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 Flames have earned a 2-1 edge in their first round series against the Dallas Stars, but their on-ice play leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, they’ve found ways to win, but they’ve really only controlled one of the three games in the series. They were almost able to come all the way back in game two, and were hopelessly outplayed despite winning game three. It’s nice to be up in the series, but they won’t win many more playing the way they have.
One of the biggest improvements for the Flames thus far, outside of the crease with the absolute heroics we’re seeing from Cam Talbot, is the commitment to play tight team defense. Several players have commented on how this has been an area of focus for the whole group, and it’s really showing. They’re not perfect, like on the Stars’ game winner in game two with 40 seconds left, but they’ve been much better overall compared to the regular season.
Talbot has easily been the team’s MVP and has been nothing short of stellar tending the crease, but there have been quite a few unexpected heroes including Dillon Dube, Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, and Rasmus Andersson. Still, outside of the first game of the series, the Flames have relied on strong special teams to win games. They’ve scored two powerplay and two shorthanded goals in the series, but just five even strength goals.
Our first poll this week asked Flames fans who they want to see step up at 5v5.
This was a recurring theme, but our first poll was a runaway. He’s faced criticism the entire postseason, but it’s deserved. Johnny Gaudreau is supposed to stir this team’s offensive drink, and he just hasn’t done that so far.
The version of Gaudreau we saw this season is a far cry from the dynamic, speedy winger we saw one season ago. This Gaudreau is predictable, doesn’t have the same creativity and explosive edgework we’ve come to expect, and he doesn’t have the ability to take over games.
5v5 is the state where games are generally won or lost. Gaudreau has been effective on the powerplay, but nothing short of uninspiring at even strength. Has he become too predictable? If so, why hasn’t he been able to adapt like other top players in the league? This is a guy who’s excelled and figured it out at every level he’s played. Is this temporary, and he’ll get back to his best self over time? Unfortunately for the Flames, they’re on borrowed time and really don’t have the patience for Gaudreau to learn how to be good again.
The tough part is it’s not just Gaudreau. He did receive 61% of the votes in this poll, but his linemates haven’t been all that good either. It almost seems as though the problem is on both ends: the playmaking (Gaudreau) and the finishing (Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm). We’ll be digging into why the top line has been so ineffective this series, but it’s really becoming a focal point of frustration for the fanbase. Our second poll asked what spark was needed for the team to improve their 5v5 play, and it was just more of the same.
In the series against the Jets, many pointed to Lucic’s fight against Nathan Beaulieu as a major spark for the team winning the series clinching game. It was a pivotal moment that engaged the whole team right off the bat and set the stage for a dominant game four.
Similarly, the same was said for Gaudreau’s powerplay goal against Connor Hellebuyck in game one. Hellebuyck was supposed to be a brick wall, but when Gaudreau broke through with that PPG in the first game, he showed that the Flames could beat the soon-to-be Vezina winner.
Another way for teams to wake up is to suffer a truly embarrassing loss. It happened last season when the Flames lost 9-1 to the Penguins on home ice; they used that as motivation to win the West that season.
Still, none of these answers were even a close second to the winner: the top line needs a 5v5 goal.
When that’s been the most common source of frustration for two playoffs in a row, it’s easy to see why. That’s the line that should be leading this team offensively. Not Lucic, not Dube, not even Mikael Backlund. Monahan should be scoring goals, Lindholm should be scoring goals, and Gaudreau should be setting them up on every single shift. Unfortunately that isn’t happening, and if the Flames are going to close out this series and want to have any shot of advancing past the next one, they’re going to need some production from the top line. Maybe today is the day they break through.
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.