Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Anatomy of a Rant: Line-by-Line Dissection of Mount St. Gulutzan's Volcanic Eruption

Simmering below the surface for who knows how long now, the first visible indication that first-year Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was on the brink of erupting came Saturday night.

Fresh on the heels of being humiliated 7-3 on home ice by the archrival Edmonton Oilers, signs of smoke were visible as he stepped up to the podium post-game.

"I don't talk to the guys after the game, win or lose, I talk to them the next day," Gulutzan told the media. "But certainly in the coaches room, emotions are high. It's embarrassing. Our resolve to stick to it wasn't there."

The next day was a flight to Toronto that was followed on Monday by no fight in Toronto as the Flames slinked to a third straight setback, a lifeless 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.

But after that game, the 45-year-old native of the small northern town of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, kept his emotions in check. Trying a different tact, he went down the path of positive reinforcement, pointing out the elements of their game that he liked, however miniscule.

But after another uninspiring effort from his club on Tuesday night, a 5-1 shellacking by the Montreal Canadiens, Gulutzan finally blew his top. His fiery Irish temper he says he inherited from his mom's side of the family, finally burst through and the lava was spewing.

"I’m generally a happy person. I’m good. I don’t like to be grouchy or miserable every day," Gulutzan told George Johnson from in this profile piece back in August. "But if I get mad… I get mad. There’s no middle ground. I’ve heard people say: ‘Glen? Oh, good guy. Nice guy. Good communicator. Patient. But push him far enough and … snap.’”

Oh, he snapped alright. The audio -- and it's well worth the listen -- is available here on Sportsnet960's website.

What I thought I'd do for something different is take you beyond the audio.

Below is the transcription of his entire rant, broken down into sections, along with relevant background or context that is (likely) the fuel behind each of his scathing points. As you'll hear and see, it's all very valid.

1. "We were pathetic. We were pathetic. It was a pathetic display. No bite back, no kick back. Just accept it."

Calgary has given up the first goal in nine straight games. But lately, it's been more than just the first goal. It's also been the second, the third, the fourth...

In the last four games respectively, Calgary has fallen behind by scores of 4-0, 5-0, 4-0 and 5-0. Yep, that's pathetic alright. In fact, that could be bordering on record-breaking stuff for futility.

But here's the rub. There have been very few signs of anybody being pissed off about it. It's like the Flames are the 98-pound weakling at the beach, getting sand kicked in his face, basically being bullied around, and just taking it. Not getting mad. Not pushing back. Nothing.

Look back over the game summaries from the last week and this team has basically flatlined as soon as they fell behind. There are a very few signs of life to be found:
  • Against Nashville, the club finally woke up in the final four minutes and scored three goals, but it was too little, far too late.
  • Against Edmonton, rookie Matthew Tkachuk got visibly angry in the third period, eventually getting banished to the penalty box for a dozen minutes for his refusal to go down quietly. But there wasn't much emotion from anyone else.
  • In Toronto, there were a couple roughing penalties near the end of the game -- the 19-year-old kid again in the middle of it -- but otherwise it was a meek response.
  • Last night in Montreal, Deryk Engelland got a little scrappy but again, he was about it. 

Adversity is different from death. Adversity is adversity. It's about time this club figure that out and start dealing with it, rather than caving as soon as something bad happens.

From the start of the game through the 15 minute mark of the third period, Calgary has been outscored 18-2 over the last four games. That's a minus-16 goal differential. Ouch.

Sure, the final scores ended up closer than that but who's fooling who. Five of Calgary's seven goals have come in the final five minutes after the games have long been decided.

2. "Our top guys didn't do anything and we need somebody to step up."

Sam Bennett did get his first point in 13 games with a goal with 1.1 seconds remaining. But that hardly qualifies as stepping up when it counted.

What about some of the other so-called top guys?
  • Johnny Gaudreau is 1-3-4 in last 14 games. He's gone from sixth in the league in scoring last year to a tie for fifth on the team in scoring this year.
  • Troy Brouwer has no points in his last nine games. The veteran hasn't had a point since Dec. 19, before his broken finger.

It can't always be the line of Mikael Backlund, Mikael Frolik and Tkachuk that rides in to the rescue. As top guys, the Flames need more from the aforementioned Bennett, Gaudreau and Brouwer. You can add Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie to that list also. The goaltenders mixing in a key save in the early going wouldn't hurt either.

Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott combined have given up 19 goals on 99 shots over the last four games. That's an .808 save percentage. Ugly.

3. "It's the same old story. We had the better chances in the first 15 (minutes) of the first."

It's mostly true. This exact same storyline has unfolded in five of the last six games, the Toronto game was the lone exception:
  • Jan 24 at MTL - Prior to Shaw goal at 19:17 of first, Flames led 11-5 in shots
  • Jan 23 at TOR - Prior to Marner goal at 18:59 of first, Leafs led 12-8 in shots
  • Jan 21 vs EDM - Fell behind 3-0 after the first, Flames led 13-8 in shots
  • Jan 19 vs NSH - Fell behind 1-0 after the first, Flames led 14-9 in shots
  • Jan 17 vs FLA - Fell behind 2-1 after the first, Flames led 10-5 in shots
  • Jan 14 at EDM - Score tied  0-0 after the first, Flames led 8-5 in shots

Calgary has been OK to start the game, but the opposition goaltender has been better and the other team has been way more opportunistic (which is code for the Flames goaltender hasn't been as good).

The players on this team need to realize the book each night isn't already pre-written. It's very much a choose-your-own adventure and there is still plenty of opportunity for a happy ending, even if you fall behind in the first period.

4. "We extend ourselves on a minute shift. We've got our fourth line out there. They decide to take one more crack at it because they've scored so many goals and they all come off and let them fly into our zone, and catch the other line a little off guard. That's what happened on the first goal."

A few things are going on here as Gulutzan talked about the Andrew Shaw even-strength goal at 19:17 of the first period that gave Montreal a 1-0 lead.

A. It's only two-thirds of the fourth line and here's why

With the Flames slowly retreating into their own end to get the puck but with no forecheck due to the Canadiens forwards changing, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan choose to head to the bench while inexplicably, linemate Alex Chiasson remains on the ice. Sure enough, Dougie Hamilton's wayward pass slides down the ice untouched for icing. Now Chiasson is caught out with Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma.

Montreal wins the face-off and controls the puck in the Flames end, eventually getting a dangerous chance in the slot when Alex Radulov spots Nathan Beaulieu creeping in from the blueline. His quick wrist shot from 30 feet out is blockered away by Johnson.

Soon after, the puck is knocked to the neutral zone near the Calgary bench but instead of taking that opportunity to change -- all three were in the vicinity of the bench and you can see the Flames next line standing up and ready with one leg straddling over the boards -- all three opt to head up ice on a rush instead, despite it being a routine three-on-three rush not resembling anything dangerous.

Sure enough, it doesn't amount to anything and as they finally head off the ice from deep in the Canadiens end, it allows Montreal to break out clean and fast with tons of open ice. Ten seconds later the puck is in the net with the Bennett-Brouwer-Versteeg line tagged with the minus.

It's a bad look for Chiasson in particular. I'm not sure why he never changed and as a result, he ended up with a 1:40 shift. The shift length for Bouma and Stajan was clocked at 0:55.

For Chiasson, this is the same guy that Gulutzan benched on Monday night for nearly the entire final period after his foolish roughing penalty 1:33 into the third.

Perhaps this was Gulutzan hinting that Chiasson might be soon back on the fourth line where many of his critics -- and there are plenty -- have argued he should have been all along, if in the line-up at all.

B. Gulutzan with a shot across the bow

"They decide to take one more crack at it because they've scored so many goals..."

Ouch, there's a sneaky little jab from the coach. This team isn't scoring these days, especially when the game is still up for grabs. But in particular as Gulutzan muttered, the fourth line is very cold. Looking at the three players in question on that shift:
  • Matt Stajan - 1 goal in his last 23 games
  • Alex Chiasson -  2 goals in his last 23 games
  • Lance Bouma - 1 goal in his last 12 games

It doesn't get any better when you look at others that have been used in that fourth line role:
  • Micheal Ferland - 1 goal in his last 25 games
  • Garnet Hathaway - 0 goals in his last 20 games
  • Freddie Hamilton - 1 goal in his last 21 games

Chiasson is surely one of the bigger points of frustration because he's had several great chances lately while playing in the top six with Gaudreau. But he hasn't been able to convert. Scoring chances and plays of all kinds frequently seem to die on his stick.

5. "We had our windows to get back in. We spot them one. Johnny bobbles the puck at the blueline, turns it over and it's 2-0. We're on a power play. 1-0 in a road game and on a power play."

If it can go wrong, it is going wrong these days for Gaudreau.

Given how often he has the puck on his stick, he's always going to be a guy that will turn over the puck more than your average forward but you hope it's most often going to be a byproduct of trying to make something out of nothing such as on a one-on-two rush.

But on Tuesday night, with nobody around him, he just blew it at the blueline. He had the puck, was in full control of it, then had it pop right off his stick and just like that, away broke Tomas Plekanec and 14 seconds into a power play where Calgary was hoping to tie the score, they're down 2-0 instead.

It looked eerily similar to what Gaudreau did against Columbus a month ago, coughing it up that night to Matt Calvert. Flames trailed 3-1 at the time but were on the power play. Same thing though, a giveaway followed by a shorthanded breakaway goal.

NHL Leaders - Giveaways (forwards)

1. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 60
2. Logan Couture SJ, 55
3. Joe Pavelski SJ, 51
4. Kevin Hayes NYR, 50
5. John Tavares NYI, 48

Considering he also missed 10 games, that giveaway number is uncomfortably high and it's been costly.

6. "We get a 5-on-3, broken stick, can't even muster a shot. These are things we work on. It's not like we have a bad power play. We're running at 20 percent, top third of the league. But for some reason mentally, we just didn't get a shot to the net."

Montreal lead 3-0 at the time but with half the game still to go, Calgary got a great chance to get back into it when a high-sticking penalty to Jeff Petry followed by a tripping penalty by Jacob De La Rose resulted in a two-man advantage for 47 seconds.

Further, right off the face-off in the Montreal end, Shea Weber broke his stick. Plekanec gave his to Weber but the result was all sorts of space for the Flames to move the puck around given the high guy in the Canadiens triangle, Plekanec, could not take away any passing lanes.

However, Giordano and Brodie as they passed it back and forth at the point seemed uncertain about what to do. First, Giordano nearly gave it away after whiffing on a shot attempt. Then with the puck down low, Gaudreau centered a pass off the skate of Monahan that caromed out to centre. Off for a line change went Plekanec and a glorious chance was squandered.

Late on the 5-on-3, Kris Versteeg got the only shot they would muster but it came from a sharp angle and was a routine stop for Carey Price.

Calgary falls to 2-for-7 on two-man advantages this season.

7. "You've got to man up. You've got to man up. You play well, one bad thing happens, we crumple. We crumple. Everybody talks about our starts. Our starts? Our starts have been good. One little shot, it goes in, we crumple. We just crumple. We had no resolve to stay with it."

As already mentioned in section 3, the last six games Calgary has had good starts. There's been nothing wrong with how the Flames have been starting off in games. But when that first goal against goes in and there's the tiniest bit of adversity, the game completely gets away from them.

From that point, they get away from the game plan that makes them successful and subsequently, they are very much unsuccessful.

Games are 60 minutes long. That's a lot of time. One goal in the first period, or in the second period, that doesn't change anything. Or at least it shouldn't. But it does, and it's a point of frustration for Gulutzan, who has sounded off about that a couple times lately. That resolve just isn't there.

8. "We've got to look internally here at ourselves, everybody. Everybody in the organization and figure out how we're going to pull ourselves out because the league doesn't feel sorry for you."

When Gulutzan looks at himself, one thing that he might need to consider is changing up the lines and pairings. After the Edmonton game, I made five suggestions for tweaking the line-up. They've tried two so far but the other three more impactful moves would be worth a try.

Summarizing the entire article, which can be read here,
  • Break up the 3M line and put Tkachuk with Monahan and Brouwer
  • Break up the 3M line to put Gaudreau with Backlund and Frolik.
  • Break up Wideman and Brodie.

But maybe other help is needed too.

Perhaps it's a trade to shake up the club. The Flames do have some pending UFAs that decisions have to be made on soon. That list includes Wideman, Engelland, Versteeg, Elliott and Johnson.

There are also options to try in Stockton. Mark Jankowski is having a great rookie season. Is Hunter Shinkaruk worth another look. What about Tyler Wotherspoon? I don't know if you can say anybody in the AHL is 'knocking down the door' right now for an NHL look but desperate times call for desperate measures. What's there to lose?

9. "They're all important. What scares me in your comment is eight in a row. There's a history of streaks and these let-downs."

The question posed by Sportsnet960 radio voice Derek Wills was referring to 2014-15 when the Flames were winless in eight and went into Los Angeles in the final game before Christmas. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 and it ended up turning around their season. They would make the playoffs after a terrific second half.

But with their long losing streak last year, that one the year before. That's some bad history where this team has a pattern of a digging a hole for themselves that is nearly impossible to dig out of.

It suggests the team isn't mentally tough when things begin to go sideways. When it comes time for 'fight or flight', it's the latter far too often.

10. "We're out of the playoffs now. We sat there for 45 days. We're going to start to play now? Now when it gets easy, that's when we play? That's the concern. What bugs me most is we play when it's easy. We play when it's easy. So, we've got that mentality. You've got to fight out of it."

It was the knock on the club last year. They played their best hockey after they were all but officially eliminated from playoff contention. With the pressure off, it's easier to play when you've got nothing to play for.

That pattern went for individuals too with former-Flame Joe Colborne the poster boy. Colborne piled up the points in 'garbage time' last year. Sure enough, this season, he's got three goals and four points in 38 games -- all three goals in the season opener. Nothing since.

The bigger question is can this group step up in games that matter and win consistently when the pressure is on? We're still looking for proof of that.

Even this season's earlier hot stretch didn't come until they bottomed out at 30th and were in the NHL's cellar.

That mentality as the coach scoffed, to only step up once the games are easy and no longer matter, is not a formula for success.

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. Thanks for this article! I appreciate the breakdown and context. Do you think the Glen is still the coach for this team or do they need someone a little more like Hartley? I've defended Glen all season but it's starting to get hard

      2. Chiasson is not a top line player. He should be watching from the press box or put on waivers. No excuse for staying on the ice when his linemates went off. Why does GG keep playing him on the first line?? GG should be on the way out as coach.

      3. Great article thank you. Too many soft players. Too many no shows on many nights. I do question some of the coaching staff's player usage and pairings but not ready to give up on GG yet. This is a playoff bubble team and I would keep the long term in focus. Trade any and all UFAs including Elliott. Maybe keep Johnson for another season or two as a backup or tandem. This team is two RWs and a couple D as well as a starting goaltender away from being a consistent playoff team. Need to make some trades as the UFA market for next year is weak and overpaying in terms of contract length and $$ seems to be the rule. GFG

      4. Good article. It really annoys me that on school nights I have to watch this trash, when I could be studying and doing homework instead. Common Flames! Make it worth it for me to not do math homework!