Minnesota Wild @ CGY
After a listless effort against Carolina, and a thorough lashing from Glen Gulutzan, the Calgary Flames were back in action on Saturday night at home against the Minnesota Wild. The team came out flying in the first period, dominating the game and generating 18 shots on goal. The Flames took a 2-1 lead early in the third period after goals from Sean Monahan and Kris Versteeg, and looked to be in control. Unfortunately, the Wild scored three times in the final 10 mintues to complete a 4-2 win. Alex Stalock was solid for the Wild stopping 35 of 37 shots, and was the X-factor most of the game. Mike Smith stopped 28 of 31 shots that he faces, the final goal being an empty netter. A very tough result after a strong showing.
Flames Player of the Game
Because of how awful he’s been so far this season and how low the bar is for him to be “good”, the Flames player of the game goes to Troy Brouwer. He had one of his best periods in the last two years and made a couple really special plays to create scoring chances for the team. You had to look at the replay a few times to believe that the pass to Monahan for the tying goal was made by Brouwer. Hopefully this game marks a turning point for his season and his career. With any luck, he’ll build upon his performance last night and start becoming a more useful player for this club. It would be really nice for us to look back in April and identify this game as the one that started Brouwer’s renaissance.
Bill: Looking at the stats, it’s clear that the Flames played at a much better level than they previously have. By the numbers, they were more disciplined, and were the better team for most of the night. Given that Minnesota played the night before and were missing a few key players like Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund, it was disappointing not being able to get the win. However, things were different for the Flames last night. I am a fan of Gulutzan’s handling of the team right now. In his media scrum on Friday, he was articulate with this expectations and identified the issues that the team had. Much like the way the Flames were reinvigorated last season after losing to the Montreal Canadiens and being called pathetic by Gulutzan, I think getting this angry this early on in the season just sends the message to the team that expectations are heightened and that there are no excuses playing the way they have. I believe this to be a good thing. We’ll see how the Flames fare in the future because it’s clear Gulutzan is no longer taking things lightly. On a different subject, I was quite relieved to finally see Matt Bartkowski take a seat in the press box. However, the pairing of Brett Kulak and Michael Stone didn’t fare too well. The pairing saw a lot of time against Minnesota’s second line, and was largely dominated. They were also the pairing that really allowed Minnesota’s fourth line to get anything going at all, whereas the Flame’s top four defense completely shut that line down. Kulak and Stone ended the game at team-worst 5v5 CF% of 36.8% and 42.9% respectively. That’s a bad showing and the two of them will need to get a bit of chemistry going if they want to turn this around.
John: With Minnesota playing on a back-to-back, after a loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Flames looked to take advantage of that fact early. With three strong power plays at the beginning of the game, you would have expected more results from the two units. You can’t fault their effort as the first 50 minutes of the game were systematically a sound effort. My thoughts will be focused on penalties, since that was the focus of Glen Gulutzan’s amazing press conference on Friday. On Saturday the Flames improved slightly upon their cornucopia of minors from previous outings. The team only took three minor penalties: Dougie Hamilton, Stone, and Brouwer. Those three players most likely fall under the “empty bank” classification made by Glen Gulutzan. If you haven’t watched the rant, this defines the type of players that take too many penalties, without a corresponding benefit to the team. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are the types of players that draw far more penalties and have credit within the metaphorical “bank”. If we are looking at the three penalties from last night each players falls under a different view from the coach. Hamilton was one of the players he singled out as taking too many penalties, and unfortunately he continued that trend. Hamilton plays on the top pairing, and is a player that would be tough to bench. Stone although is someone who really doesn’t have much of a “bank”. Playing on the third pairing, he is someone that should be benched for his actions. Finally, the enigma that is Troy Brouwer. A fourth liner, low level penalty killer, means that any poor play should be a warranted with a benching. Especially after his penalty last night led to a 5 on 3 that lead to Minnesota’s first goal. (Regardless of him finally making a nice hockey move). In summary, Glen Gulutzan may want to proceed with benching players such as Sam Bennett and Hamilton since they have the highest penalty differential. This may not be the smartest move from a hockey perspective, as taking out these players may ruin the fabric of the game. Players like Brouwer, and his band of misfit toys, that take costly penalties should be benched or even scratched. Sending a message in the right context will help contribute to solving the problem, while also penalizing those that cost the team.
Karim: To the Flames’ credit, they definitely played a lot better than they had in previous games. They took less costly penalties, they outshot their opponents, and capitalized on their powerplay opportunities. Unfortunately, this one just got away from them late, with two perfect shots from the Wild beating Smith and sealing the deal. The Flames still have a lot of work to do to become a dominant team night in and night out, but they’re slowly starting to clean up their game in many key areas. I’m hopeful that they can get back to the win column in the coming week because their complete on-ice product is clearly improving. It’s always tough to lose a game you were controlling for the majority of the time, but these things happen in the NHL. One thing that Gulutzan will likely address again during the next few days is the defensive play of the top line. They have been positively negative in their own zone and are often dominated when they get hemmed in. This is a huge area of concern. If your top line can only operate in the offensive zone and are actually a detriment in their own, you open yourself up for easy line matching exploitation by the other team – especially on the road. Gulutzan will likely have a few more stern words for the group and they should be able to clean up more mistakes and be even better against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
The one big thing on Flames fans’ minds this morning is Jaromir Jagr and what him leaving the game in the first period will mean for the Flames going forward. From what it sounds like, I wouldn’t bet on Jagr being out for very long. That means we probably won’t be seeing Mark Jankowski make a trip to Calgary right away. But with the way Jagr has been playing the last few games, I’m extremely hopeful that he’ll be back soon. He was starting to develop some incredible chemistry with Gaudreau and Monahan and they could be a seriously dangerous line for the Flames as the season goes by. Fingers crossed for Jags’ speedy recovery.