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Monday, November 02, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Musings on the Flames as We Get Going With November

One regulation win in 12 games. They've struggled in all facets of the game from goaltending, to defensive play, to an inability to score.

Yet, Calgary (3-8-1) somehow woke up Monday morning just five points back of San Jose (6-5-0) for third place in the Pacific Division. Two points clear of the Sharks and sitting 1-2 are the Los Angeles Kings (7-3-0) and Vancouver Canucks (5-2-4).

As we mull over what comes next in what's been a pretty weird season so far, here's a round-up of thoughts, observations and analysis on the current goings-on with the Flames. It's a recurring content feature I call Eight From 80 Feet.


Eight Flames Thoughts

1. Mild Cellar-bration

Make no mistake, goaltending remains an issue. Four goals on 23 shots for Karri Ramo in Saturday's wild 5-4 win over the Oilers -- a cool .826 save percentage -- that's not going to get it done most nights.

As of Monday morning, 50 goalies have enough playing time to qualify for the NHL's save percentage leaders. Calgary's three goalies are all found in the bottom five.

Save Percentage - Bottom 10 (as of Nov. 2)

41. Tukka Rask BOS, .889
42. Chad Johnson BUF, .881
43. Scott Darling CHI, .880
44. James Reimer TOR, .876
45. Anton Khudobin ANA, .875
46. Karri Ramo CGY, .868
47. Joni Ortio CGY, .868
48. Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ, .865
49. Jonas Hiller CGY, .861
50. Eddie Lack CAR, .852


As a team, the Flames save percentage is .865. That is down considerably from last year's .915. Consider this -- Calgary has given up 48 goals this year on 356 shots (excluding empty net goals). If they had received the same calibre of goaltending this year as last year (so a .915 SV% instead of .865), they would have given up 30 goals. That's 18 fewer goals over 12 games or a whopping 1.5 fewer goals per game.

Heck, instead of 3-8-1, the Flames record would probably be at least at the .500 mark, if not above it.

That said, if there's a tiny sliver of hope that came out of Saturday's game regarding the goaltending, it's that there wasn't that one real groaner of a goal against, that godawful, back-breaking, confidence-shattering, momentum-draining goal that causes everyone's shoulders to sag.

Assessing Ramo's Night

A quick recap of Saturday's goals:
  • G1 - Taylor Hall - From the side of the net, he deflects Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' shot, the last-second, change-in-direction shot goes under his arm. Not a great goal, but not terrible either.
  • G2 - Brandon Davidson - With Ramo charging out to challenge, the defenceman absolutely wires a one-time slapshot under the crossbar from the middle of the slot. 
  • G3 - Teddy Purcell - On a power play, good movement by the Oilers leads to Nugent-Hopkins going across the slot with a pass to Purcell. Ramo scrambles across quickly, but not fast enough.
  • G4 - Leon Draisaitl - The rookie neatly converts Hall's perfect cross-ice pass on a 3-on-2. No chance for Ramo to get over in time.

Ideally, Ramo gets his arm or chest in front of Hall's shot and gets over a pinch quicker to get a pad on Purcell. But, he didn't. The exasperated sigh of relief on this night is that the ugly goal that's been a chronic issue for Flames goaltenders all season happened at the other end of the ice instead. With 8.7 seconds left, Frolik's goal on Cam Talbot that broke a 4-4 tie came on a harmless-looking shot from the corner, below the goal-line, that deflected off Talbot and snuck in. In terms of setting, timing, and type of play, it was all eerily similar to Dustin Byfuglien's game-winner on Ramo two weeks ago in Winnipeg.


2. PK not OK

Calgary's penalty kill hasn't been very good all season. Combine with the fact they're taking more penalties than last year and you have a dangerous combination. Calgary sits 22nd in the NHL at 76.9% on the PK. Last year they were 80.6%.  In the last six games, the Flames are operating at just 70.0% having surrendered six goals on 20 chances.

Last year, the Flames were shorthanded just 186 times, which was 30th in the NHL. Nobody took fewer penalties. This year they're 10th at 39 times shorthanded, which is a jump in average shorthanded chances per game from 2.3 to 3.3.

This got me thinking, who has been the team's best or most effective penalty killers? Looking strictly at who is on the ice for power play goals against, here are the Flames rankings. Listed in red is the average number of shorthanded minutes per PP goal allowed.

I limited the list to players with at least eight minutes of PK time.

Forwards

1. Backlund, 1 SHGA in 24:53, 24:53
2. Jooris, 1 SHGA in 14:57, 14:57
3. Frolik, 3 SHGA in 27:09, 9:03
4. Stajan, 4 SHGA in 26:12, 6:33
5. Monahan, 4 SHGA in 16:56, 4:14
6. Colborne, 3 SHGA in 8:46, 2:55

Defence

1. Russell, 2 SHGA in 34:10, 17:05
2. Wideman, 3 SHGA in 30:43, 10:14
3. Hamilton, 2 SHGA in 14:24, 7:12
4. Giordano, 5 SHGA in 28:47, 5:45
5. Engelland, 3 SHGA in 13:21, 4:27
6. Brodie, 3 SHGA in 11:48, 3:56


Looking back at last year, Lance Bouma was the top penalty killer in terms of ice time and Paul Byron was fourth. Neither of those are available, nor is Markus Granlund, who finished sixth in PK ice time last year. You wonder when they might try someone else like Mason Raymond or Sam Bennett.

Defence, this appears to be where Kris Russell shines. Makes sense too. At a man-power disadvantage, there's an expectation of being in your own end so Russell's willingness to do whatever it takes to get in front of shots would be particularly helpful.


3. Steady Engy

As the adage goes, often the best compliment for a defenceman is to not be noticeable. This is especially the case when the team is going poorly. That sums up how the season and specifically this past week has gone for the quietly effective Deryk Engelland.

In the three games that Engelland has been paired with Dougie Hamilton -- a move prompted by the return of TJ Brodie -- the two have yet to be on the ice for a goal against in any situation. That includes 38 minutes of even-strength time together.

Engelland, the fan's whipping boy on defence for much of his time in Calgary, has kept it simple and in the process has put together a decent year. Here's a look at how he has fared statistically among the Flames regular defencemen so far (excluding Brodie, who has only played three games):
  • Basic Stats: Minus-1. That ranks him first on the team. Next is Mark Giordano at minus-5.
  • Enhanced stats (7 game min): His SAT% (aka Corsi) is 53.45. That again is tops on the team (and 40th among all NHL defencemen). Next is Giordano at 50.76

Credit where credit is due, Engelland has played the equivalent of nearly a full game (59:19) since he was last on the ice for an even-strength goal. That last one was a third period goal by Kevin Klein over a week ago in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Over that time, he's been only on for one power play goal against, which came the next night against the New York Islanders.

Engelland isn't playing a lot and you don't want him to, but if he can be as dependable in 12-15 minutes per night as he has been most of the season, it's a nice complement to the top four.


4. No Johnny, No Problem

Saturday night was the first time in 75 regular season games, dating back to November 15, 2014 -- a 4-2 home-ice win over Ottawa, that the Flames won without getting a single point from Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan or Jiri Hudler.

Putting up five goals with nothing from Gaudreau in particular is a bizarre plot twist considering this article I penned a week ago, at which time the crafty left-winger had been in on 62.5 percent of the Flames goals. (It has since fallen to 44.4 percent.)

Winning without a contribution from Gaudreau is encouraging because you know the team's leading scorer with 12 points (1 goal, 11 assists) will be back on the scoresheet in no time.

As for Monahan, he hasn't scored in the last six games and is still seeking his first multi-point game of the year. At this same point in his first two seasons, he had already registered a pair of two-point games.

What jumps out statistically for Monahan is shots on goal. After leading Calgary with 191 shots a year ago, an average of 2.4 shots per game, he has just 19 shots this season -- tied with Mason Raymond (who has missed four games) for ninth on the team. That works out to an average per game of only 1.6 shots.

For the 21-year-old, maybe the dreaded sophomore slump is just one year late in arriving.


5. Open Mike

While his hat-trick goal was lucky, it did not tarnish a great performance for Michael Frolik, who had plenty of other chances before finally getting that fluke goal.

He finished with a game-high seven shots, most shots he's had in a game in five years. He had never scored three times in a NHL game before.

While he was without a goal coming into that game, Frolik has been one of the team's most consistent forwards with his versatility coming as advertised when GM Brad Treliving referred to him after signing him as a "Swiss Army Knife". Need him on the top line? Sure. Need him on the second line? No problem. Need him on the third line? Got it.

In his first time skating with Matt Stajan and Josh Jooris, the line finished plus-3. On the ice for three goal celebrations at Rexall Place was new terrain for Stajan and Jooris, who were only on the ice for three goals combined in the previous 11 games.

As a side note to this topic, with Bennett back at centre these days, Stajan's elevated role Saturday bumped Mikael Backlund back to fourth line ice time. The Swede played just 9:22 in his second-lowest ice time of the season. Backlund played 8:28 in the third game of the season before beginning an eight-game stretch in which he had averaged over 16 minutes.

Backlund has just one point on the season (a goal) and he's been on the ice for only two goals for all year. Now it's not as bad as it sounds as he's had 23 shots on goal so some more scoring will eventually come. His 4.3 shooting percentage this year comes after a three-year stretch in which he has shot 9.1, 10.1 and 9.7 percent. But now it appears he has to wrestle back his ice time.


6. Something's Gotta Give in Cali

The return of Brodie and Ladislav Smid to Calgary's roster has caused a major logjam of defencemen in Stockton, home of the the Flames AHL affiliate. There are already nine on the roster with Ryan Culkin -- injured during the Penticton rookie tournament -- also nearing a return and that would make it 10.

While Oliver Kylington has played all six games so far and Saturday sniped his second goal with a wicked wrist shot to the top corner on a power play, you wonder if there isn't consideration right now about returning him to Brandon. The Wheat Kings created a stir earlier this week when they opened up a spot for an import on their roster via a trade.

I tackled the WHL or AHL debate with Kylington earlier in the year and there are pros and cons of each path. One of the pros right now for the organization would be opening up playing time in Stockton for other prospects, who are hardly playing at all right now.

In addition to Kylington, the six others that have been playing regularly on the blue-line have been Tyler Wotherspoon, Jakub Nakladal, Brett Kulak, team captain Aaron Johnson, veteran Dustin Stevenson and Patrick Sieloff.

As for the rest, Keegan Kanzig has played just once. For all the hype surrounding Kenney Morrison this summer, he has only gotten into two games. Considering there were other suitors pursuing him as a free agent when he chose Calgary because it gave him the best opportunity, he can't be too happy about how the season has unfolded.

For Kanzig, returning the 20-year-old to junior and the WHL's Calgary Hitmen is one option. Assigning him to the ECHL is another route the organization could go. Stevenson to the ECHL is also an option although I suspect they like his veteran presence in Stockton.

With Kulak, Nakladal and Wotherspoon all capable of stepping in and being a solid 6/7 defenceman in Calgary, you wonder if it may not be only transactions at the AHL level that are made soon to clear up space on the blue-line, and that maybe a deal in the NHL shakes down as well.

The other news from Stockton is Morgan Klimchuk got hurt on a hit a week ago and he'll be out of the line-up with a shoulder injury. It's not thought to be too serious but Flames Asst GM Brad Pascall said on the weekend that it would be a couple weeks.


7. Prospect Progress

Here's a quick rundown of how some of Calgary's top prospects have fared lately:
  • LW Andrew Mangiapane, Barrie (OHL) - Scorching hot with 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) during a seven-game points streak, the crafty forward is alone in fourth in OHL scoring at 11-12-23 in 15 games.
  • D Rasmus Andersson, Barrie (OHL) - Had just two assists in his first seven games but has picked it up offensively lately with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in his last six games to move into a tie for ninth among OHL defencemen.
  • D Brandon Hickey, Boston University (NCAA) - After scoring six goals in 41 games a year ago, the sophomore defenceman is already halfway there and he's played just six games. Although he is still looking for his first assist. His third goal came on Saturday. Check out his nice shot and even better goal celebration.
  • C Mark Jankowski, Providence College (NCAA) - Last year his 10th point didn't come until after Christmas in game 13. This year, the senior has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in only seven games as the defending national champions are off to a 6-0-1 start.
  • G Mason McDonald, Charlottetown (QMJHL) - Stopped 32 of 34 shots in one of his best games of the season on Sunday. Since allowing five goals on Oct. 16, the candidate to represent Canada at this year's World Juniors has strung together four good starts in a row. His .919 SV% over that span has improved his season save percentage to .906, same as last year and sixth in the league. 


8. Brilliant Brodie

The return of Brodie is just what the doctor ordered for the Flames.

After two games alongside Giordano, coach Bob Hartley broke up the top pairing but almost out of necessity and having nothing to do with what those two weren't doing. More so it's because of how much Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell have been struggling as a combo, especially lately.

Reluctant to once again trot out No. 4 and No. 6 together after they hit rock bottom against Montreal, Wideman skated with Giordano, and Brodie got Russell on Saturday and boom, just like that, Russell -- an NHL worst minus-16 entering the game (and worst by far, second-worst was minus-10) -- was a plus player for the first time all season finishing at plus-2.

Brodie is making great money at $4.65 million AAV as he begins the first year of his five-year extension he signed early last season but it sure looks like Calgary will be getting some tremendous value over the duration of that deal. Heck, he may already be a steal.

Believe it or not, there are 44 defencemen earning more money than Brodie this season. By season's end, it might be difficult to come up with 10 that are actually better.


Final Word

Next up is a game in Colorado on Tuesday. The Avs have the misfortune of being in the extremely tough Central Division. The Avs are equal in points with Calgary, but that leaves them way back in last in the Central, five back of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who aren't even in a playoff spot. The Avs are eight back of Winnipeg, which holds the second wild card spot in the West.

Then they're back home for games against the two teams from Pennsylvania. The Flyers are at the Saddledome on Thursday and Phil Kessel and the Penguins are here for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh begins a stretch of five straight games against Eastern opponents, which has been an issue for the Flames. Calgary is 1-4-1 this year against the East, which continues a trend from last year when they were a very pedestrian 14-14-4 against the other conference. Last year, only San Jose (13) and Arizona (10) had fewer wins against the East.

With Hiller injured and presumably out for this week's games, the spotlight will continue to be on the net. Will Ramo get another start Tuesday as a reward for winning Saturday? It was on September 24 in a pre-season game at the Pepsi Center that Ortio stopped all 35 Avalanche shots in a 1-0 win. My guess is Ramo given Hartley's typical 'win and stay in' approach, but who knows at this point.

One thing we do know is it won't be a dull week as the Flames look to string together consecutive wins for the first time since games 3 and 4 against the Canucks in last year's playoffs.



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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