A lot was made about the players only meeting that the Calgary Flames had last week. I have always been skeptical of players only meetings, because they always indicate that something is seriously wrong. What needs to be said that can’t be aired out in front of the coaches? Regardless, the meeting was apparently an attempt to figure out whatever is wrong with the club right now, and to get the ship pointed in the right direction.
Whatever was said in the meeting, it has faded away now. Last night was as sluggish, unorganized, and life-less a game you will see. The fanbase has good reason to be frustrated, this team just doesn’t show up some nights. There just doesn’t seem to be any ability to overcome adversity, and to turn things around when it starts to go south. Last night started well, but as soon as the Jets got some momentum, the Flames never mounted a significant comeback effort.
It was a long trip for the team, and road trips are certainly more difficult in the COVID season, where players have nowhere to go outside the hotel room. Maybe some home cooking will help the team out this week. It better, because they put more than one ugly performance on the board this week.
Lets get into this week’s edition of Friday Flames Notebook!
1. Juuso Valimaki and the little things
The young defensemen has had some ups and downs throughout the early part of the season. But with that being said, Monday night’s game against the Jets was one of his best all season. Obviously he made the beautiful assist to Johnny Gaudreau on the goal to tie the game, but there were a ton of little plays that he made throughout the game that really stuck out to me.
I have written a lot about Juuso Valimaki‘s play in the offensive zone so far this year, but I just had to put this play in the column this week.
This play didn’t lead to a goal, but the composure and poise he showed with the puck is pretty impressive. The best defensemen in this league always play in a style that dictates the game. Most defensemen react, but a few impose their will on the game and play on their own terms. Valimaki isn’t quite in that tier yet, but plays like these show that the kid has the brain, and the courage to play a commanding style.
On this play, he just casually leans on Blake Wheeler, wins the battle with his stick, and the Flames win possession. He makes the play look easy, but it certainly was not. Again, these plays require poise and intelligence. Valimaki has both in spades.
And then it helps when he is stacking two highlight reel plays on top of the little ones.
First, on Monday.
Then a similar play last night.
The Flames need offence from anywhere. Valimaki did his part this week.
2. Disorganized play in the neutral zone.
This was just one play, and Andrew Mangiapane was actually one of the better Flames on Thursday night, but it was indicative of the rest of the game.
Mangiapane has tons of time, room, and speed. In other words, he has lots of time to make a decision, and a few options. For one thing, Josh Leivo is wide open along the boards, and Mangiapane could have easily slid the puck across the blue line to his open teammate.
Instead, he tries to go one on four against the Jets, with seemingly no plan. Its weird because he doesn’t even try to chip it in here, he just glides in as he loses the puck. It speaks to a lot of things, but one of the biggest ones is disorganization. The Flames don’t seem to be playing with any sort of cohesion or identity. Some of that ought to be chalked up to new lines and a lack of practice time, but we are well into the season now and this sort of thing doesn’t seem to be improving.
Another thing that it speaks to however is frustration, and the idea that players are trying to go it alone. That is one reason why the team has no ability to come back these days, because the offence gets very individual late in the games. Plays like this one (and there were a lot of them) are losing plays.
3. Joakim Nordstrom and the Value of a PK specialist
When Joakim Nordstrom was brought to Calgary, he was hailed as a PK specialist. I have been skeptical about that title for a while now, especially after the Mark Jankowski experience, the Tobias Rieder experience, and down the line. Penalty killing is extremely important, no doubt, but I am doubtful of the value of having a “PK specialist” forward like Nordstrom who adds next to no value at five on five.
The problem is this: how good does a guy have to be on the kill to justify being a drag everywhere else? One of the funny things about guys like Nordstrom is they get measured largely on how many minutes they played in the penalty kill. In reality, there aren’t many great metrics of penalty kill success, especially considering the possession is virtually guaranteed and expected to be tilted in favour of the side with the extra man. But because guys played a lot of minutes on the kill at a previous destination, we assume they are elite at killing penalties.
That is not to say Nordstrom has been terrible on the penalty kill this season. He has been on the ice for two goals against on the kill in 21:55, one of the better marks on the Flames. But it is to say that his value on the penalty kill is not enough to justify his place in the line up.
And if he is going to be a guy who makes his money on the kill, plays like this one are unacceptable.
This directly led to a goal. Nordstrom had all the time in the world to make a play, and decides to rim it around the boards the long way. This is basically the same thing that the Flames do when they’re on the power play and they’re trying to move the puck between each other. To do it on the PK, and to have it lead to a goal is frustrating.
At five on five, Nordstrom hasn’t given the Flames much. He has just five shots in more than an hour of ice time, and hasn’t produced any meaningful offence. However he still found himself on the ice with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan late in the game. I don’t think I’m the only one who thought that was a bizarre choice.
If there are changes coming to the lineup, Nordstrom should be one of the first names to look at.
4. mml line finding some traction?
Admittedly, I thought Leivo was going to be better to start the season. The same goes for Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund. Mangiapane scored twice this week and started to get rewarded for his efforts this week, and as a line this group has started to play well. On the year, their CF% is 71.91% albeit in a relatively small sample size of 12:55. They played more than eight minutes together on Thursday, and were the only Flames line to put up decent numbers.
I would still love to see Leivo shoot the puck more. I think he would benefit from a more direct game (along with the rest of the team), and some of the skill plays he tries to make around the net would be better served just being shots.
One of the frustrating parts of the Flames that has been true for a while is that very few of their forwards have any ability to score from distance. Besides Elias Lindholm, Calgary does not have anyone who can really rip. I think Leivo might have the ability to score from slightly further out, and the rest of the team would benefit from his shot. Especially when Calgary is having one of those periods where nothing is going well, shots create shots.
As mentioned before, there is likely to be some shuffling in the lineup coming soon. This combination might be one worth keeping intact.
5. Some notes on shooting percentages
As much as the Flames have not deserved to win many of the games they have played this season, there are some reasons to be optimistic. Many of their best players are shooting very low percentages, especially at five on five.
Monahan has one goal on fifteen shots at five on five, good for a 6.67% shooting percentage. Last season, Monahan also struggled in this department (8.80%), but in his first six years, he sat every year above 10%, exceeding 14% three times. It is possible he has lost his touch around the net, but its also possible that he just hasn’t been lucky recently. I’ll take the latter.
Elias Lindholm is shooting 5.26% at five on five. In his previous two years in Calgary, he shot 12.04% and last year was all the way to 16.35%. Now the number from last year is probably not sustainable, but the Flames can expect more than one goal per nineteen shots from here on out.
Meanwhile most of the Flames skaters have yet to score at five on five, including Leivo, who has launched fourteen shots. These will start going in eventually, especially for a guy who exceeded ten percent shooting percentage in both the previous two seasons.
6. Checking in on Zone Starts
Unsurprisingly, the Gaudreau and Monahan lines have gotten the highest percentage of offensive zone starts. Gaudreau has started 65.22% of shifts in the fun zone, and Monahan is also above 65%.
Lowest on the team is Dillon Dube, who has started just 28% of shifts in the offensive zone. Matthew Tkachuk is only fourth from the bottom. I understand that Tkachuk is an elite two way player, and Dube hopefully will be as well. But with that line in a mini slump, it might be time to start tweaking the deployment. Improved play from the fourth line would help on that front as well.
7. Cheers to the weekend
It wasn’t a fun week for Flames fans. Here is yet another funny Gif courtesy of the King of the Jungle. Hopefully it will put a smile on your face.
I love it, everything was going well until he got to the offensive zone and realized he had no idea what to do. It was actually a good microcosm of the Flames season thus far.
Enjoy the weekend everyone, stay safe and healthy! Blasty jerseys tomorrow!
Photo Credit: Getty Images