Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!
The Calgary Flames can count their first win in 2020 playoff hockey. An all around solid effort by the Flames led to a much needed win in the qualifying round.
The Flames can’t take afford to take it easy though, as there’s still much work left to do to get through the Jets. One key aspect is limiting the scoring chances from Winnipeg’s forwards. There’s been lots of discussion on the how the Flames have to figure out a way to solve Connor Hellebuyck while the Jets don’t have such problems in facing either David Rittich or Cam Talbot.
The departures of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in Game 1 do not bode well for the Jets, as those two are responsible for much of Winnipeg’s offence. We posed a question asking which Jets forward would the Flames have to shut down for the series. With the injuries to Scheifele and Laine, we really hope for speedy recoveries with nothing major to either of the forwards.
They’re high-octane players that are relied upon to get on the scoreboard. In addition, with Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, those four are big names to watch for throughout the whole series. While all offensive threats in their own rights, Scheifele was seen as the biggest threat for the Jets in the series.
For a single player to be seen as such a threat, it does beg the question on just how good can Scheifele be? When Laine, Wheeler, and Connor all combine for less much less than half the votes, it makes a strong narrative that Scheifele can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game.
Such a reputation on a player elicits some flashbacks to last year, where Nathan MacKinnon was a solo powerhouse that could not be contained. Does Scheifele have the same impact on the ice? Personally, I’d say MacKinnon is in his own league, but Scheifele is still a force to be reckoned with.
Two seasons ago during the Jets’ deep playoff run, Scheifele put up 20 points (14 goals, 6 assists) in 17 games. With very good playoff credentials, shutting him down can go a long way for the Flames to bail out their goaltenders.
Though Scheifele took the vote by a mile, that’s not to discount the other three players at all. Wheeler put up 21 playoff points in the same playoff run, putting up 3 goals and 18 assists. Laine and Connor haven’t been as effective in the playoffs as the former two, but they’re both going to be players to watch for. Laine’s going to want to bolster his resume as he’s currently on his bridge deal. Connor’s been enjoying a career-best season, leading the Jets in goals this year.
All in all, Scheifele is the consensus major threat. His injury could be a devastating blow to the Jets. For a key player to get hurt in a freak accident like he did, it never sits well in anyone’s stomach.
With any luck, Scheifele (and Laine) won’t be held out for long, and the series can continue with best-on-best hockey. If injury woes do end up taking their toll on the Jets, the Flames can play with a different strategy that focuses on their own offence much more than the Jets’.
Again, all the best to the Jets skaters and we hope they’ll be back on the ice sooner rather than later.
The second poll shifts the focus onto the Flames, in particular their special teams. In a shortened series, the impact of special teams play can dictate the entire outcome. It’s paramount that both the power play and penalty kill operate at optimal efficiency. For the Flames, which one is more important?
The vote was heavily in favour of the power play. No arguments there, as having the man-advantage can be a deciding factor on whether or not Hellebuyck can be beaten.
The Flames and Jets had similar power play efficiencies during the regular season, operating at about 21.2% and 20.5%, respectively. However, the Flames had a much better penalty kill, clocking in at 82.1% while the Jets were at 77.6%.
In a best-of-five, I think good offence on the power play should rightfully be favoured over solid defence on the penalty kill. Without a doubt, both the power play and penalty kill will be critical, but scoring early and scoring often can immediately shift a game and allow the Flames to control the game.
With two power play goals in Game 1 on four opportunities, that was exactly what the Flames needed to gain some confidence. After all, beating Hellebuyck seemed like it’d be the easiest way to do so. It exorcises past demons of being unable to score in past playoffs. While these are technically still the qualifiers, you’d be hard pressed to find any single player or coach that’s treating these games like anything less than a full-fledged playoff game.
However, perhaps the focus should be on the Flames’ outstanding penalty kill. Going a perfect seven-for-seven, the Flames’ penalty kill stymied any and all chances of Winnipeg gaining momentum. On top of that, Tobias Rieder‘s shorthanded goal did even more damage that sucked the wind out of Winnipeg’s sails (or propellers).
The Flames had their special teams playing some stellar hockey across the board. Suffice to say, both the power play and penalty kill played key parts leading to the Flames’ Game 1 victory.
Moving forward, it does make sense that the power play will still be more critical. Hellebuyck is definitely a goalie that can and will steal a game, so converting on opportunities that prevent him from doing so will be all the more important.
Let’s keep it simple. It’s a part of their game plan after all. If they play really good fundamental hockey, they’re in good shape. The Flames need to control their own narrative, and having their special teams step up for the remainder of this series is a sure-fire way to do so.
Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.