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Monday, October 12, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Monday Ramblings on a Thanksgiving Long Weekend

The regular season is finally upon us and the Flames are coming off a 3-2 bounce-back victory in Vancouver on Saturday, which came on the heels of a dreadful 5-1 loss to the Canucks on opening night.

In an 82-game season, game No. 2 should not have been as important as this one ended up being but the manner in which they had their butt kicked on Wednesday -- an ugly effort from the goaltender out -- made playing a much better game a must and they delivered.

Now it did take a third period comeback to pick up the two points but Calgary was much better in the first period and overall, it was a far better game that has them in a much better place heading into a big week with three tough tests.

Tuesday, it's the Blues in town and they're always tough. St. Louis is 6-0-1 against Calgary in their last seven games and have outscored the Flames 9-0 in their last two trips to the Saddledome.

Friday, it's off to Winnipeg with the Jets off to a very strong 2-0 start with impressive back-to-back road wins. It will be the Jets home-opener so the MTS Centre will be loud and rocking.

Saturday, it's back to the Dome where the rested Oilers will be waiting for them. Edmonton has started off 0-2 but have played two close games in two very tough buildings -- St. Louis and Nashville -- so they will be a handful.

In a recurring content feature I call Eight From 80 Feet, here are eight thoughts on this Monday morning on the current goings-on with the Flames including updates from around the organization.


1. Boyz N The Hud

So, has the line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler been officially anointed as Boyz N The Hud yet? Because it's perfect.

The two 21 and 22-year-old kids in Monahan (his birthday is today) and Gaudreau, alongside the wise, old veteran. Of course, this is a play on the 1991 John Singleton movie Boyz N The Hood that starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Laurence Fishburne and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

If that moniker isn't a thing yet, it should be as the trio has picked up where it left off last season by producing all four goals to date with Gaudreau in on all of them.

Coach Bob Hartley put the line together for good on Feb. 2 last year against Winnipeg. Other than two games apart in early March, they've been together ever since. Dating back to that home game against the Jets, the three of them have combined for 101 points in 33 regular season games:
  • Hudler, 18-20-38
  • Monahan, 16-16-32
  • Gaudreau, 10-21-31

You wonder what the Canucks are thinking. After holding the line to seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in games 1-5 in the playoffs last year, they've torched Vancouver for 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in the three games since.


2. Raymond on the Rebound

One of the most intriguing performances Saturday night was Mason Raymond, who skated on a line with Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik and racked up a team-high five shots.

Playing in his old building, the ex-Canuck has had two superb games in a row. Playing in another one of his former buildings, the ex-Manitoba Moose logged nearly 25 minutes in ice time in his final pre-season game against the Jets.

Using his speed effectively and confidently carrying the puck and making nifty moves to create space and set-up scoring chances, he has been a noticeable threat.

In a way, it's similar to how he began last year when he had a hat-trick in the Flames second game and had five goals and seven points through the first seven games. The key is consistency for Raymond. Last year, the 30-year-old followed that hot start with a 13-game pointless streak that derailed his season. Other than a stretch of five goals in five games in early February, he never really got back on track and one wondered if he was maybe bound for Stockton this year if the Joe Colborne injury had not happened. You'll recall Raymond was put on waivers a week ago.

As long as Sam Bennett continues to play centre, there is an opening in the top six at winger and Raymond has the skills to play there if he can continue to be engaged as he has been these last couple games.


3. Lehner on the Limp

On Friday in this piece, I examined why the goaltender situation in Buffalo if Robin Lehner was out long term would be the perfect storm of circumstances for Flames general manager Brad Treliving to trade one of Calgary's surplus goaltenders.

On the weekend, the possibility of such happening became more real when Sabres coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that it was a high ankle sprain for Lehner and he would be lost for 6-10 weeks. High ankle sprains are tricky injuries and I can imagine it's only worse if you're a goaltender. If it ends up being 10 weeks, he'll be lost until Christmas with Buffalo playing 32 games during that span.

Given the significant upgrades to the roster this summer, you can bet the Sabres will not be proceeding with the tandem of Chad Johnson and Nathan Lieuwen. They do have internal options as mentioned in the article. Another organization candidate I did not mention, who just came back this weekend from dual hip surgery is 22-year-old Linus Ullmark. The Swede stopped 38 of 39 shots in his AHL debut. However, is the sixth round pick in 2012 ready to carry the mail as the No. 1? The organization probably wants him spending his first year in North America with Rochester.

There are other candidates around the league also -- Niklas Backstrom (Min), Ben Scrivens (Edm), Cam Ward (Car) and James Reimer (Tor) all come to mind so while this looks like the ideal opportunity for Calgary to strike and get something done, it's by no means a certainty that Buffalo will choose to deal with the Flames.

Muddying the waters for the Flames is which goalie would Buffalo want? Presumably Hiller and if you're Calgary, are you comfortable proceeding with Ramo and Ortio? The fan sentiment has been trade Ramo but that overlooks a key detail in all this. What if the Sabres don't want Ramo. The fact Calgary re-signed Ramo with urgency on July 1 and also gave him the opening nod last Wednesday, it still seems like Hiller would be the one to go and given his much longer resume, Hiller would also command a better return, but maybe these first couple games in which Hiller has outplayed Ramo, has changed their thinking. We'll see.

If Ramo stays, that could mean a bigger opportunity for Joni Ortio, who has become the forgotten guy in all this but remains a central figure.


4. Evaluating the Eight Keys

On opening day, I put together this list of eight areas in which the Flames either needed to stay good at, or get better at, in order to make the playoffs in 2015-16. Here's an initial assessment on how it's gone so far:
  • Game 1 - No. 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 were negatives
  • Game 2 - No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (slightly) and 7 were positives

I really believe these are pivotal areas for Calgary that will make the difference between making the post-season or not so it will be worth monitoring as the year goes on.

As mentioned, face-offs is one area where there is a huge opportunity for improvement. Here is how the four centres have fared through two games:
  1. Bennett, 57.1% (12-9)
  2. Stajan, 55.6% (25-20)
  3. Monahan, 48.8% (20-21)
  4. Backlund, 43.5% (10-13)


5. Early Glimpse into the Flames Advanced Stats

Ah yes, advanced stats. It was the bugaboo for Calgary last season and is at the foundation of why some are skeptical the Flames can make a return trip to the post-season.

It's a microscopic sample size but through two games, Calgary's SAT% Close (shot attempts for/against at even strength -- aka Corsi -- when teams within one goal in first or second period or tied in the third period) is 46.51%, which is up from last year's 45.06%, which ranked 28th.

For what it's worth (and it's way too early to glean anything of use), Sam Bennett (71.43) and Michael Frolik (66.67) lead the forwards in SAT% Close after two games with the third pairing duo of Brett Kulak (60.00) and Deryk Engelland (60.00) topping the defencemen.

At the other end of the spectrum are David Jones (20.00) and Brandon Bollig (28.57) up front and Kris Russell (37.93) and Dennis Wideman (40.91) on the backend.


6. Stockton Sticks it to Rockford

I'm sure the 18 forwards and eight defencemen in Stockton are well aware Calgary is only carrying 19 skaters right now and that a call-up to the NHL could happen this week with the Flames playing back-to-back games this weekend.

With that dangling as an added incentive, the Heat went out and pounded Rockford 7-0 on Saturday in their season opener. The IceHogs are the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Leading the way offensively (and this was updated Sunday night after official scoring changes were made earlier in the day) was Kenny Agostino with three assists. Summer free agenting signing Derek Grant, who caught the attention of the Flames staff during training camp, scored twice. Oliver Kylington and Markus Granlund had a goal and an assist and contributing two assists each were Jakub NakladalTurner Elson and Emile Poirier. Scoring once was Bill Arnold, newly acquired Freddie Hamilton -- older brother of Dougie, and Drew Shore.

Jon Gillies made 19 saves in his first pro game for his first shutout.

“We were thrilled with the result. (Gillies) made saves tonight and made them look easy. He’s going to be a tough goalie to face for opponents because his 6-foot-5 frame makes it difficult to see around him,” said coach Ryan Huska.

The power play was very dangerous going 3-for-7 with the big Czech defenceman and his heavy shot a big part of it.

“Nakladal surprised us a little bit with his puck skills at the point and the rest of the guys really fed off of his play at the point. He was a big impact guy back there for us," Huska said.

Here is how Stockton's lines and D pairings looked for the opener:

Agostino - Granlund - Shore
Elson - Grant - Poirier
Klimchuk - Hamilton - Riley
Van Brabant - Arnold - Smith

Wotherspoon - Nakladal
Stevenson - Johnson
Sieloff - Kylington

Scratches included Carroll, Hathaway, Morrison and Kanzig.

In other Heat news this week, Aaron Johnson was named captain with Elson, Garnet Hathaway and Blair Riley joining him as alternate captains.

Stockton is next in action on Thursday when they host San Jose.


7. Checking in on Canada's World Junior Goalies

Flames prospect Mason McDonald was one of three goalies that attended Hockey Canada's U20 summer orientation camp in August at WinSport. It is expected that the two goalies that will be named to this year's team for the World Juniors and will travel to Finland over the Christmas Holidays will come from the three that were at this camp.

Given he's a year older, McDonald was thought to have the inside track to not just be on the Canadian team but also be the starter as he fared well in the exhibition action he saw that week. However, it's understood that how each of them plays in the first couple months of major junior this season will also be a big factor in who goes, who doesn't and who starts. Here is how the three are doing so far a few weeks into the season:
  • Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie) - 6 gm, 4-2-0, 1.82 GAA, .950 SV%
  • Mason McDonald (Charlottetown) - 3 gm, 1-2-0, 3.33 GAA, .898 SV%
  • Samuel Montembeault (Blainville-Boisbriand) - 5 gm, 3-1-1, 2.78 GAA, .890 SV%

McDonald is just settling in with the Islanders after missing his team's first six games while at Flames training camp. However, it looks like he has his work cut out for him as Blackwood -- second round pick of the New Jersey Devils last June -- is off to a terrific start.


8. Checking in on the Prospects

Last season after eight games, Flames prospect Mark Jankowski had five points with Providence College. This year after two games, the senior already has five points after a big opening weekend against Miami, which is no lightweight either as the RedHawks were in the NCAA tournament last year.

In the opener, Jankowski had a goal and three assists, which was the first four-point game of his college career. His only three-point game had come in his freshman season. Coming off an impressive performance at Flames development camp, it will be interesting to monitor Jankowski this season, which is his fourth and final year. He will turn pro this summer (after wanting to turn pro last summer, as he told me in this feature from July) and it will be interesting to see how he progresses as a pro. Putting up better offensive numbers in his final season would certainly be a good way to transition into the next phase of his hockey career.

Elsewhere, Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane has slowed down after a hot start. After putting up five points in his first two games, Calgary's sixth round pick from June, who starred at Flames rookie camp, has been held to three assists in his last five games. It's also been a quiet start for his teammate and fellow Calgary prospect Rasmus Andersson, who has been held to one assist in his first five games. Mangiapane and Andersson are a minus-4 and minus-5 respectively.

Over at Boston University, defenceman Brandon Hickey was held off the scoresheet in his first game of the season.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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2 comments:

  1. I've long been a Ramo fan, but the shakey start on the opener does have me concerned about trading Hiller.

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    1. Made his debut in Stockton Saturday night in relief and stopped all six shots faced. If Ramo can play well down there, he'll end up dealt to an NHL team at some point, I'm sure. Heck, he could still make it back to Calgary if Hiller struggles. But Hiller was good on Friday in beating Detroit. Either way, pretty sure the organization moves on from both this summer.

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