Saturday, November 19, 2016

Where's Fro, Yo? Gulutzan's Perplexing Refusal To Play His Leading Scorer on the PP

The Calgary Flames all-round best player, No. 1 goal scorer, leading point producer and top forward in shots on goal, is not and has not been able to earn himself a spot on the NHL's worst power play.

This has got to be one of the most dumb-founded sentences I've ever typed:

In my opinion, rookie coach Glen Gulutzan has a gotten a lot of undeserved criticism this season. No, he's not exempt from sharing in the blame and maybe he shoulders more of it than anyone else, but this is a team with several new faces, who were without multiple key players through most/all of training camp, who is undergoing a massive, fundamental shift in how they play. Transition pains were to be expected. But 19 games into the season, his steadfast refusal to at least try Michael Frolik on an abysmal power play is mind boggling.

On the season, 'Baby Jagr' as he's known back in his hometown in the Czech Republic, has played a grand total of just 4:48 on the power play. Not one second has come as an actual fixture on either the first or second power play unit.

A breakdown of that ice time:
  • 2:28 - Came as a spare versus the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers last week. He was one of the players that saw ice time on the second unit, filling in for rookie Matthew Tkachuk while he was out of the line-up with his injured hand.
  • 0:56 - Came against Chicago on Oct. 24 when he was part of a make-shift third unit with Matt Stajan and Alex Chiasson, who got out during the final minute of a squandered double-minor to Tyler Motte.
  • 1:14 - The rest that is left over is just random scraps along the way as Calgary prepared to return to five-on-five after a blown man advantage -- 8 seconds in game 1, 9 seconds in game 2, 19 seconds in game 6, 3 seconds in game 10, 18 seconds in game 13, etc.

Now I'm not suggesting putting Frolik on the power play means he has to remain on it until he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2020, but my goodness, it's time to give the 28-year-old a shot because this element of Calgary's game is absolutely killing them.

Give Frolik a Chance

Frolik leads the Flames in scoring with 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists), all of them coming at either even-strength (10) or shorthanded (2).

Remove power play points and Frolik would be tied for 16th in NHL scoring. Players he would be ahead of include Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Pavelski, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Corey Perry, Nicklas Backstrom... you get my point.

I get the concept of managing ice time and that Frolik along with Mikael Backlund -- also having an excellent season -- is the forward pairing always over the boards first when the Flames go on the penalty kill. But the guy he pairs with while shorthanded is doing the special teams double-dip, why not try them together on the man advantage and see if that same chemistry you see at 5-on-5 and 4-on-5, can shine through at 5-on-4. What do you have to lose?

It was back on November 9, after two straight practices that featured a high concentration of work on the power play, in which Gulutzan vowed to keep his two power play units together for seven games so they could develop some consistency.

At the time, these were the units:
  • Unit 1 - Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Chiasson, Giordano
  • Unit 2 - Tkachuk, Backlund, Brouwer, Brodie, Hamilton

It's been five games so far and they've gone 2-for-19. One for the top unit -- a goal by Johnny Gaudreau in Minnesota. One for the second unit -- albeit from Micheal Ferland, filling in for Matthew Tkachuk against the New York Rangers while the rookie was out of the line-up with stitches in his hand.

Yes, a PP clip of 10.5 percent is an improvement over the 8.3 percent up until that point. But that's like saying Nerds are a tiny bit healthier for your teeth than Candy Corn.

I respect Gulutzan's desire to keep his word because in his first year behind the bench, you need to establish that your word does not only apply when it's convenient. He needs to be good for it.

But an escape clause landed in his lap when Gaudreau got injured. It was a perfect chance to slide in Frolik, or even Ferland for that matter. Left shot for left shot in either instance. Instead, he opted for the right-shot of Linden Vey, who spent all season in the AHL up until just a few days prior.

Further, I guess that by consistency, he was referring to the forward units only because he tweaked and flip-flopped the D pairings at that same time. He moved TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton to the first unit, bumping Alex Chiasson off what originally was a power play comprised of four forwards. Subsequently that meant dropping Mark Giordano to the second unit alongside Dennis Wideman.

So Vey's stay boils down to him being the lone right-hand shot up front on that first unit. I know having a right shot is viewed by the organization as real important in terms of the options it provides on the man advantage but in this instance, is it so important that you're willing to play a minor leaguer ahead of your leading scorer? That seems like a stretch.

Broken Home

This is a power play that has gone 1-for-37 on home ice. Wrap your head around that. Plus, the only goal was that throwaway Ferland tally halfway through the third period against the Rangers last Saturday. Down 4-0 at the time, all it accomplished was broke Henrik Lundqvist's shutout.

That's playing 68:06 with an extra man on the ice -- the equivalent of nearly three-and-a-half periods -- and scoring one measly goal.

Mix in a dreadful penalty kill that has surrendered 12 goals at home and it's no surprise their record at the Saddledome is 3-7-0. But what has to be most frustrating, if not infuriating for the club and its fans is five of those seven losses were one-goal losses if you exclude empty net goals. In fact, you can essentially make that six one-goal losses as the 4-2 defeat to Carolina was also a one-goal game into the final minute when Carolina scored on a 5-on-3.

That's virtually six one-goal losses in front of the home fans. In those six defeats, Calgary has gone 0-for-23 on the power play while the opposition has gone 9-for-22 with the extra man.

A middle-of-the-pack NHL power play should have produced four goals during that span. A middle-of-the-pack penalty kill should have only yielded four.

Just imagine the impact a nine-goal swing on special teams could have had in those tight games. Instead of 3-7-0 wearing red jerseys, this club could easily be 7-3-0, or maybe even better than that.

You know where Calgary would be in the standings with an additional eight points? First place in the Pacific Division.

What I Would Do

If he is to remain true to his word, Gulutzan needs to give his forward units of Monahan-Bennett-Vey and Backlund-Tkachuk-Brouwer two more games.

But I'd argue there's no time for that. The team has had itself a pretty good week. Back-to-back wins against Minnesota and Arizona and a real good effort last night in which they outchanced Chicago, only to see the game decided on some bad luck in the late going.

The time to make a change to the power play isn't Wednesday in Columbus, it's Sunday in Detroit while they've got some positive things going on in their game at even-strength. The Gaudreau escape clause is still right there and Gulutzan would be fully justified if he chooses to use it.

If I was the Flames coach, here is what I'd roll out for power play units when Calgary hits the ice at Joe Louis Arena:
  • Unit 1 - Bennett, Monahan, Brouwer, Brodie, Hamilton
  • Unit 2 - Tkachuk, Backlund, Frolik, Giordano, Wideman

I'm real tempted to insert Brett Kulak for Wideman. The Columbia Icefield is regressing faster than Wideman can get across the blue-line to keep in a puck that is rimmed around the boards. But having a lefty-righty split on the point for one-timers is important to me so with my desire to get Frolik on that second unit, I do want to keep at least one right-shooting option on the ice.
Meanwhile, you'll see I've put Brouwer back on the top unit and now both forward trios are also identical to the Flames top two lines at even-strength. Harness the chemistry exhibited Friday with Bennett in Gaudreau's spot on the top line, and harness the chemistry exhibited by the other three since Tkachuk has joined that line.

Maybe this won't work either, but surely it's the next thing to try.

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. "The Columbia Ice Fields....." ha, ha, ha.... Kind of mean but very funny. Good job all around Darren, why not try it?

    1. It worked. 19-11-67 as a unit to start the third on the PP and they got Calgary to within one against Buffalo on Monday (but 2 seconds after the penalty expired so not technically a PP goal but close enough).

  2. You should be the NEW head coach of the Flames

    1. Wouldn't want the pressures of that job ever. I'd rather clean out the urinals in a penitentiary.

  3. I showed your blog to my husband and he's just in a hurry that he found so much information.