The Calgary Flames are rolling. Now on a six-game win streak, they are first in the Pacific Division in terms of points percentage and are quickly gaining points on the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of them. The month of February was meant to be relatively light with the All-Star break and the Olympics, but instead the Flames are one of the hottest teams in the league. Not a bad place to be.
However, with the Olympics happening right now, a topical and hypothetical poll was raised for this week: If the Flames split their roster into national squads for a Threes series, which squad would win? We asked, you answered.
Flames Olympic representatives
A Threes series would see teams with three players and a goaltender suit up. For the Flames, they have two national squads that can be formed.
Team USA would be represented by Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin, and Dustin Wolf. Team Sweden would have Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Rasmus Andersson, and Jacob Markstrom.
No other national team would even be formable.
Team Canada would have Sean Monahan, Andrew Mangiapane, and Chris Tanev, but they’d be missing a goalie. They have a mix of non-Swedish European players, as Adam Ruzicka would represent Slovakia; Daniel Vladar—Czechia; Nikita Zadorov—Russia; and Juuso Valimaki—Finland, but these are all solo representatives.
However, Team USA and Team Sweden would make for a formidable matchup.
Seeing this come to life would be a sight to behold. There’s reasons to think either team could win and it’s a fun thought exercise.
Team USA would be favoured
Having one of the best duos in the league right now with Gaudreau and Tkachuk makes team USA heavily favoured on offence. Noah Hanifin is defensively responsible, and Dustin Wolf—while he hasn’t had NHL playing time—has debuted in the AHL as one of its best goaltenders this season across the league.
This squad will still want to keep the puck out of their own zone as Wolf isn’t yet an NHL talent despite how fast he’s pushing for it in reality. However, the trio in front of Wolf should have little problem generating offence—well far away from their own zone.
Turning to NaturalStatTrick.com’s line tool, we can even see how this squad might even perform. Looking at 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted data, these are the on-ice results for the trio.
Of course, this doesn’t account for the fact that these results come with both Lindholm and Andersson primarily on the ice at the same time.
We can also look at individual stats too, this time at 5v5 without any adjustments.
Team Sweden would be underdogs
Funnily enough, the three players Team Sweden have barely been on the ice at the same time this season with just a grand total of three minutes together. Lindholm and Backlund both being centres makes for their 5v5 on-ice encounters exceedingly rare. Nevertheless, the small sample size had good results too.
They might also get a big edge in possession since both players can take faceoffs with much better efficiency compared to Gaudreau and Tkachuk. In a game of 3v3 hockey, winning or losing a faceoff isn’t as trivial. Maintaining possession right off the get go would be highly advantageous for Team Sweden, especially since they know who they’re defending against when they lose possession.
Individually, Team Sweden doesn’t have the same fire power as Team USA and would probably be looking to possession as a key strategy to generate offence while suppressing Team USA’s.
Goaltending X factor
While it’s clear that the three-man units are imbalanced, what brings this matchup to more equal footing is goaltending. The league leader in shutouts Markstrom would be backstopping a defensively responsible trio in front of him—a combination that would simply work.
Markstrom would revel in the challenge of shutting down Team USA. While his work would be cutout for him, there are few trios he’d rather have in front of him to help defend.
For Team USA, Dustin Wolf would be facing a lot of shots from Lindholm, whose ability to pick a spot is borderline elite in the league. He’s one of the best players on the Flames when it comes to being able to score both in close and from afar, something that will be on full display with all the open ice 3v3 hockey offers.
No one would exactly discount Wolf—whose excelled at every level he’s played at—but it’d be quite the introduction to NHL-level shooting to have to face shots from the likes of Lindholm in Wolf’s first foray into NHL goaltending.
Both goalies could easily steal a game, there’s no doubt about that. Both would have demanding challenges that could lead to an all-time goaltending showdown, with each save one-upping the other.
A true fantasy matchup
Now this would be some pretty entertaining hockey to watch. Who do you think would win this matchup? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press
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