Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sunday Thoughts: Five Morning Musings Between the Southern Cal Back-to-Backs

When you're a natural early-riser and you fly to Kelowna and the Pacific time zone on the day prior to setting the clocks back, you end up awake at 4 a.m.

Instead of firing up NetFlix -- I'm inbetween series -- and without a good book to read, and not being a play-games-on-my-phone type of guy, I decided to pass the time by tapping out some random hockey thoughts. So here they are, direct from the Okanagan:

1. Disastrous LA Story

On Saturday in Los Angeles -- a game I viewed from the hotel pub -- Calgary lost 5-0 and were outshot 39-24. I got to thinking when is the last time the Flames got outplayed that badly? So I dug into it at the fabulous Hockey Reference website and it turns out, that type of spanking hasn't happened very often.

Only once before has Calgary been shut out, surrendered five-or-more goals, and been outshot by 15-or-more shots. Can you name that game? It was five years ago.

Most famous as the night Chris Butler finished minus-7 while fellow blueliner TJ Brodie (playing a game-high 24:57) was the only player to finish even, a night in which first round pick Leland Irving got the start but never finished after giving up six goals on 21 shots (he would only make eight more NHL starts before being out of the league), that other game was January 5, 2012, a 9-0 spanking in Boston when Calgary was outshot 42-25.

So if Saturday's loss felt bad, it's because it was. The Flames have played over 2,800 games since moving to Calgary and it could be argued that it was the second worst defeat. Add in other blowouts where the Flames lost by a greater margin but at least were able to muster a goal and you're still looking at one of the worst defeats, for sure.

2. Too Slow To Keep Up

When you're carrying two extra defencemen on the roster, as a coach you're looking for opportunities to play them at least occasionally because you have 23 players in the locker room you're managing and the atmosphere is healthiest when all are contributing. 

Last week, coach Glen Gulutzan got Nicklas Grossmann in versus St. Louis for the second of back-to-backs and did so without too much issue. As you will recall, the team played well that night in winning again to sweep the back-to-back road games, which began the night before in Chicago.

Spying a chance to get him again this weekend in one of the back-to-backs in Southern California, playing him against the big, bruising Kings seemed like the most logical choice of the two. At the same time, he could then have a fresh Jyrki Jokipakka to insert into the line-up on Sunday. But predictably, it was Grossmann's glacial foot speed that ended up the issue. While the Kings may be big and mean, they've also got some young players that can fly and it made for a long night for the veteran.

To be fair, his partner wasn't great either. The meat lovers pizza that Dougie Hamilton served up the middle for one Kings goal was one of Grossman's three minuses for the night but hardly one in which he was the primary culprit. But there were those other two.

Grossmann's speed or lack there of has been a noticeable weakness since he arrived in Calgary on a PTO in September and while maybe it was less noticeable against some of the B squads opposition teams roll out in September, it's very noticeable now. There are other qualities he brings such as a physical presence and I get that but his inability to keep up or recover when he gets caught are hurting the team.

With Brett Kulak playing well and deserving to stay, Wideman -- despite being a scratch five times this season -- not going anywhere, and with the bumps and bruises starting to add up at forward, it might be close to decision time.

Left winger Lance Bouma left Saturday's game with some sort of injury. This comes after Kris Versteeg (groin) was placed on the IR earlier in the day. We're quickly reaching a point where carrying two extra D but just one extra forward may not be sustainable for much longer. 

I'm not sure what general manager Brad Treliving, who is the guy that matters, will decide to do but Grossmann and his league-minimum one-way salary would be off to the AHL if I had to pick. The NHL game is just too fast now and is passing him by -- literally and figuratively.

3. Frightening Cellar Dwellers

Save the lecture. I do understand the imperfections of plus-minus, I really do. So throw an asterisk on what I'm about to say or whatever you need to do. But regardless of your view of that statistic, surely we can all agree that the Flames having the three worst plus-minus players in the entire league is not good news.

Further, it's who these three players are that is particularly alarming. 

659. Sean Monahan, -10
T660. Johnny Gaudreau, -11
T660. TJ Brodie, -11

That's right, there are 658 NHL players with a better plus-minus than Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie. Eeesh.

After a summer in which two of them signed lucrative long-term deals, the first month of the season has been an unmitigated disaster for Monahan and Gaudreau. The former dynamic duo have not been able to rekindle the chemistry that made them so dangerous together the past two seasons.

They were finally broken up against the Kings and while that didn't work either, I'd expect the experimenting with them apart from each other to continue. If it were me, I would give the Gaudreau-Bennett-Brouwer line some more time as the latter two have been pretty good together and with a chance to build some chemistry, the ingredients are there for what should be an effective line.

As for Monahan, maybe a young guy like Saturday call-up Hunter Shinkaruk can give him a spark. I say maybe because who really knows. But it's something I'd try.

As for Brodie, he still doesn't look himself but I'd keep him and Mark Giordano together for a while and it should come around. He's too good of a player for him to continue to play at such an inconsistent level. As for the remedy for Brodie getting beaten around the outside as often as it's happened this year, I've got nothing. It's not that he's slowing down, he's still a young man. But it's not something we've seen much of the last couple seasons but has been occurring far more often this year and I'm baffled why.

4. Release the Shinkaruk
Between the Bouma injury and that seriously underwhelming effort on Saturday, expect Shinkaruk to get in against the Ducks. The 22-year-old Calgarian has put up four goals and seven points in seven AHL games. 

Heck, if Stockton wasn't coming off games on back-to-back nights, I'd even be tempted to call-up an energy guy like Garnet Hathaway and reunite Stockton's No. 1 line in the NHL, less Mark Jankowski. Plunked on either side of Monahan, could Shinkaruk and Hathaway bring some of their same effectiveness together in the AHL to the NHL, and maybe spark Monahan in the process? Might be worth a try at some point.

However, failing that, Shinkaruk on the left side of Monahan and moving Ferland to the off-wing is another configuration to consider. In that scenario, you drop Alex Chiasson to the fourth line with the ever dependable Matt Stajan and Freddie Hamilton.  

Although now you have a line with two natural LWs and another with two natural RWs. More conventional thinking might see Shinkaruk-Monahan-Chiasson be a unit and then keep Micheal Ferland on the left side and play him with Stajan as those two have been superb together. Hamilton would then play the right side.

There's much to think about and contemplate but with the Flames off for three days after Sunday's tilt and Stockton having played back-to-back nights, not sure they'll make an immediate call-up even if Bouma can't go.
I can see them going with the 12 healthy forwards they have on Sunday and then reset when they get back to Calgary.  Then maybe you see a move once the severity of Bouma's injury is known.

5. The Kids are Alright

Speaking of the Heat, two players in the top four among rookie scorers in the AHL are Flames property. 

Two goals and an assist for Andrew Mangiapane on Saturday gives the former Barrie Colts left-winger nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in his first seven professional games. This league isn't supposed to be easy for rookies. Remember when Morgan Klimchuk put up only nine points total as a rookie last year? That's a terrific start for the sixth round draft pick from 2015. 
Meanwhile, Jankowski has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in eight games. Add that to his six points in eight games in his late-season debut last year and the big centre is averaging a point-per-game. Again, very solid numbers for a first-year pro.

It should be noted that both have been integral pieces on the power play with four points each with the extra man and that's a sizeable chunk of their offensive totals this year. Nonetheless, it's been an encouraging start to the season for both and is the type of success that gives players confidence and will only further help them over the course of the season.

Mangiapane has been playing on a line with two older veterans in Linden Vey and Matt Frattin. Jankowski, as mentioned, has spent the season centring Shinkaruk and Hathaway.

Final Word

The Flames have an opportunity to shift the conversation quickly and big-time with a bounce-back effort in Anaheim. 

The club's dubious history there doesn't need to be rehashed. The only new thing I can tell you is that Chad Johnson has never lost at the Honda Center. In fact, he has never given up a goal in that building. OK, you got me, he has never appeared in that building but at least he doesn't have a bunch of baggage like so many others.

If Brian Elliott was coming off a win, it's easy to ride him right into that next game given there's essentially no travel involved in this back-to-back but after that loss, I'd go back to Johnson, who is coming off that big 3-2 win in San Jose on Thursday.

Tonight really is a huge game. Winning two-of-three in California, breaking the Anaheim curse, and returning home .500 on a difficult four-game trip should very much be viewed as a success. Especially given how well the team played through two periods in that loss in Chicago.

However, another defeat to add to the Cubs-in-the-World-Series-like lore in that building and all that good will built up in the win in San Jose would be long gone with two more losses after it, and coming against the weaker two of the California teams in my opinion. No doubt, a setback once again in Anaheim would be a pretty hefty negative for the team to carry into their first three-day break of the season.

In other words, big game tonight. In fact, bigger than big. Not even huge. I'd call it gigantic.

It's my 23rd wedding anniversary today and my lovely wife and I will be spending the day visiting wineries some of the finest Okanagan wineries. I'm guessing that wine will definitely be the word of the day back in Calgary today too, just spelled differently. After that paltry effort on Saturday, hockey fans certainly have plenty of things to whine about. 

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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  1. I have heard on regard to Gaudraeu's contract that "it was a lot to pay for a party-er"

    I also have concerns that Monahan and Johnny G are butt hurt over their contract negotiations and are now coasting/lackadaisical, just cashing in on the money they believe they earned the last couple seasons.

    What do you think Darren?

    1. I don't know what Darren thinks, but I think your first comment is a ridiculously bad attempt at trolling.

    2. Players do not reach this high of a level without having a big ego that is driven by their performance, competitiveness and desire to be the best. Gaudreau, for an example, would love to win a scoring title and you can bet he is hell bent on making that happen. So the 'mailing it in' theory, that these guys are suddenly content with how they're playing -- and being publicly raked over the coals. No chance. If anything, they'll be embarrassed at how their seasons have begun.