Alright, let’s do this one last time: playoffs. Playoff lineups. As far as we know, the Flames are mostly healthy, if not entirely, and that gives them a lot of options and a lot of depth. Let’s go.
Three lines appear to be set for the Flames, as they have been for most of the season:
It’s the first two that are especially meaningful: one of the NHL’s highest scoring lines, and another that can put up points – at least half a point per game, at that – while being a great shutdown unit.
The Derek Ryan line is a little weird, though, because in theory it could potentially be improved upon – Garnet Hathaway has an abnormally high shooting percentage this year, an indication that he probably isn’t as good at scoring as his surface numbers look, and Andrew Mangiapane is a rookie – but that trio has been clicking so well the past couple of weeks that splitting them up now seems nonsensical.
That leaves a couple of players in the lurch: Sam Bennett, Austin Czarnik, Mark Jankowski, and James Neal, specifically, with potentially open slots for Alan Quine (the current extra forward), Curtis Lazar (a previous recall), and Dillon Dube (started the year in the NHL, didn’t do half bad, and now has fantastic numbers in the AHL).
Out of that group, I think there are only two players who are pretty much guaranteed to dress regularly: Jankowski and Neal. Jankowski is almost certainly the best centre of the remaining bunch at this time. Neal, meanwhile, was never going to be sat, even if he hadn’t started looking much better as of late: he’s one of the most experienced forwards the Flames have, especially in the playoffs, and still has raw scoring potential.
Czarnik has made a home for himself in the lineup as a regular due to injuries, though. Bennett, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to live up to drafting expectations, but still on occasion has those games in which he looks like someone who was taken fourth overall – but the possibility that he’s injured (and/or coming off of an injury that’s held him out of several games towards the end of the regular season) could see him sitting.
So, as for the what would you do questions: would you leave the fourth line intact, knowing how well they’ve been playing as of late, or would you want to see if it can be improved on? Everyone being healthy, would you take Bennett or Czarnik? In case of further injury, which forward would you most prefer to see suit up next? And how much of a leash should rookies like Mangiapane and potentially Dube get when the games really, really matter?
We know five of the six players who will be dressing: Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Noah Hanifin, Travis Hamonic, and Rasmus Andersson.
We don’t know who will fill in on the bottom pairing: Oscar Fantenberg, Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington, Michael Stone, or Dalton Prout.
The Flames specifically traded for Fantenberg, Valimaki and Kylington are promising rookies, Stone has the biggest contract of the bunch but has also missed a substantial amount of time, and Prout has spent most of the season as a seventh defenceman.
In all likelihood, whoever is the sixth defenceman is going to get the least amount of ice time, no powerplay time, and potentially some penalty kill time. They’re also likely to be sheltered: via Natural Stat Trick, every single one of them has an offensive zone start over 60% at 5v5 for the Flames this season, with Valimaki getting by far the highest ground at 69.62%. Fantenberg has the highest CF at 57.91% while Kylington has the lowest – and only sub-50 – at 48.74% (though Valimaki is only at a 50.53% himself).
In terms of offence, Stone has the highest points/60 at 5v5 at 1.36, but that’s mostly due to four assists back in October before Andersson established himself as a full-time NHLer. Kylington, at 1.06 points/60, is the next most likely to score; Fantenberg’s 0.32 has him at the lowest, but at 14:21 5v5 minutes per game, he’s also gotten the most minutes.
There’s two parts to the what would you do section for defencemen: would you play Brodie on the top pairing with Giordano, or Andersson? And who would you have as the sixth defenceman, drawing in alongside Brodie or Andersson – with the understanding that Brodie is more likely able to play both sides?
With the regular season just about over, the Flames are 18th in 5v5 team save percentage at 0.919%. The difference between their two goalies has been stark, though: David Rittich has a 5v5 save percentage of 0.930%, and at high danger, he’s a 0.850% guy. Mike Smith, meanwhile, has a 5v5 save percentage of 0.906%, and at high danger, 0.813%.
Since March, both goalies have started eight games each. Smith has faced off against two (possibly three) playoff-caliber opponents (Winnipeg and San Jose, with the faintest of hopes still present for Arizona), while Rittich has started four or five games against teams that will be in the playoffs (Toronto, Vegas twice, Dallas, and possibly Columbus). Smith’s all situations save percentage against lower quality opponents in that time is 0.902%; while Rittich, playing against higher quality opponents, has registered a 0.904%.
So, what would you do: who would you start in Game 1? And how long of a leash would you give him?