And, when you factor in context – the best team in the West against the worst, and when the best still has something to play for (first isn’t clinched yet) – it’d probably be fair to also say bad. The Flames have certainly looked better.
Feel of the game
The Kings scored early, which was… fine. Whatever. We’ve seen the Flames concede goals to lottery-bound teams before, but it hasn’t exactly stopped them over the course of 60 minutes. So why would it this time?
Well. The Flames blatantly outplayed the Kings, but it wasn’t a particularly meaningful kind of outplaying. That is to say: they got a lot of shots, but how many were dangerous? You congratulate Jack Campbell for a job well done, but he also didn’t have to do a ton to begin with. He had his glove side pretty well covered; the Flames kept going for it. He was, perhaps, busier watching the Flames pass to one another than he had to focus on stopping pucks himself. And when the Flames had a powerplay, Campbell had the luxury of mostly being able to watch as the Kings forced the Flames to chase.
And that was basically the entire game. There were spurts of the Flames actually looking dangerous (mostly powered by the 3M line), but for the most part, nothing happened. The Flames started slow, and by the time they were ready to do something, the Kings had little problems stymieing them. When they doubled their lead in the third period, even with more than enough time left for the Flames to catch up, you knew that was it. The empty net confirmed it.
The good news
During a game in which the Flames didn’t seem too inclined to play, one line really showed up: Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik. That trio was easily the most dangerous of the bunch, and consistently so. Their passes didn’t always connect – whatever was plaguing the rest of the group seeped into their games as well at times – but they stood out positively in what was, otherwise, a complete and total slog.
Didn’t mind the top pairing one bit, either. Mark Giordano giving it his all is always good to see, and TJ Brodie’s been really solid as of late.
Killing off a lengthy five-on-three? Always a good thing to do. Things had the potential to be much worse than they were. It even looked like, at one point, they were going to try to score during the five-on-three which, hey, you’ve gotta admire the commitment before traditionalism (and, perhaps, sanity) took over.
Goaltending did its best to help the team in a fruitless cause – fruitless because of the skaters in front.
The bad news
The Flames were credited with 42 shots, which is cool and all, but they rarely, if ever, actually seemed like they were scoring chances. There were a couple in there, for sure, but outshooting an opponent 42-20 sounds like it should be dominant and it just never really felt that way. Grumbling about the bottom six is petty – they’re the bottom six for a reason – but the top line is a whole other story in and of itself. One that – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – needs to get going. Occasionally Johnny Gaudreau seemed primed to try to do everything himself but never really got that deep in the offensive zone to do it, occasionally the top line seemed to connect on a passing play and a shot would go off, but the Flames needed one of the highest scoring lines in hockey to do something and they just were not doing it. At all.
The powerplay was particularly miserable. It took too many chances for them to actually get set up, and once they did, it was mostly just a whole lot of passing with no actual shooting. It has now been 18 straight powerplays without a goal. A decent powerplay is going to score about a fifth of the time; it has been over two weeks. They’ve scored two powerplay goals in the month of March.
Two penalties in his second game back is probably not the return James Neal had in mind for himself, but alas. There were far worse problems than his play, but he’s still one that’s going to get watched a little more closely since this has been a poor season (albeit with an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage) and his return has yet to actually do something for the lineup.
Numbers of note
71.59% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. Sure, they outplayed the Kings, and noticeably so, but that was about it.
10-6 – Switch to all situations, and via Natural Stat Trick, the Flames had 10 total high-danger corsi events to the Flames’ six. (At 5v5, the Flames had eight – so they got just two high-danger corsi events out of four powerplays. Wow.)
90.91% – Brodie’s corsi for, at 5v5. A grand total of two corsi events went against him. A lot of Flames had high ratings, but his really stood out.
13, 4 – The disparity between the second and first lines: Frolik is credited as being on the ice for 13 high-danger corsi events at 5v5; for Gaudreau, just four. One line was working, one was not, and the numbers back it up.
7 – Backlund led the way with seven shots on net. Giordano was second with six shots. The ones that were going for it were obvious, at least (possibly further in part because there was so few of them).
19:20 – So it’s probably not a surprise that Backlund led all Flames forwards in ice time (19:20) and at just 5v5 (14:39). Frolik and Tkachuk had the second and third highest forward 5v5 ice times, too.
20.4% – The Flames have gone from having a top 10 powerplay to 14th in the NHL.
5 – The Flames have now been shut out five times this season, and for the second time in just under three weeks. They were previously shut out twice in December, and once in late November.
So the Flames had a bad game. It happens. The entire season hasn’t been washed away, they’re still very likely to be the first place team in the Western Conference, and they still have just as good a shot at making some noise in the playoffs as they did when they were beating up other teams 5-1 or 9-4 or whatever. There’s no “well at least they got that out of the way,” there’s no “this team is a lazy disgrace” – they’re just a good team that had a bad game.
Though it would be great if the top line consistently got things going again. If there was any one red flag earlier in the season – if there’s any one overarching concern now – it’s that. It didn’t change with Monday night’s game, just as it hasn’t changed much as of late.