M-M-Who? Which Flame is the best fit on the second line?

To say that the reigning regular season Western Conference Champions have had a slow start to the season would be an understatement. Hovering around .500, the Calgary Flames have struggled to find the back of the net consistently and to close out games.

To try and get his group going, Bill Peters has been quick to shuffle his lines. With the exception of a two-game stint with Elias Lindholm at centre and Matthew Tkachuk taking the top right wing spot, the first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Lindholm has been pretty well intact so far this season. Likewise, the duo of Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund have played plenty of minutes together.

Beyond that, Peters has shuffled around the winger on that second line, but it looks like a toss up between Andrew Mangiapane and Michael Frolik.

Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik

The famous 3M line has found time playing together for large chunks of the season. This group started the season together, but was broken up in Game 2, with Mangiapane being promoted to the second line in Frolik’s spot.

They have been brought together and torn apart a number of times since, but have played over 60 minutes together at 5v5 averaging out with a 60.5% CF in 9 games as shown in the table below. Weighted CF% is a weighted average of Corsi For % for each game weighed against the number of minutes played per game. (All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)

Hitting the 60% CF as a line is incredible, but the line has not been consistent. Most notably, they struggled in the loss against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 9 where they posted a 33.3% CF, and against the Columbus Blue Jackets where they posted a team low 38.9% CF (not including lines that played less than 2 minutes together). That being said, they have looked excellent as well in stretches, including a mammoth 80.33% CF in a loss against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6.

PlayerGP on 2nd LineTime on Ice Weighted CF%
Michael Frolik976:5060.5

Even more interesting is this line has taken on more of the offensive role. Initially known as a defensive line tasked with difficult starts, this line has started nearly 70% of its shifts in the offensive zone, compared with 55% last season.

Despite favourable usage, Frolik has struggled to start the season. While he did score in his 800th NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers, he has taken eight penalties and sits a team low -10 on the season.

Of the three points that he has scored so far, all three have come while playing with Tkachuk and Backlund. He is currently on track for 14 points this season, a far cry from the 34 he posted in 65 games last season.

He is also on an expiring contract, and has been shopped around to other teams. The Flames are likely not seeing enough value from him at $4.3 million per season, and may want to move on from him some time this season. Even if he finishes his contract as a Flame, it is unlikely the team elects to re-sign him.

TKACHUK-Backlund-MANGIAPANE

Starting in Game 2 against the Canucks, Mangiapane began to take reps on the second line. Needless to say, they looked very good initially. In the first two games together against the Canucks and Kings, they posted an average 68.8% CF in almost 15 minutes of ice time. But in the next two games, they looked much worse with only 37.5% CF in the same amount of ice time. He has played games both with and without Tkachuk and Backlund since then.

Player GP on 2nd Line Icetime (min.sec) Weighted CF%
Andrew Mangiapane857.1357.1

As shown in the table above, over the eight games they played together, they have posted a 57.1% CF, and have only been under 50% in one game- the disastrous 6-2 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights. Taking that loss out, this line posted a 58.8% CF in about 20 less minutes of ice time. This line together has by-and-large looked poised and dominant in the seven games that they have been together to this point, and Peters has deployed this trio for some amount of time in the last three games.

Over the seven games, Mangiapane has played mostly on the right side, which is his off-wing. However against the Capitals, Peters put him on the left side and had Tkachuk on his off-wing instead. This seemed to work much better, and resulted in a goal by Mangiapane.

As Derek Wills notes in his Flames Thoughts this week, the coaching staff seems more comfortable with Mangiapane playing his natural wing. If he gets more time on this line, expect him to be on the left side more often.

Away From Backlund and Tkachuk

It is obviously important to see how they play on the second line, but it is also worth looking at how they have played in the bottom six.

In Frolik’s case, his most common linemates away from the other two M’s have been Tobias Rieder and Mark Jankowski. In six games and 25 minutes together, this line has posted an impressive 60.4% CF – almost the same as when Frolik played with Backlund and Tkachuk. However, this comes with less ice time per game and slightly more sheltered roles.

Just as with 3M, this line has been highly inconsistent. Ranging from a 20.0% CF against the Vancouver Canucks to 100% against the Arizona Coyotes, the line is only recently settling into a consistent groove. That being said, if Frolik can get the bottom line generating chances, it is only a matter of time before some of them end up in the back of the net.

Mangiapane’s most common linemates away from the second line have been Derek Ryan and Sam Bennett. Together the line posted a 49.9% CF including the game against the Predators where they had an abysmal zero percent (not a typo) Corsi for in three minutes of ice time. However, in the other four games they played together, the line looked quite good at 55.0% CF in about 25 minutes of ice time.

With Mangiapane, his numbers have looked good, but he has looked much more effective against top quality opposition. As a player who has excelled at every level of hockey he has played, it seems like the best option to see if he can succeed playing more difficult minutes against tougher opposition. This way the Flames can see what they really have in him.

What Does it all come down to

At the end of the day, both Frolik and Mangiapane have posted similar numbers both with and without 3M. That being said, as good as Frolik has been Mangiapane seems like a player who has a longer future with the organization.

With Frolik unlikely to be re-signed this summer, it is worth exploring if Mangiapane can play tougher minutes. If he can, the Flames can use Frolik’s veteran experience to try and get guys like Rieder, Jankowski, and others going, and can use Mangiapane to ensure they have a two-way line that can play against the best other teams have to offer.

Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

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