ALN_23_Boxscore

After dropping a 6-4 decision to the Dallas Stars the night before, the Flames bounced back against the Colorado Avalanche on last night in a big way. The Flames scored two goals in the final minute of the second period which led to a 3-2 victory. In the final game of their six-game road trip, David Rittich made his first NHL start and recorded the win, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Mikael Backlund paced the offence with two points, including the game winning goal, the 100th goal of his career. The first line was outstanding once again, generating the majority of chances and caused havoc in the Avalanche’s zone all night.

The Flames finished their road trip with a 3-2-1 record. There were opportunities for more points, but they still sit third in the Pacific Division. With their next four games at the ‘Dome, the Flames have a great opportunity to gain more ground in the tight Western Conference.

Statistical Breakdown

Team Stats

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF  53.7%  52.6%  57.2%
SCF  61.5%  58.7%  63.4%
HDCF  61.5%  60.0%  65.8%

5v5 Player Stats

Stats courtesy: hockeystats.ca | hockeyviz.com | Natural Stat Trick

Player of the Game

Ferland was the clear standout last night, as he has been for a few games. In addition to scoring his 10th goal of the season, Ferland had several high percentage scoring opportunities in the game. He had the highest CF% and OZS on he team and generated many dangerous scoring chances. Ferland could have had an even greater impact than he did; he rang one off the crossbar in the opening minutes of the game and missed a point black one timer on the powerplay, just firing the puck high of the net. He is proving to be a very effective first line winger.

Thoughts on the Game

John: Statistically, the Flames appeared to have a strong outing, but they didn’t look to be the better team outside of a few minutes. The two quick goals at the end of the second period couldn’t have come at a better time, as this was preceded by a period where they looked to be falling behind. They still came away with the two points, which is all that matters in the long run.

What confuses me the most continues to be Glen Gulutzan’s player usage. I’m looking directly at Matt Bartkowski, Stajan, and Brouwer. Bartkowski and Stajan found themselves back in the lineup after missing the last few contests, while Brouwer has become a fourth line mainstay. Normally these types of players would simply be placeholders in the lineup, while others would be required to step up in case of an absence. This isn’t the case for Gulutzan as he continues to play them in key situations where others should be instead. Bartkowski took an inexcusable penalty, throwing the puck over the glass immediately after losing the puck in his own zone. During his penalty, Stajan and Brouwer composed the second PK unit, which allowed the Avalanche to tie the game with a powerplay goal. In addition to this, it seems like in the majority of cases when the first line needs a RW to fill a Ferland absence, Brouwer is the first one to get reps. Until recently, Brouwer also was still a mainstay on the first PP unit. This has changed, of course, to reflect the best lineup, but it shows the trouble I have with Gulutzan. He continues to go back to players he likes, even though they may not be the best options for the lineup. Eddie Lack is the one example of a player he clearly liked, but eventually couldn’t rely on anymore. I don’t expect Bartkowski or Stajan to be back in the lineup come Tuesday, but I can’t say the same for Brouwer. Until these players are off the team, there isn’t much we can do but hope that these culprits have a minimal negative impact on future games.

Karim: The Flames were the better team in all areas last night. They out-scored, out-shot, out-chanced, and out-worked the Avalanche, who, despite having moments where they looked to be gaining momentum, just couldn’t match a determined Flames club. Like I’ve said before, you can’t win them all and every so often a game will get out of hand. Dallas was one of those games where the Flames played their worst game since opening night, but a great sign for this team moving forward is the way they responded against Colorado. With the bar being raised for this Flames team, the demand for better, more consistent hockey is present each and every night. In today’s NHL, it’s almost impossible to stay in the playoff race if you go on an extended losing streak at any point in the season, so the ability to rebound after an uninspiring performance is essential for success. With their display of poise in shutting down close games, the resurgence of their powerplay, and elite level goaltending, they definitely look like a playoff team.

I’ll echo John’s sentiments about the reinsertion of Bartkowski into the lineup in favour of Brett Kulak who seemed to be playing decent hockey lately. However, at this point, I think the finger of blame needs to shift from Gulutzan to Brad Treliving. It is well known that Gulutzan tends to start players he is more familiar with, more comfortable with, and who have a larger body of work to evaluate from. Gulutzan likes knowing what he has in the lineup and despite Bartkowski’s struggles and deficiencies, you know exactly what you’ll get from him when he plays. I’m not saying that’s a reason to keep playing him because it absolutely isn’t, but that’s likely the reasoning behind Gulutzan’s roster decisions. If Bartkowski’s play isn’t good enough, he should be sent down to the AHL, and I would argue that his best replacement is Tyler Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon has had a strong campaign in a shutdown role for the Heat. He looks to have been surpassed on the depth chart by Rasmus Andersson so the lack of ice time due to an NHL call up isn’t as much of a concern. The finger rarely get’s pointed at Treliving, but the Bartkowski blame goes further than the coach.

Moving Forward

What needs to be fixed? The First PP Unit.

With Kris Versteeg out of the lineup, Mark Giordano took his place on the first powerplay unit. This was puzzling, as Giordano continued to play once the second unit took the ice. It has been a while since Gaudreau and Monahan have played on a power play unit with two defenseman, and it showed. The power play goal scored was from the second unit, and the first unit looked out of sorts whenever deployed. Who knows how long Versteeg will be out of the lineup, but if it is for a longer time there needs to be a better solution.

What needs to continue? Backup Goaltending. 

Lack gave us all a scare with his inconsistent play and the lack of confidence exhibited by the defense in front of him. With Lack working on his game in the AHL – he made 23 saves in a 4-2 Heat win last night – Rittich got the call in net. Rittich had posted impressive overall numbers in his AHL career, but has a history of having games where he stops everything, and games where he stops nothing. He looked solid in his first NHL start last night, and gave Mike Smith a much needed day off. If Rittich can continue to play the way he did, the Flames may have finally figured out their goaltending.

Next Game

ALN_23_NextGame

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the best teams in the league, and will pose a real challenge for the Flames. If they can extend their winning streak to two against this club, it will be a major confidence boost going forward. The Flames will likely go back to Smith in this contest; he has seven wins, 2.39 GAA, and .924 SV% in 11 career games against Toronto.

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