Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche 5, Flames 1 post-Game 5 embers: Outplayed

The Flames’ 2017-18 season ended unceremoniously because, in part, it seemed that every time the team encountered adversity, they’d immediately fold. In 2018-19, that aspect of their game appeared to be largely absent, but for a few moments at the start of the season – and for pretty much all five games of the playoffs.

There is, of course, still work to be done.

Feel of the game

The Flames were just never really in it. When the Avalanche were in the offensive zone, they attacked, they forced turnovers, they created legitimate scoring chances. The Flames did that on occasion as well, but for the most part, when they were in the offensive zone they were meek, they played a perimeter game, and they just did not threaten: the same as it was through most of the series, but especially during their four straight losses.

Not that Johnny Gaudreau wasn’t trying. The effort from him was obvious, Sam Bennett performing well as a complementary player, but there’s only so much one person can do. Springing Gaudreau on multiple breakaways was all well and good, and maybe could have changed the direction of the game – especially when the Avalanche’s second goal came right after Gaudreau missed his shot – but, for all his offensive skill, it isn’t exactly an area he thrives in.

Things were pretty far cemented as hopeless, though. Even when TJ Brodie, in the dying seconds of the first period, hauled ass and did a lot to create his own goal to make it a one-goal game, it didn’t necessarily feel like the Flames were going to come back. In theory, that would have been huge going into the locker room, but in practice, the Flames couldn’t do anything with it. They couldn’t score on an early second period powerplay, they couldn’t get it out of their own zone, the Avalanche made them pay for it again. Gaudreau’s goal was disallowed. The Avalanche scored again. It was over. They scored again to start the third period. It was really over.

There have been times – not as common this season as last, but still, times – in which the Flames have dominated a game early, not gotten a goal, and fallen behind. The Flames didn’t dominate, though they also maybe didn’t get that one bounce that would have gotten them on the board. And then they were scored against. And then they’d give up.

That was the series.

The good news

This was Gaudreau’s game. He was trying to score. If there’s one forward you’d want to have the game on his stick, it was him; he had it. The effort had mostly been there in previous games, as well – at least before things got so out of hand every skater just gave up – but he didn’t have the linemates to keep up with him, and so, chances died. Bennett helped rectify that somewhat. This game, though, was Gaudreau finding that little extra gear, still trying to do it all while everyone else he knew was struggling offensively, and just not being able to do it. But it was a really good effort – and that’s kind of the baseline for praise in this series. Have a really good effort.

Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki are going to make a great defence pairing. I’m still in awe of how much Andersson stepped up over the season. He’s already a leader on defence. He’s 22.

The Flames did not buy at the trade deadline (part of the reason why Valimaki should have several great seasons for them coming up). They did not go all in. This was not a wasted season. It was a disappointing one, yes – but, the assumption that age will actually catch up to Mark Giordano over a sustained period of time aside, the door is still wide open for the future.

The bad news

If I’m going to credit Gaudreau for trying to get something done but discredit his linemates for not playing on his level, then Sean Monahan has to go in this section. Bobbling a pass that turned into a good scoring chance (albeit not one from Gaudreau) aside, he just couldn’t keep up. He’s still obviously a good player, but he was so consistently behind the play all series long, and he just wasn’t helping. The Flames’ top players were all disappointments, really, but when he’s the one who’s been paired with Gaudreau for almost the entirety of their careers to date and he can’t keep up with him, well, it’s certainly not good.

Though, once again, aside from a few bright spots here and there, this was a team-wide failure, just as it was in all of their losses. This team was not prepared for the playoffs. Whether it was due to going cold at exactly the wrong time, a matter of buying into their own first seed hype and underestimating their opponent, or just genuinely not being good enough, they were not ready to play. After their Game 1 win, I held an assumption that they could have been better, but also that they would be: the top players didn’t necessarily do their jobs that game, but their defensive and depth guys did, and that early series lead would help them figure it out. From Game 2 onward, it was apparent that was not the case. They played poorly, consistently so, and that was the series.

Numbers of note

49.38% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. The telling number is their 38.46% first period CF. They got off to a bad start, Mike Smith stopped being otherworldly, and that was really all it took to sink them.

5 – Elias Lindholm actually led the way for the Flames in shots, though Gaudreau followed up with four of his own. Monahan had, uh, one. So did Matthew Tkachuk. To round out the 70+ point players, Giordano had three.

5:00 – Austin Czarnik replaced James Neal in the lineup. He played five minutes. Neal, in the final game of his disappointing first season with the Flames, was healthy scratched for a guy who played five minutes. So that’s going to be looked at. He’s under contract for another four seasons to come.

9:33, 9:35 – Mark Jankowski and Michael Frolik’s ice times. Fair, since Derek Ryan has proved himself better than Jankowski over the course of the season. Frolik, on the other hand, rebounded from one of the worst seasons of his career to put up respectable numbers, all the while fighting with Bill Peters to stay out of the press box or get off of the fourth line. So… that never really ended.

20:29 – After Giordano and TJ Brodie, Andersson had the third highest ice time among all Flames defencemen. I’m so excited to see where his career goes from here.

Final thought

The season was great; the postseason was a flop. There were a handful of bright, individual moments; they all meant nothing. The Flames are spared by the Lightning from having the most embarrassing flaring out of the playoffs, though, and they’re still a team on the upswing.

This was a pathetic showing, but it was far less pathetic than 2017-18. Progress is not always linear. They’ll be fine.

  • Skylardog

    Good morning to all and I hope you are all having a great Easter weekend!

    Thank you Flames for a great season. The excitement level was high for most of the season, and on a positive note, Mrs. Sky is feeling quite certain that things will now get done around the house. Spring clean up is in the air.

    The problem I have with this all, is that it didn’t have to be this way. This is a team that had some serious potential to go deep, but the lack of understanding from the men that ice the team, of what it takes to win in the playoffs, is most concerning.

    We learned nothing about any of the areas for which we have lingering questions. On the forefront of that thought, is the nagging question: “What is David Rittich?” He was our best goalie this season, yet took a backup role when it mattered most. Mistakes will be made in the offseason because we did not get answers. Before Smith is signed, (and he shouldn’t be, he was one of the worst NHL goalies for most of the regular season), you had best go look at San Jose’s predicament. They got stuck with a guy that once had it but has lost it. We can’t be that team next season.

    While Smith was amazing in the playoffs, his form was at times brutal. His 5 game stint will not be repeated again. The mechanics just aren’t there. He was not good enough last night. We so needed a save late in period one. You have to make yourself big in the net to take away that deflection.

    All for the want of a deadline deal for a top 6 forward. Just the one player, that could help us score one regulation goal in games 2 and 4, and we are still in this with a series lead.

    Fact is, the Flames faithful deserved that deadline deal. Season ticket holders definitely deserved that deadline deal. Businesses in the city that were excited to see a run and what it could do for their bottom line, deserved that deadline deal. The guys in the room, that had put in an amazing season, deserved that deadline deal, as a way of saying, “You are close, and I believe you can win a Stanley Cup, and here is a piece added to your roster to help you guys get there.”

    When you make your top line better, by default, you also make your second line and bottom six better.

    I am sorry Mr. Treliving. Your lack of activity on February 25th and the days leading up to the biggest work day of the year for you was a shameful dereliction of duties. You had a responsibility to the team, the players, and the community to make a difference on that day.

    All you did was get a redundant bottom level defenseman that has some game, but quite frankly we have no spot for.

    I will now go out and wash the yellow paint off the red truck parked out front, and remove the flags that adorn its windows and tailgate. The Easter Bunny better hope he is not in my path on the way as I am looking for something to stomp on.

    • cberg

      No, can’t agree with either. Smith was probably Calgary’s best playoff performer. Rittich will get his chance next year to be the guy. Secondly, getting Stone may have been a great boost to the team (and probably only him), giving up Valimaki for Stone in the playoffs, is too steep a price, as is giving up Tkachuk if Stone re-signed with the Flames….. This group likely was not going to win it all regardless.

      • Skylardog

        Where does it say get Stone? I floated that idea weeks before the deadline, but iced it about 4 days later when I did the math. I consistently asked for a top line center, and there were some available. There were also some that could have been pried away from where they were if the price was right.

        As for goalies, you say Ritter will get his chance next season, but also say Smith should be back. Sorry, those two things you mention are not possible together. You either sign Smith and Ritter takes a back seat again, or you move on from Smith, with Ritter and someone else. My point here, is that we have no clue what Ritter is. Is he a playoff goalie? Is he a backup? Is he a 1A or a 1B?

        I never said Vali for anyone ever…

        • The OG

          This wasn’t the year for the Flames to make a big splash at the deadline, especially when you consider the acquisition costs of key players. If they did acquire a top line player, it’s true, they may still be playing but honestly don’t think 1 player would save the Flames in this series. They were outplayed in all 5 games and simply didn’t deserve to win any of them.

          This series has highlighted the need to have a true #1 center – on a cup favourite team Monahan would be on the 2nd line, Backlund on the 3rd. That type of acquisition is best saved for the offseason IMO. That being said, I have no idea what BT could offer to even begin that discussion.

          The bright spot of this year is that the future is bright, particularly for the blue line. Valimaki, Rasmussen and Kylington (to a lesser degree) look outstanding and will be a treat to have for years to come. Throw in middle 6 contributions by Dube and Mange, suddenly there is some upside. In a couple of years when Vali and Ras reach a more dominant level is when the Flames should go all in. Thankfully BT saw this team for what they were – imagine if he traded for a big player and still lost in round 1.

          • Skylardog

            To some extent I agree. The problem with doing nothing, is that you are not moving the team forward during one of 3 times in the season a GM has an opportunity to make his team better.

            I ALWAYS said in the weeks leading up to the TDL, only make moves for players that can be signed for next season.

            What we will now find, is that the guys we need to move out to create the cap space for next season are almost unmovable. Players like Frolik, our Stone, and Brodie are not desirable for teams in the summer. These are guys that ONLY have value at the TDL as teams add depth for a playoff run. In the summer, deals are made to build teams long term. None of our guys we need to move out, fit that bill.

            If we can’t move Brodie, Frolik, or Stone, we may find it very difficult to sign Ritter, Bennett, and Tkachuk without affecting our ability to get another goalie. Cap is that tight.

            And yes, a top 6 guy up front does make a difference. It makes the entire lineup more difficult to defend. One more top six guy, and Neal sits after game 1. That alone is probably enough to make this at least a 3-2 Flames series lead heading into game 6.

          • Skylardog

            And I think you are wrong on what BT saw. He made no move because he thought he had done enough and that the team was good enough to win at least a round and likely 2 or more.

            Making a deal and not getting it register on time? That just can’t happen at a professional level.

          • Derzie

            It’s not about ‘big splash’, it’s about improving the team. Everyone’s mind leaps to the biggest trade possible. There were lots of doable options out there (Dzingel, Zucker, etc.) Treliving blew it and revisionist history prevailed. ‘Good enough’ was an incorrect assessment. And the whole Zucker thing sounds on par with the Feaster/O’Reilly fiasco.

        • Day1-Cfan

          Yes what is Rittich, he never was given one lousy minute in the post season. He deserved at the very least a game.
          All over but the crying this year.
          GFG 2020!!

        • The OG

          This is a reply to your most recent post, I can’t reply directly to it given the website functionality.

          For you and I to speculate on why BT made no moves is pointless, we really don’t know his logic in late February.

          I don’t agree that Brodie and Frolik are not trade-able. Frolik is one of the better middle 6 shut down players in the NHL and put up pretty good points for his role in the regular season (too lazy to look up exact points). Brodie is a high risk, high reward player who has value to someone. He’s likely better on a 2nd line but his salary is inline with players in these positions. Brodie should be traded because they have better rookie options to replace him.

          I’m not saying either player will elicit a massive return. They will acquire some assets for them tho.

          Stone hasn’t been move-able since he signed that terrible contract was signed. Throw in the blood clot and now you have to wait that one out.

        • cberg

          Skylardog, first off, how about we try to keep to the actual comments? I did not suggest above we keep Smith next year. To me, he is done, it is time to move on. Secondly you mention a Top6 forward above, and now changed that to a Top Line Centre. Which is it? They are way different. I suggested Stone as the best of the available rental players as being too expensive, as a discussion point of TDL pick-ups also noting the issues re rentals and re-signings. As far as Top line centres go, the only one I recall available was Duchene and as a rental giving up one of our top young D seems too pricey. Now that our playoffs are over and the needs have been proven, BT can look to trades or signings to restructure the team without disrupting what was a great group and season.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I think it is safe to say that getting Rittich into a playoff game would help the organization advance more than having Smith play one more game to try a secure a contract. Smith was great this playoff but easily should have stopped 3 of the goals last night.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      I didn’t have a problem with Tre not trying to hit a tater during TDL. He gambled and lost. Now he has a clear picture of who should Flame on and who should Flame out.

      The Islanders were the other surprising team that did nothing on TDL, yet with what most of us would consider an inferior roster to the Flames, they impaled the Penguins.

    • Vernon30

      I agree that Smith played well and competed hard, but I’ll argue that the Flames could have been a better team with Rittich in net. They had swagger during the year with him in goal, different energy. I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but watching a game with BSD in net vs a game with Smith, the players just seemed to have a different energy. I like BSD, and I think he’ll be a possible starter next year.

      • Derzie

        Agreed. Smith seems like a ‘I’ll only play well when it matters’ guy. And he also comes across as a pushy leader. Old school motivation. BSD seems more like a teammate. Does his job and lets that inspire the troops. If Smith stays, that’s a mistake. Time to move on.