. Sure I wish he were more physical for his size but, he’s not. He’s still a top player in this league like him or not. So please kill that stupidity. The 3M will stay the 3M until next season for sure. Like it or not also if healthy, the 3rd line will be Bennett, Janko and Neal. Other than by using the line blender during a game……our line up is set.

    Here’s another reality check for those who want to speculate and make idiotic lineup changes……..next season what you see this season is most likely what you get. Why would Tre make huge changes to one of the best lineups in the NHL. I suspect Frolik is gone and I suspect a defenceman will get moved. Will Tre promote from within for cheap or will those changes bring in a new guy…….I dunno. Next year will not see a lot of moving parts other than I suspect a goalie.

    • Kevin R

      Cant argue much with this, including what may happen in the offseason. My bets are Brodie & Frolik are moved for very good returns, including a partly developed high end Goalie prospect to challenge for the backup & probably put pressure on Gilles & Parsons in the AHL.

      I do think & wish we can lock up this division “stat” so we can start revolving & resting some guys. Also, that Vancouver game I think our top line really only had 1 ten bell chance all game 5 on 5. I see absolutely nothing wrong with slotting Neal up with Monahan & Gaudreau, leave 3M alone, they have been playing great, & ideally, I would like to see Janko with Bennett (if ready) & Lindholm. Leave the DAG line alone.

    • withachance

      God so much this. A lot people living in fantasy worlds, while BT and BP live in the real world where sitting Neal is just dumb, and demoting Monahan is even dumber.

      There’s being a fan, and then there is just straight up not being realistic

      • MDG1600

        Real fantasy is thinking James Neal is still a top tier NHL forward. Reality is he scored 5 goals, is painfully slow, can’t handle the puck and was a team worst +/-. Why anyone thinks he is suddenly going to be good in the playoffs is beyond me. If he seriously takes his game up a notch and starts scoring in the playoffs he should be giving 1/2 his paycheque back for mailing it in during the regular season. Pretty sure he was getting paid to play all year.

        • Beer League Coach

          Agree. Neal should not be handed anything. I defended him for the first half of the season hoping he would find his game with any one of our lines. He has been an anchor on every line he has played on. Let him sit. Based on his play this season he should be about #15 or #16 on our forward depth chart. Always earned: Never given. He is not entitled to special treatment based on what he did for other teams in the past. His salary and cap hit is an even bigger albatross than the Brouwer was.

        • withachance

          Again, you have to consider optics. The NHL is in the real world, and no GM or coach in the real world will scratch a highly paid FA signing lightly, as it comes with heavy scrutiny and is begging a spotlight to be shined in their general direction. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is in the boys club of the NHL.

          I want to iterate that I’m not saying this is the right way to go about it, but I’m also saying Id much rather Neal in the playoffs than someone like Czarnik. Thats just me.

      • HOCKEY83

        I’m sure everyone agrees with what you are all saying regarding Neal…I mean he’s been a bust the entire season…I agree with Withachance though…pretty sure the coach does not feel the same way the fans feel and he will play while probably Czar sits.

        • calgaryfan

          I don’t think anyone comes on this site to be insulted, they just want to have a conversation about their favorite hockey team and enjoy the season the Flames are having. People can disagree without it resorting to name calling rudeness and insults. Obviously you and I disagree. Lol

          • HOCKEY83

            The only insult I saw in that post was him saying you all had weird little brains. (sure he wasn’t talking about me) He said the line changes suggested were idiotic not the people suggesting them. Who cares if a player is insulted…that’s hockey talk.

  • Garry T

    Lines two through four are doing fine. Sometimes there is so much pressure to compete that a line can lose it’s way.
    Lindholm and now Johnny are good with the two way game. Monahan not so much. But that is correctable. Jankowski
    is one day going to be a great player but I think you could do the following to help his line and bring Jankowski
    into being a better 200 foot player.

    I would have the video department take their top 40 goals collectively and do three things with a presentation to
    all four players as Jankowski’s ” get back down the ice efforts are limited ” He just ambles along and hopes nothing bad is going to happen in his absence and that is playing with fire.

    1. Go into depth with the video on each goal, and go through them all, what proved successful in scoring that goal.
    You will probably find that their speed was essential, moving into position to score and being ready to shoot priority.
    2. Being ready means, from your locale, what is the goalie giving you for space. Your job is to receive and move the
    puck at the net immediately with a specific or maximum of two shooting targets. But the real focus is that accuracy
    is your main focus. We have had thousands of shots blow wide, high, sideways etc. and this is the time of year you
    need to be pin point accurate.
    3. The key element to entry and set up is to choose wisely and not put yourself in a turn-over scenario as not only is
    your line moving into position but so is your defence.

    All of the above is a split second situation for every move you make. The players are used to where everyone goes to.
    Talk to each other prior to taking to the ice and say hey if such and such a body does this we do that. Have a plan to
    optimize your scoring opportunity. From my perspective speed has been the main reason for their ability to score. Entering as a unit was also important. These days Johnny is moving but the other two are a split second or a second or two behind leaving Johnny in the soup against a group that are waiting for him. Get out the video. Say yah, we need to do this that and the other as options to gain position and let’s do it. But the key thing in the past is that they were all moving at speed and they are not doing now.

    In terms of the two way game, this encompasses both Monahan and Jankowski. Both are not exceptional skaters and with the speed of the game today, they need to be aware at all times on the attack and prepare to turn on the afterburners and keep the burners going until they get back and pick up their man. All too often, their man is the one who scores against us and by not working hard to get back you have become a liability which no one wants to be.

    I don’t think you want to break up that line. Doing the above or something similar improves Jankowski’s line and helps
    get the first line operational again. They have been highly successful in the past and there is so much going on all around them, they just need to concentrate and be where they are supposed to be, receive the puck and get it on target.
    They have been playing at relative speed all their lives. They just need to get back on track and everything will be fine.

  • Flamesfanforever

    I think both goalies have played great as of late and both give the team a chance to win. Whoever Peters pick to start I’m ok with. However I do see people seeing they got there favorite. I do agree Smith did flop twice against Vancouver but what about the 4 shots the beat Dave clean and rang off the post against Columbus? Gio also saved another goal. If it wasn’t for lucky big save Dave could of been pulled is last outting.

  • Honkydonk

    The smart move is to actually play smith in the first round. Smith eliminates our d from getting hit hard against the boards which will reduce injuries for later rounds.

    Remember Ferland against Vancouver? We want to avoid that and losing Gio

    • Meadowlark Lemon

      Valid point so long as Smith plays the puck conservatively. He makes a lot of people nervous. Edler knocking him on his keister might give him pause…

  • Al Rain

    We’re picking cute nicknames now? Whatever you guys land on don’t get too attached to it, Hathaway probably won’t even be a Flame in a few months.

    And what’s Sidney Crosby’s line’s nickname again?

  • Off the wall

    Yeah Lindholm is a dud.

    He’s 3rd on the team with a +30.
    2nd among forwards with blocks, has more hits than Giordano. He’s also 2nd in scoring among the Flames. Did we forget that?

    His GF per 60 at even strength is the highest on the entire team at 4.0 His GA per 60 is a very respectable 2.7. Sounds like he’s very good at being a defensive forward, he takes care of his responsibilities.

    All while having his best career season.
    Can we discuss something else?

    • HAL MacInnis

      He’s been very, very quiet for quite a while. It’s starting to feel unsettling.

      A player doesn’t get a pass because they’re sitting on a pile of points from before. At the very least, day in and day out, we need to see effort and chances created. If it weren’t for our 4th line… just sayin’.

      • Albertabeef

        @HAL you are hilarious. Okay so I’ll try to go slowly. Why is it if we keep another teams potent offence from scoring we say we played well defensively. If our first line gets shut down we say they played like crap, not the other team played well defensively against them. Why do you think this is?

        • HAL MacInnis

          “HAL you are hilarious. Okay so I’ll try to go slowly.”

          I just said Lindholm hasn’t been generating chances, like he used to. It’s been a while and I think it’s okay for fans to be concerned, is all. OTW believes that most of the concern is unwarranted, and I disagreed. If the 4th line wasn’t scoring, we’d all be more concerned about our 1st line. I never said that Lindholm was playing like crap though.

          People need to realize that if someone doesn’t quite agree with their point of view, it doesn’t mean that person is at the far end, on the opposite side of the spectrum.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    What is this feeling of joy I have at the end of the season? Excitement?? Anticipation??

    My body does not know how to react to knowing the season is ending……and the Flames are still 1st in the West

    Bring on the playoffs, GFG!!

      • Cfan in Van

        It’s the realization that there are few teams better this season, and expectation that comes with that. It’s a different feeling than the previous decade(s).

        • Albertabeef

          I have the same white knuckled optimism I always have come playoff time. I have experienced that placement in the standings does not give me more optimism because I know EVERY TEAM is vulnerable in the playoffs. Playoffs in the 90’s taught me that. I will be enjoying the ride no matter the length of run all the same though.

  • everton fc

    I am confident for the playoffs. Why? Our coaching staff. They’ve got us this far with no real production from our 3rd line, a bust free-agent signing who was suppose to score 20+ goals, one goalie who took over half the season to find himself, youth shuttled up and down, from Stockton…

    And we are first in the West by six points, as I type.

    Why?

    Coaching, and a group of players having career-years. We will be a dangerous playoff team. And we are very good on the road – critical for playoff success.

    • Albertabeef

      Our third line has put up third line totals, what’s the issue? Did anyone really expect 20+ goals from Neal, I didn’t. And I just love this comment “youth shuttled up and down, from Stockton…” God it’s really nice to have great depth in our club this season, isn’t it? What an awesome season!

  • Jobu

    Jobu can always tell when the top line is slumping by the number of goal line shots Johnny Hockey tries to make. Likely a result of the other guys not getting open for him. This includes the PP which has also been poorer of late.

    • Kevin R

      Top line seems to have lost their flow & lost their anticipation on the ice. They really should have a meeting just the 3 of them & discuss what had worked & what they are doing now that isnt working & what is being done to them by the opposition that they can counter & start trying things now.

  • The Flaming C

    I personally would do this
    Johnny-Mony-Lindy
    3M
    Benny-Janko-Neal
    Mangi-Ryan-Hath
    I would call up Lazar as an extra forward because he has some experience and Dube was putting himself in bad situations in his NHL stint and getting hit from behind a lot and he would really pay for it in the playoffs where they hit twice as hard twice as often as for D and goalies I would do
    Brodano
    Hanifin-Hamonic
    Stone-Andersson
    I only picked Stone because of experience and the fact he is a tougher player than the other D, I would also undoubtedly start Rittich, no debate