Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Best in the NHL, Glencross' Ranking in Team History, and more...

It's edition seven of a content feature I started this season called Eight from 80 Feet, which I cobble together every couple of weeks.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, recaps, statistics, analysis and maybe an opinion or prediction mixed in too, it's a round-up of eight random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.

1. Ramo's Road Wizardry

Karri Ramo has been the NHL's best goaltender on the road this season. By that, I don't mean one of the best. I'm talking the best. That is, if you put stock in goals-against average or more importantly for me -- save percentage. As of this morning, Ramo leads the NHL in both categories.

Goals-Against Average - On the Road (minimum of 10 games)

1. Karri Ramo CGY, 1.86 
2. Carey Price MTL, 1.93
3. Corey Crawford CHI, 1.94
4. Henrik Lundqvist NYR, 2.05
5. Brian Elliott STL, 2.18

Save Percentage - On the Road (minimum of 10 games)

1. Karri Ramo CGY, .937
2. Carey Price MTL, .935
3. Corey Crawford CHI, .931
4. Curtis McElhinney CBJ, .928
5. Henrik Lundqvist NYR, .928

Ramo's success away from the Saddledome this year included back-to-back shutouts in November when he blanked San Jose and Arizona -- the first Flames goalie to post consecutive road shutouts since Mike Vernon in December 1992. That was part of a six-game winning streak overall for Ramo that included a shutout streak of 142:59, which came just over 21 minutes shy of Vernon's team record.

It's been a topsy turvy season for the pending unrestricted free agent. After getting pulled on a start on December 16 after allowing four goals on 13 shots against the New York Rangers, a combination of his own injury and Jonas Hiller's hot play resulted in Ramo making just one start in the next two months and that was on January 7, a game in which he got injured halfway through the game in a collision with Raphael Diaz.

But after Jonas Hiller got lit up for four third period goals in a blown third period lead in the finale of the most recent homestand, it was back to Ramo again to start this important seven-game road trip and what a trip he's having. In three games, he's fashioned a tidy 1.02 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage. The only number that doesn't look good is two losses out of three games and that's hardly his fault.

Many will argue his mastery on the road is merely fluke and that might very well be the case. After all, this is the same guy that is ranked near the bottom of the NHL at home.
  • Home Goals-Against Average - 3.01, ranked 38th out of 43
  • Home Save Percentage - .891, ranked 41st out of 43 (only ahead of Minnesota's Darcy Kuemper and Arizona's Mike Smith)

Now those home/road splits are extreme. Whether it's nothing but co-incidence (last year his SV% was .916 at home, .908 on the road) or your have your own theory -- perhaps the Finn's easy-going attitude caters to him playing well in the hostility of opposition arenas, the bottom line is he's giving the Flames all they can ask for in net at the moment.

When the road trip resumes on Tuesday, it will surely be with Ramo back between the pipes once again. That is, if he's not traded. While once looking like a real possibility, the reality is the odds of him being dealt dropped significantly with the injury to Joni Ortio last weekend, who will miss up to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.

More than will Ramo get traded, maybe the more pertinent question to ask now is do the Flames re-sign him? At 28, Ramo is four years younger than Hiller. Hiller has one year left on his contract but that's not to say Calgary can't try and trade Hiller this summer. Credit to Ramo for changing the topic of the conversations being had about him.

2. Glencross' Last Stand

Was Friday night in Long Island the last time we see Curtis Glencross put on a Flames jersey? You'd think so. Between his age - 32, frustrations with how he's been used this season by the coach -- the same coach that earlier in the year signed an extension, and with the kind of money he's looking for in free agency, it seems like a certainty Glencross will not be re-signing with Calgary.

The organization blew an opportunity last year to move Mike Cammalleri and lost an asset for nothing. It would be lousy management to mishandle your most tradable pending UFA again this season. Especially with the prices teams are getting right now. If you can get a second round pick, you absolutely have to do it and if you have to settle for a high third, same thing. 

If this is the end for the Flames No. 20, here is where Glencross finishes in his Calgary career. Added in for context is closest non-active player above/below him on those lists: 
  • 418 games - 18th (7 behind Robert Reichel, 2 more than Colin Patterson)
  • 114 goals - 15th (9 behind Daymond Langkow, 5 more than Cory Stillman)
  • 242 points - 23rd (4 behind Jamie Macoun, 4 more than Phil Housley)
  • 290 penalty minutes - 39th (2 behind Bob Boughner, 2 more than Doug Gilmour)
  • 22 PP Goals - 28th (4 behind Kristian Huselius/Sergei Makarov, 1 more than Marc Savard)
  • 8 SH Goals - 9th (tied with Jim Peplinski, Cory Stillman and German Titov)
  • 18 GW Goals - 15th (1 behind Mike Cammalleri, 1 more than Hakan Loob/Matthew Lombardi)

Maybe general manager Brad Treliving doesn't get what he's asking for with Glencross and he stays with the team the rest of the season and helps them in their chase for a playoff spot. But you get the sense the two sides have already moved on and a deal in the next 48 hours is inevitable.

If so, does Glencross leave a void in the Flames line-up? Absolutely. Scored a nice goal the other night in New Jersey and even had his first fight in nearly three years. But if there is one place where the Flames have decent depth, it's at forward.  When he missed nine games recently, Calgary went 6-3-0 during that time.

So if this is it, you thank Glencross for his loyal years of service in a Flames uniform. He wore a letter, was a big part of the community, and you wish him well. With only six post-season games on his resume, you know he's starving for a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and he deserves that.

3. Johnny B. Tired?

The rigors of NHL travel should not be confused with the rigors of normal travel for you or I. Nor the rigors of riding the buses in the minor leagues. Being fast-tracked through airports and whisked onto chartered airplanes amounts to far less wear and tear and fatigue than the old days when teams used to fly commercial.

Nonetheless, travel or no travel, the grind of being an NHL player is not easy, especially when you get into March. The bumps and bruises add up, the frequency of games picks up, the stakes in those games increase. The physical fatigue goes up, as does the mental fatigue.

This brings us to this east coast road trip for Johnny Gaudreau. He's already in new territory when it comes to the amount of hockey he's played this year.

Last Season - 49 games
  • 40 at Boston College (including exhibitions)
  • 1 in the NHL
  • 8 at the IIHF World Championships

This Season - 70 games
  • 3 in Penticton at the Young Stars tournament
  • 6 in the NHL preseason
  • 61 so far in the NHL regular season

Gaudreau has not admitted that he's getting tired but it's only natural that he would be. This is way more games than he's ever played in a single season and much more than he has been used to lately. If you go even further back, he topped out at 60 games in his one year in the USHL.

2010-11 - 60 games - Dubuque (USHL)
2011-12 - 44 games - Boston College 
2012-13 - 42 games - 35 with Boston College, 7 at the IIHF World Juniors

Add in the fact that he's got such a slight frame at around 150 pounds, and that teams -- especially the California teams lately, have been far more physical against him, and adding in the pressure of the playoff race and his own mental fatigue of not contributing as much offensively as you know he wants to -- no goals in his last 14 games and just seven assists in that span, and it can wear a guy down.

Is it just coincidence that Gaudreau has taken 10 penalty minutes in the last six games after no penalties in his first 55 games? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Let's not forget that the all-star break was also not a break at all -- flying to across the country to Columbus and all the events and commitments (and filming of VISA commercials) that went with that weekend.

He'll get accustomed to the NHL grind as he gets older for sure. Next year will be better, the year after even more so. But you can't just flick a switch. Knowing that he could be at over 90 games by the time the regular season ends, you have to think that if the Flames miss the playoffs, this might be a year Gaudreau politely says 'no thanks' should Team USA come calling again for the World Championships.

Meanwhile, this three-day break for the Flames is coming at a good time and perhaps some home cooking will recharge Gaudreau for the final six weeks as Calgary's struggling offence really needs him.

4. Wishing for Wotherspoon

Frankly, I was baffled that Tyler Wotherspoon did not play Friday night against the Islanders with Mark Giordano not able to go. Instead, Corey Potter -- who had played six hockey games in the previous 76 days -- was inserted and played 7:47, the least of the Flames six defencemen.

It's not like Bob Hartley has ever hesitated before in inserting a guy into the line-up. Heck, on Tuesday, Emile Poirier -- after one game-day skate, was injected straight into Calgary's line-up to play instead of Brandon Bollig. Wotherspoon could most definitely have done the same. He had even spent 10 days practicing with the team just a month ago. It seemed like an odd decision as make no mistake, the Flames best internal option to replace Giordano -- should he end up missing additional time -- is Wotherspoon, who is Calgary's top defence prospect.

Raphael Diaz and Deryk Engelland have averaged less than half the ice time that Giordano had been playing this season. Ages 29 and 32 respectively, they are what they are at this point in their career and that is third pairing defencemen. You know what you have there and playing Engelland or Diaz 18-20 minutes is not going to turn out well.

While Wotherspoon may end up showing that he is not ready yet to take on second pairing ice time and responsibility, you need to at least put him in that position and find out for yourself. Calgary has got huge contributions from rookies all season and who's to say injecting another young player in the line-up won't give this team the type of spark it needs over the final six weeks.

At least Wotherspoon has upside where the other older options -- Diaz, Engelland and Potter, do not. I recently asked Adirondack Flames beat writer Diana Nearhos how Wotherspoon has played and she said he's been impressive -- "strong overall, defensively and contributing offensively."

Drafted in the second round in 2011, Wotherspoon  turned pro last season. So far, he's appeared in 94 games in the AHL and also got into 14 NHL games late last season when he looked fine in averaging 13:27 in ice time before having his season abruptly end due to a shoulder injury.

The Flames are off on Saturday but will practice in Philadelphia on Sunday and Monday. Surely Wotherspoon will be in the line-up on Tuesday night against the Flyers if Girodano is not. In fact, we may be getting to the point where he should be in the Flames line-up anyway, even if the captain returns.

5. Goalies Getting it Done

The Flames have to be pleased with what they're seeing right now from their two goaltender prospects, who have yet to turn pro.

Mason McDonald - Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)

Selecting the native of Halifax 34th overall in 2014, the first goaltender to come off the board, was a polarizing pick yet as I wrote here right afterwards, I understand why the Flames selected him when they did. Well, so far, so good. McDonald is putting together a nice season in the QMJHL, currently ranked third with a .906 save percentage.

For comparison, Zach Fucale -- the much ballyhooed first goaltender taken in the 2013 NHL draft, 36th overall by Montreal, is also in the QMJHL and while a year older, he ranks 15th with a .886 save percentage.

MacDonald, in all likelihood, will be back in junior again next season and whether he pans out or not in the NHL will not be known for many, many years. But it has been a positive beginning, at the very least.

Jon Gillies - Providence College Friars (NCAA)

Calgary's third round pick in 2012 continues to put up very steady numbers in college. After his first two seasons in which he chalked up a save percentage both years of .931, the 6-foot-5 keeper is at .930 for this season. While it's not a progression statistically, his consistency from the start should be considered very encouraging.

Providence College is one of the top teams in the U.S. and he will be going to the NCAA tournament in late March. It will be an opportunity to potentially shine in some very high-stakes games so Flames fans will want to keep an eye on that.

When Ortio was helped off the ice last weekend, many asked if Gillies could be a possible replacement later in the season in Adirondack. The answer is probably not. While nothing is known for sure, I expect Gillies to sign with the Flames and turn pro after this season, or at least I expect Calgary to try and make that happen.

This is Gillies third year, which would make it the same circumstances as it was for Gaudreau last year. He will have the option to return to school for a fourth year but with an expected hole at the AHL level for Calgary next year, I'm sure they're anxious to get them into their system and start working with him more closely. For Gillies, he should be anxious to take his game to the next level.

If Providence makes the NCAA tournament, the soonest Gillies' season will be completed is March 27.  If he does sign with Calgary shortly after, because that will happen after the NHL trade deadline, Gillies will not be permitted to be assigned to the minors by the Flames.

6. Is Monahan a Young Bergeron in the Making?

With Devils goaltender Cory Schneider on the bench and New Jersey already on a power play, the Flames were staring at a 47-second 6-on-4 penalty kill on Wednesday in the final minute of a game they led by just one goal. Out for the face-off, to no surprise, went 20-year-old Sean Monahan.

As he's done so often lately, it seems, he won that clutch face-off and that led to Brodie's empty net goal seconds later that sealed the victory.

Face-off percentage is a statistic that can mean a little or a lot. While winning face-offs in neutral zones is nice, is it making that big of a difference in the grand scheme? For me, it ultimately comes down to how well can guys win draws in those pivotal moments in games -- late in a period, late in a game, in the offensive zone when you're down by a goal, in the defensive zone when you're up by a goal.

Monahan's face-off percentage on the season is 50.4 percent. So he's essentially 50/50. But without looking it up, you get the sense he must be upwards of 60 percent recently when it comes to face-offs that really matter.

In his rookie season, Monahan finished at 46.0 percent so this year has been a nice progression for him at the face-off dot. He treats it as a craft and I would fully expect that percentage to continue to climb over the next few years and for him to eventually be considered among the NHL's elite.

Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example. Considered one of the best in the NHL right now.
  • 2003-04 (rookie season) - 49.4%
  • 2005-06 (sophomore season) - 54.7%
  • 2006-07 - 51.2%
  • 2008-09 - 54.5%
  • 2009-10 - 58.0%
  • 2010-11 - 56.6%
  • 2011-12 - 59.3%
  • 2012-13 - 62.1%
  • 2013-14 - 58.6%
  • 2014-15 - 59.8%

I excluded 2007-08 as he only played 10 games due to injury but you can see his steady progression over the years. By his fifth NHL season, Bergeron was nearly at 55 percent and he has not dropped below that level since. I think Monahan could evolve in a similar way and over the years, that could very well equate to a couple extra wins each season.

7. Flames Advantage - An Easier Schedule Remaining

While Mark Giordano's condition is a potential game-changer for certain, expect the Flames to continue to hang in this playoff chase as they've done all year. Part of what Calgary has going for it is an easier remaining schedule than the other teams on the bubble. The Flames have 11 games left against teams not in a playoff spot right now. This does not include three games against other teams that are right there on the bubble with them. There are never any easy wins at this time of year -- Buffalo showed that the other night against the Canucks, but there are still easier opponents.

While I wrote here earlier this week that I really don't see the Kings or Wild as bubble teams, I have decided to include both of them in the following graphic for now so this paints a complete picture.

Below is a look at the six teams on the bubble in the West for four playoff spots. As you'll see, some teams have harder paths to travel in March and April than others:
  • The Kings have the most road games remaining and have not played well away from Staples Center all year.
  • The Jets have only four games left versus non-playoff teams. They will have to be at their best to successfully navigate a very difficult remaining schedule.
  • The Canucks have the most home games left and are currently the best of the rest when it comes to projected points but with Ryan Miller injured and missing Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa from the back-end, Vancouver is not a lock yet -- see their recent loss to the Sabres. Vancouver has seven games versus other bubble teams too so those four-pointers will loom as important.
  • The Wild also have a tough schedule left, having to face 12 legit playoff teams in their final 21 games. They'll need Devan Dubnyk to continue his strong play.
  • The Sharks have lost seven home games in a row. They need to right the ship quickly as they have a seven-game road trip looming and will end their year playing 10 of their final 13 on the road.

If you follow me on Twitter (@DarrenWHaynes), watch for this graphic to be updated and Tweeted out daily -- either after the night's action is complete or early the next morning. 

8.  This 'n That

As you know, I'm always digging around for various factoids -- sometimes relevant, sometimes just fun. Here are some random ones from the last week that you may have missed:
  • Before drawing in against the Islanders, Potter had yet to play a game with the Flames while being a healthy scratch 18 times over the span of three call-ups.
  • Last year the Flames lost 68 games to injury from their big-four on defence -- Brodie/Giordano and Wideman/Russell. Up until the Giordano injury, that group had only missed two games this season -- both by Russell.
  • Brodie's 10th goal the other night gives the Flames three defencemen with 10 goals. Dennis Wideman has 12 and Giordano has 11. That's the first time three Calgary blue-liners have reached double digits in goals since Al MacInnis (11), Gary Suter (18) and Jamie Macoun (11) all did it in 1985-86. 
  • Monahan's game-winner against the Devils continues his late-game clutch scoring. So far in his career, he has eight third period go-ahead/tying goals, four overtime goals. Plus, he's notched five shootout-deciding goals. 
  • The Flames fourth line this road trip, comprised of rookies Poirer, Markus Granlund and Michael Ferland, has an average age of 21.6. 
  • Friday's loss to the Islanders -- now 21 games above .500 so not exactly a slouch, was the first time since January 9 that a Calgary loss wasn't to a team that didn't go at least two rounds in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • Calgary has spent 103 days in a playoff spot this year. That compares to a total of 61 days over the previous four seasons combined.


Recent Related Flames Reading
  • No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling - Tumbling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference has left fans feeling much consternation. Much consternation about nothing, that is. Calgary still controls its own destiny and with one of the softest schedules remaining, rumours of the death of the Flames playoff chances are greatly exaggerated
  • Fifty Days of 2015: Reflecting on the Calgary Flames Calendar Year so Far - According to the Chinese zodiac, 2015 is the year of the sheep. In that case, perhaps it's supposed to be pronounced Lance Baa-ma. We're 50 days into the calendar year and as you'll see, a case could be made that Lance Bouma has been the Calgary Flames best forward so far in 2015.
  • The Cardiac Kids: Fun Facts About the Third Period Comebacks - A comprehensive look back at the Flames 10 come-from-behind victories. Also included are a bunch of fun facts that will make you go "hmm..." and a look at the historical significance of it all.
  • Eight From 80 Feet - Glencross Debate, Tie-Breaker Status, and More - Edition six of my eight Flames thoughts broaches a number of topics from what to do with Curtis Glencross, how to deal with Sam Bennett, and the state of the Flames tie-breaker situation with surrounding teams just in case they finish up even.
  • How Many Points Will it Take to Make the Playoffs in the West? - What's the number going to be? Will it be 91 last last year, or 92 based on current projections? Taking three factors into consideration, I fearless predict exactly how many points teams will need to make the playoffs.

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