Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Optimising the Calgary Flames’ second power play unit

The Calgary Flames got off to a good start to their season and immediately had a long break in the schedule. It gives them time to tinker with things that are working and things that are not. To be fair, with such a small sample of games it’s hard to say which team trends will carry into the season, but one area that might improve could be building on their power play.

Their first unit is off to a hot start and have been responsible for four of six of their power play goals so far. On the second unit, Dillon Dube and Mark Giordano each have a power play goal. Could the second unit see better results if some changes are made? We asked, you answered. Here’s how it went down.

Sunday Census has been revamped the 2020-21 season, where we’ll be posting polls on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram revolving around a central question or theme. Be sure to check out all three platforms to participate in each week’s set of polls!

Best forward on the second unit

The four of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm likely won’t be taken off the first unit any time soon. On top of that, Rasmus Andersson is solidifying his role as the first unit quarterback, which is a change that opens up options for the Flames. Most notably, having two units with four forwards and one defenceman.

Unless things stop clicking for the first unit, the Flames will have little reason to tinker with it. Only when the Flames go straight from a penalty kill to the power play would there be opportunities for a second unit forward to take the spot of Lindholm.

However, the second unit isn’t as optimal, at least not yet. There are definitely some changes that could go into effect that can elevate the unit’s threat level. First, we asked which forward currently on the second unit will see the most power play success.

Andrew Mangiapane was the runaway winner in this one, with Dillon Dube coming in second. The fans are not as bullish on either of Mikael Backlund or Milan Lucic, though they had three and five power play goals last season, respectively.

It might be the sense that the Stockton Heat graduates have fully arrived as full-time NHLers, and early expectations on Mangipane and Dube are that they will be difference makers. We’ll see how things go for the second unit over time, but the candidates to switch out down the line might just end up being either of Backlund or Lucic instead.

Next forward up

The Flames have some forward options for the second power play group too. It might be a good opportunity to try either of two newcomers Josh Leivo and Dominik Simon. Both players have already seen ice time with the Monahan/Gaudreau duo, so there’s already a sense that the coaching staff see either of these two being deployed for offence.

However, it makes sense that Leivo would be ahead of Simon for power play responsibilities. He had more than double Simon’s power play minutes last season when they were in Vancouver and Pittsburgh, respectively. Further, Leivo’s a better driver at offence than Simon, and that alone would be a good enough reason to have Leivo ahead.

Circling back to the current second unit, Leivo could replace Lucic, and the Flames second unit would immediately be more dangerous. Whether the Flames will experiment with this unit is not yet known, but the way it currently is, there’s room for improvement, and Leivo is a solid option.

THe defender

Giordano has been a staple on the Flames’ first power play unit for years now, and only this season is he utilised on the second. All things considered, he’d still be a good option on the first unit if the Flames couldn’t rely on Andersson.

Given that he’ll be playing fewer minutes on the power play on the second unit, this is a good opportunity to limit Giordano’s workload game after game. He’ll still be their top penalty killer too, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to share the team responsibilities and change each skater’s role accordingly.

Most people think having Giordano still playing power play minutes is the sensible option. However, between the players that could take the spot, it’d likely be one of Noah Hanifin or Juuso Valimaki.

Hanifin played a good chunk of minutes on the power play last season and it’s a role he’d be comfortable with. However, you can’t help but wonder if the Flames could see some accelerated growth in Valimaki to take the reins at some point.

Valimaki’s been a solid third-pairing defender so far, and if he continues to build on his play, then the Flames will have even more options on the power play. He was excellent when on loan in Europe and had some people naming him one of Liiga’s best players, which is Finland’s top league.

However, similar to the first unit not needing any immediate adjustments, it doesn’t seem likely that Giordano will be demoted from his power play role any time soon. The Flames probably see that there’s still a lot of upside in having him playing on the power play, not to mention how he’s not a liability whatsoever being the first man back in the event that opposing penalty killers get breaks.

Powering up

All in all, the Flames’ second unit got an upgrade this year with Mangiapane, Dube, and Giordano becoming the go-to guys to play alongside Backlund and Lucic. If there’s any change to be made in the near future, their best bet would probably be in trying out Leivo in place of Lucic on the man advantage.

That being said, Calgary’s overall power play is working well under Ray Edwards’ tutelage, and he has a plethora of options in front of him to make it all work out. Operating at an impressive 37.5% after three games, the Flames seem to have the right things clicking on the power play right now. We’ll see how that changes as the Flames return to game action after their week off.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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