Canucks 4, Flames 2: Ruzicka nets first point in penultimate game

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
1 year ago
Only two weeks left before the draft lottery!
The Calgary Flames currently possess 6.3% odds of having their first-round selection upgraded into the top two at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. There’s a 3.0% chance they receive the first pick. (Editor’s note: We’re presuming the odds aren’t too much different than 2020’s; the league hasn’t announced the 2021 odds yet.)
Sam Bennett, the Flames’ highest-ever draft pick since relocating to Calgary in 1980, was selected fourth overall by the club in 2014. With an intriguing array of talent at multiple positions available in this year’s draft, the Flames would undoubtedly relish the chance to move up.
For now, they’re still jockeying for their lottery positioning. With a win over the Canucks on Wednesday, the Flames would tie the Chicago Blackhawks with 55 points and would pass them in the standings on a wins tiebreaker.
If that were to occur, the Flames’ lottery odds would drop to 2.0% of receiving the first pick and 4.2% of making it into the top two. The Flames would receive the 11th-overall pick (pending the lottery) if the season were to end today; with a win over Vancouver on Wednesday, they would drop to 12th.
In short: I would forgive you if, on Wednesday afternoon, you chose to endlessly refresh Tankathon instead of watching two lottery teams playing a meaningless regular-season game during the playoffs.
Tuesday’s contest featured a relatively strong start by the Canucks before Thatcher Demko took over and largely stymied the Flames’ attack.
Calgary goaltender Louis Domingue, making his first NHL start in over a year, made 20 saves on 23 shots. None of the goals he allowed were bad, per se, and he certainly could have returned to the top level in poorer form.
Tyler Myers scored twice for the Canucks but only received credit for one of his goals. After having one taken away by an offside review in the second period, Myers came right back in the final frame and dipsy-doodled through the Flames’ zone before firing an accurate wrister past Domingue.
Myers victimized Flames defenseman Nikita Nesterov en route to his sixth goal of the season. Nesterov returned to the Flames’ lineup after sitting out of Sunday’s game and was awful, being victimized on all three Canucks non-empty net goals and posting an abysmal -22.47 relative expected goals percentage at even strength.
Flames head coach Darryl Sutter inexplicably chose to dress Nesterov and Michael Stone in the meaningless game instead of Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington, both of whom have been inconsistent this year but potentially have long-term futures in the NHL.
While Stone has experienced a minor renaissance with the Flames this year, Nesterov has fallen far short of expectations during his second tenure in the NHL and has been one of Calgary’s most ineffective players for the entire season. Stone might return to the Flames on a one-year deal; Nesterov will almost assuredly be permitted to leave.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Nesterov has accumulated a minus-1.6 Goals Above Replacement (GAR) figure in 37 games with the Flames this season. That’s the second-worst mark on the entire team. Kylington has posted 0.3 GAR in eight games; Valimaki, 3.4 in 48.
At least Kylington and Valimaki have played. Matthew Phillips, the co-leading scorer for the Stockton Heat in 2020–21, has yet to make his NHL debut despite skating with the team since Stockton’s season finale.
Adam Ruzicka, Phillips’ most common linemate, has played in each of the Flames’ previous two games and has averaged exactly 10:00 per night. He registered his first NHL point on Tuesday with an assist on Andrew Mangiapane’s goal.
This decision could be summed up as “baffling.” In terms of GAR, Simon and Ritchie have both been negative-value players for the Flames this season. Ritchie’s -5.2 total GAR ranks as the 12th-worst in the entire NHL.
Why are the Flames insisting on continuing to play these veterans in completely pointless games? At this point, there is absolutely nothing to lose by giving Phillips, Kylington, Valimaki, Artyom Zagidulin, and Glenn Gawdin more reps in the NHL. (Editor’s note: Darryl Sutter was asked about his decision-making regarding Phillips specifically and he provided an answer that referenced roster and cap restrictions that, to our best knowledge, don’t exist now that the AHL season is over.)
For any young player breaking into the NHL, experience at the top level—regardless of any playoff implications present—constitutes a massive learning opportunity in basically every facet of the game.
What do the Flames have to learn by continually dressing low-upside veteran players? Ritchie has now played 30 games this season. Joakim Nordstrom, who played Tuesday’s contest on the second line (!!!), has exactly one goal in 42 games. Even Simon is now up to the double digits and has zero points.
It all just makes very little sense. The Flames should have been consistently playing the kids months ago. Failing to do so now, when the team is firmly entrenched on the outside, is nothing short of unfathomable.

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