It has been a bad week for the Calgary Flames. A week ago, the team was 2-0-1, and in position to take early control of the Scotia North division. Three losses later, the team is still in a fine spot in the standings, especially with less games played than anyone else in the league, but it certainly was a disappointing week.
Most frustrating has been the fact that many of the things we saw through the first few games that were so exciting, have suddenly vanished. The depth this team tried to hard to strengthen in the offseason has become just as much of a liability as it was in past years, and as last night showed, this team is still susceptible to just taking nights off.
Here’s hoping the play this week is not indicative of the way the rest of the season will go, because it will be a long, long season if Calgary keeps getting killed by the likes of Toronto and Montreal.
1. Derek Ryan needs to be better
Derek Ryan has been a solid and consistent contributor to the Flames since joining three seasons ago. Over that span, he was been one of the more steady forwards on the team, with CF% of 51.4%, and xGF% of 51.8%. All stats 5v5 from Natural Stat Trick.
In that same time span, he has scored 48 points also at 5v5, good for seventh on the team. In other words, Ryan has usually been a lone bright spot in a bottom six that has struggled for most of the time he has been here.
None of his usual reliability has been true so far this season. Ryan looks a step slower than he has been in past years, and his lines have been getting killed. He has recorded one shot on goal in 50:25 of ice time at 5v5, and his CF% is the second-worst on the team at 37.45%. His xGF% is only slightly better at 40.01%. He has been good in the face-off circle with 66.67% of them going his way, but it doesn’t matter when you get shelled so badly after the draw.
One play that I noticed this week was his bad read and lack of awareness on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ power play goal.
Every team in the NHL (including Calgary) looks for this cross seam pass. Especially when it’s Auston Matthews! Yes, it was a great play by Mitch Marner and an awesome shot by Matthews. But this was just way too easy.
Ryan never turns his head to find Matthews, and makes no special effort to dive to block the pass. My college lacrosse coach calls these types of passes “the death lane” because if the defence lets a pass through it always leads to a goal. In the NHL, and especially against the Leafs, the cross seam look is the death lane. Ryan failed to stop it and the Flames paid for it.
2. Sam Bennett also needs to be better
I think Sam Bennett needs to be moved to center, but he also just needs to play better. His game has no structure in the regular season, and he is off to another terrible start. His CF% is at 43.24%, and his xG% is just 34.99%.
Understanding why he struggles is difficult, beyond the penalties and obvious mistakes. But here is one good example of why he can be so frustrating sometimes.
Milan Lucic makes a good play to get to the puck first and play it over to Bennett. It is obvious before Lucic gets the puck that he is going to be first to it. A lot of players in Bennett’s situation would check up here, and head to the corner to be an outlet for Lucic. Maybe the pass wouldn’t have gotten there, but it is fairly likely, worse case scenario it would be a battle in the corner.
Instead, Bennett comes flying in with a ton of speed, and tries to grab the puck on the fly at full speed. My simple question was what was the plan here? Even if he controls the puck, he is going too fast to sneak it shortside and is going to run into the logjam behind the net. Not to mention he is on his backhand, so would have to make a pretty incredible play to pick it up in stride and make a play.
The effort is good, and nobody doubts the passion, but plays like this can drive you crazy. These are the types of plays in my mind that mark the difference between good possession players and ones who have terrible numbers. This was a turnover because Bennett was just too excited to get on the puck.
Later in the game, this happened.
Bennett sees Marner, but just doesn’t cover him. Similarly to the goal on Ryan, it was a great play by Marner. But it’s the NHL, the players are too good and being close to someone means nothing unless the gap is actually closed. The Flames lost because of the lack of attention to detail by regular season Sam Bennett.
3. Super Line dominating in Small Sample Size.
Geoff Ward has been experimenting early in the season with playing Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan on the same line after successful penalty kills. This strategy makes sense, given the three best players don’t play on the PK.
In a small sample size this season, that line has dominated. In 6:31 of ice time, the CF% of that group has been 75.48%. Their xG% is a whopping 85.00%, and HDCF% is a perfect 100%. Is that good? Something to monitor as the year goes on, but icing this trio seems to be a great way to recapture momentum after a penalty.
4. Milan Lucic… Sniper
I know what you’re thinking. “Jon, why are you cutting slack to Lucic after you roasted Ryan and Bennett, they play on the same lines!”
Well, I don’t have much to say, I have something better:
Sometimes in hockey, you just smile and put your hands in the air. Goals from Lucic at 5v5 are like surprise parties. You have no idea when they’re coming, but when they do it is such a shock that you have to remind yourself to enjoy the moment.
We will ride this wave while we can. Lucic is tied for first on the team in five on five goals through the early season. King of the jungle stuff from Lucic.
5. Is Dillon Dube really that important?
Well, maybe. Dillon Dube‘s injury is the one thing that has really changed since the first few games when this team looked really dangerous. Since he got hurt, the team has not created nearly the same offence, and the ripple effects down the lineup have really hurt the Flames.
Without Dube in the lineup, Andrew Mangiapane has been pushed into the top six, which is a nice promotion for him but a blow to the offensive creation on the third line. With Dube and Mangiapane in, the Flames go three really solid lines deep, and the third line with Mikael Backlund becomes a bit of a weapon.
This week, Backlund has struggled to get much going, and there is no punch on that line. It also means that Joakim Nordstrom gets in the lineup regularly. He hasn’t shown anything so far this season, and Flames fans have to wonder what the upside is there, and why he is getting opportunities over some of the younger players in the pipeline.
Nonetheless, Dube should be back this week, and hopefully he can help get this mini-slump turned around.
6. Did the Hockey Gods Do This To Us?
Calgary was rolling. The team started the season hot, and everyone was talking about fun things like depth, young players, and strong goaltending. Things were great in Flames world.
But we, as Flames fans, cannot have nice things. The team decided to anger the Hockey Gods by wearing the old red jerseys over the new retro ones. This honestly was an indefensible decision to me.
What in the world were they thinking? Literally everybody (okay, figuratively everybody) was talking about how unreal the new jerseys looked, and then the team slaps us in the face with the old ones.
I’m not mad, I’m just dissapoi… okay no. I am mad.
The Hockey Gods punished us. And we deserve it.
7. Okay. Let’s all take a deep breath
Montreal and Toronto are really good. Losing to good teams is frustrating but not catastrophic, and Calgary has a lot of runway to get this thing going in the right direction again. The next week will be a big one for the Flames, as they finally have a packed schedule. They play Montreal on Saturday, followed by three dates with the Jets in four nights, beginning on Monday.
I will be back next Friday with another notebook, and hopefully more gifs of Milan Lucic scoring. That’s the #content we need. Have a great weekend!
Photo Credit: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire