The road trip is over, and that’s a relief cause it did not look pretty. Even with the CBA-mandated day off today, the Flames need to take time to regroup at home and ask some tough questions. Namely: what’s up with the start of their season?
Feel of the game
On the bright side, this game was markedly better than the one which took place 24 hours prior. It would have been hard to have a worse game, but baby steps. Martin Jones actually had to make a difference in this one, which hasn’t really been the case for any opposition goalies six games into this season. It’s not a stretch to say that the Flames probably looked the best they did on this short three-game road trip, even acknowledging they won in Dallas.
It also highlighted the fact that this team is not working as a unit, and keep relying on a handful of (usually the same) players on any given night to get the win. Last night, the 3M line led – by Mikael Backlund – did nearly all of the heavy lifting. It’s not a good sign when one line outshoots the other three lines combined. The lack of production from the bottom six isn’t just a talking point anymore, it’s beginning to grow into a major concern.
It was also a bit of a snoozer. There was a moment in the third where Sean Monahan took a shot that had barely any chance of going in, and Jones swallowed it up, and it was obvious that the Flames were done. Perhaps it was just the fact that it was their third road game in four nights. Perhaps they are also frustrated with what they’ve seen this season. The question late in the game though was clearly not if the Flames were going to tie it up, it was whether or not the Sharks were going to score when Cam Talbot got pulled.
This team has yet to truly find its stride, and until they do, these nights are going to start feeling a lot longer.
The good news
It’s worth mentioning off the top: Cam Talbot didn’t look half bad. Yes, his calling card last season was letting in a goal on the first shot of the game, but at least this one was a wacky one that didn’t really reflect on him. Kevin Labanc’s shot was a gorgeous one that got past him, and he probably cheated a little bit too much on the shorthanded goal, but he also made a lot of saves on plays I was gearing up to expect the worst. If he can build off that, then the Flames could end up getting fairly decent goaltending for the season at a combined rate of $5.5 million.
Even though it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada, it was the Swedes giving me things to be thankful for. Backlund looks fully healed from his minor injury from the start of the season, and wants to drag the Flames through their early funk single-handedly. He led the Flames last night in scoring chances with five, as well as high-danger scoring chances. The only other Flames player who was credited with a high-danger scoring chance at 5v5? Fellow Swede Rasmus Andersson, who keeps looking better and better. Also, Elias Lindholm scored Calgary’s only goal, which is considered a good thing in the game of hockey.
They outshot their opponent for a second straight game after trailing in that category for the first four games. Shots are good.
Also, the Flames only took two penalties, which is a reasonable and normal amount to take in a game. They were also able to kill off both those penalties, although it helps that both of them coincided with San Jose taking a penalty and turning part of the penalty into 4v4. It’s a shame that Backlund and Andersson were the ones penalized though, as the Flames were a lot better with them on the ice last night rather than in the box.
Milan Lucic was a perfect one-for-one in the face-off circle so we can now safely call the trade a win.
The bad news
The Flames never really felt in this one, and kept playing to get the bounces instead of creating chances with the talent they have.
The bottom six is not doing the Flames any favours. In particular last night, I thought that the line of Andrew Mangiapane-Derek Ryan-Tobias Rieder struggled. Mangiapane had some great flashes here and there, but nowhere near as good as alongside Backlund and Tkachuk.
That’s the first time in a long time that Jones has looked like a strong goalie, and it reminded me of the stretch late in the 2017-18 season where the Flames made any goalie they played against look like a Vezina contender by throwing 30+ shots on net and having very little to show for it. It’s way too early in the season for that.
For a team that publicly got called out by their coach for needing to develop a work ethic, this was not the response I think Bill Peters was looking for. Even when they seemed poised to do some damage, they got cutesy instead of working hard at the basics. The instance where this really stands out is the two-on-one where Giordano should have shot instead of miffing a pass to Backlund.
Two games after Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic really stood out for all the right reasons, their game against San Jose felt like the exact opposite.
It’s frustrating to have to rely on just picking things apart, but until the Flames start performing like a team, it’s just going to be calling out things one-by-one until the basics are mastered.
Numbers of note
2 – The number of shots the Flames had on their four power play opportunities. Granted, that’s twice shots that the Sharks had during the Flames’ power plays, but they actually scored on their shot.
15% – The Flames power play percentage after failing to convert on their last nine opportunities. It ranks 21st in the league, aided by four (!!!) teams still searching for their first powerplay goal.
2:09:30 – Time spent trailing by the Flames this season. They rank second in that category, ironically to the Sharks who cut the distance between the two teams last night.
8:22 – The ice time of Austin Czarnik, the only Flame held under 10:00 minutes.
The Flames are in the midst of a whirlwind October. Between now and November 9, they only have one break of two days between games. They don’t have the physical time to regroup, but hopefully, they nail down some of the aspects their game has been lacking before then, or else this season will end up feeling as long as last night’s game did.