ALN_20_BoxscoreOther than allowing a goal to Lars Eller just 62 seconds into the contest, the Flames completely dominated the Washington Capitals last night, earning a 4-1 victory. Johnny Gaudreau scored on a partial break to tie the game early in the first period and there was no looking back for the Flames. Gaudreau extended his point streak to 10 games with a goal and an assist in the game, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund also chipped in a goal and an assist, and Matthew Tkachuk picked up two assists. Mike Smith was solid again in net, only allowing that early Eller goal on 30 total shots. He made key saves when the Flames needed them most, including several off the stick of Alexander Ovechkin on three Capitals powerplays; he is well deserving of first star honours.

With their 12th win and seventh in their last nine games, the Flames are now two points back of the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings with one game in hand.

Flames Statistical Breakdown

Team Stats

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF 56.1% 56.0% 60.5%
SCF 56.9% 54.0% 59.2%
HDCF 46.7% 40.9% 46.6%

5v5 Player Stats

  • The top pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano posted the two highest CF% at 5v5 with 71.4% and 66.7%, respectively.
  • The second pairing of TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic, had the two lowest OZS% at 40.0%.
  • Freddie Hamilton in his return to the ice posted a 62.5% OZS, but only a meager CF% of 26.7%.
  • In just 5:36 TOI, Brett Connolly of the Capitals posted a 0% OZS and a 33.3 CF%.
  • The Capitals had 12 players with a CF% of less than 50.0%.
Stats courtesy: hockeystats.ca | hockeyviz.com | Natural Stat Trick

Player of the Game

When the team has such an outstanding game, it’s tough to single out one performance above the rest. Honorable mentions go to Smith, Monahan, and Backlund for their individual efforts, but the honours go to Gaudreau. With another two points last night, Gaudreau now sits at 31 points in 20 games, just three back of Nikita Kucherov. He is nearly halfway towards last season’s point total and hasn’t even hit the halfway point of the season yet. His opening tally to tie the game set the tone for the rest of the game. He may not wear a letter on his jersey, but Gaudreau is leading the team right now, and he’s the single biggest reason why the Flames are among the best in the league.

Thoughts on the Game

John: While the majority of the headlines recently have been on Gaudreau’s 10 game point streak (and rightfully so), I wan’t to spend some time talking about last game’s hero: Monahan. The 23 year old future Flames captain has been a strong first line center through his first four seasons. There were many people who wondered during the offseason if we had already seen the peak of his output offensively. He couldn’t have proved them more wrong. With six points in his last two games, Monahan now sits at 22 points on the season and is currently tied for 15th in league scoring. Of his 12 goals on the year, five (!!) have been game winners. In a few seasons, I am sure his new nickname will be Captain Clutch (you heard it here first), as he continues to succeed in big moments.

While his torrid point pace will most likely slow down a tad, it will be very interesting to see where he finishes at the end of the season. During the summer, on the Hockey PDOcast, Dimitri Filipovic was doing a series of “re-drafting” previous NHL Drafts (you can listen to the full segment here). Even after going into the season leading his draft class in both goals with 106 and points with 215, Monahan was still “picked” sixth or seventh overall, depending on the person. They both wondered what kind of player Monahan could be, citing other players having more upside. This may be true to a degree, but right now he is tied with Nathan MacKinnon in points (the number one pick), and is leading everyone else from the draft class as well this season. I would easily say that Monahan should have gone within the top three, or four, of that draft.

Personal bias aside, the best players from that draft class, right now, are MacKinnon, Alexsander Barkov, Seth Jones, and Monahan. No disrespect to the other players from the draft class, but these four have separated themselves as elite players who have the numbers to back up that status. If Monahan can continue his prowess throughout the rest of the season, this thought should be common and not controversial. There has been more coverage of Monahan’s play as of late, mainly due to Gaudreau’s heroism, but this should be a more common train of thought. Monahan is a top player in this league and deserves the recognition for his play.

Karim: I am thoroughly enjoying watching the Flames play. They seem to improve on something every game, last night finding success in what used to be a downright atrocious penalty kill. It’s incredible that the Flames could be first in the Pacific by American Thanksgiving after another sluggish start.

Corsi has become a bit of a buzzword of late with even casual fans knowing what it means and what it can represent. It is no longer a statistic exclusively for “the analytics community”, but now a more mainstream way to evaluate the expected play of a team on a given night. It can be an extremely valuable measure, and often shows which team(s) are driving play more than others. One of the key criticisms of the Flames under the coaching of Bob Hartley was their Corsi numbers from game to game. Many of the analysts who predicted a sharp drop in 2016 after the Flames went to the second round the year before was that their wins were derived mostly from luck as opposed to skill.

It’s no secret that Glen Gulutzan’s system is designed to increase Corsi and create scoring chances as often as possible, and it seems to be a system that works. Despite a slow start last year adjusting to a new coach, a new system, and missing their best player in Gaudreau for training camp and later with an injury, the Flames seemed to right the ship in terms of driving play and turning what used to be a major concern for the team into a strength. Under Gulutzan’s leadership, that trend has continued on its upward climb. Seen below is a graph that shows the Flames’ Corsi differential over the last 3+ seasons.

corsi.jpg

Courtesy: Ryan Pike of FlamesNation.

The Flames are better this year because they’ve played better this year. This isn’t 2015 where they miraculously found ways to come back from multiple goal deficits in the third period. Half their roster having career years and having three defensemen playing at an elite level is not the reason they’re near the top of the standings. This team has improved, boasts more offensive weapons than they have in a long time, and are turning a roster that looks good on paper into one that looks even better on the ice.

Moving Forward

What needs to be fixed? The Fourth Line Center.

Freddie Hamilton returned after nearly a month long absence to play on the fourth line with Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. While his stats look outright awful, he was a serviceable replacement for Curtis Lazar. He even had a brilliant scoring chance in the third period that Braden Holtby was just able to stop. That being said, because Hamilton, Lazar, and Matt Stajan have had middling results this year, expect to see this carousel continue. Freddie may have earned himself another game, but how short should the leash be?

What needs to continue? The Power Play. 

In the past two games, the Flames have scored five powerplay goals. It would have been six had Giordano’s tally come a second sooner. Glen Gulutzan has iterated time and time again that if a team loses the special teams battle, it becomes incredibly difficult to win, and last night was no exception. Both teams’ powerplay units are deadly which makes it harder to match with. The Flames PP now ranks 10th in the league with a 21.9% success rate and, in the last two weeks alone, it ranks second at 37.5%.

Next Game

ALN_20_NextGame

The Flames make their fourth stop on their six game road trip in Columbus on Wednesday night to face the Blue Jackets. Currently sitting in a tie for fourth place in the league with 27 points, Columbus boasts a formidably deep team. Much of their success has come from the reigning Vezina champion, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s, phenomenal play. He sits at a .933 SV% and 2.02 GAA after 17 starts, tops in the league for goalies who have started at least 10 games. The Columbus power play is something to note, as it currently sits last in the league with a 10.3% success rate. Columbus has come a long way in the last five years and this will be a tough matchup for the Flames. If they play the same way they did last night, though, they will be just fine.

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