Let's be very, very clear here: the Los Angeles Kings are a good team. There's a reason they've won two of the last three Stanley Cups, after all. They weren't even a top seed during either of their runs, so no matter what their regular season record is, you pretty much have to watch out for them. This particular edition of the Kings is just barely ahead of the Flames in the standings, and that's including the recent disastrous eight-game losing streak.
So nobody would have blamed you if you'd picked the Kings to win this game. After all, they were easily the favourites. They're the fourth best possession team in the league, while the Flames are the third worst. And they did, indeed, outplay the Flames. Via HockeyStats.ca:
The game started off really, really well for the Flames. Then the Kings got into it, kept it close... and then completely pulled away as the game went on. We've seen this through the losing streak, though: there were games the Flames were undeniably, unquestionably the better team, and yet went on to lose.
This time, though, the puck finally, finally, went the Flames' way. Or, to be more accurate, it went Johnny Gaudreau's way. Here's our period by period look, via NaturalStatTrick:
Flames at Kings - All Situations
- We can see pretty clearly, here, that the Kings were firmly in control most of the game.
- While the first period started off well, the Flames completely lost control of it towards the end, right about when the Kings got their first powerplay of the game and made it 2-0.
- While they didn't catch up, the Flames put in a much more respectable effort for the second. They started it off slow, but finished it very strong, and were rewarded with their own powerplay goal for their efforts.
- Here's the part that really shouldn't have happened: the Kings absolutely dominated the third period. They were holding on to a two-goal lead, they had complete control of the game, and they weren't giving the Flames an inch. It took a really long time for Calgary to turn it on, but once they did, they were a little force to be reckoned with.
- Pull the goalie twice, Gaudreau scores twice. That shouldn't have happened. Gaudreau's third goal that went in off of Drew Doughty was insanely lucky. This game never should have made it to overtime, but the Flames were long overdue for the bounces to go their way.
- And then once it got to overtime, they were the better team. Albeit not by much, and only over about four minutes of play, but by that point, they had to be the team feeling good about themselves, and it carried through. They didn't have a particularly strong game, but they finished it strong, and considering everything that's happened with this team this month, it was awesome.
Flames at Kings - Even Strength
- There were only four powerplays all game, two per team. Each team had the man advantage in the first and the second.
- While the powerplays in the second didn't have a big impact on the overall flows of the period, the Kings' first powerplay was absolutely monstrous. Take it away, judge the teams on their even strength performances only, and we see it was a MUCH more even frame. Even though they were down 2-0 after one, Calgary's first period was a pretty good one.
- Also I just wanna note that the Kings only scored one even strength goal all night, and it was off a lucky bounce and poor play by Jonas Hiller. So... you know. Special teams are important, obviously, but having a great even strength performance is pretty crucial, and the Flames did a good enough job with the Kings.
Flames Even Strength Data
- While Gaudreau is the man of the hour, I really want to draw attention to the performances of both Paul Byron and Sean Monahan. They were the only forwards to come out above even at even strength. I especially want to note Monahan's performance in this, because Monahan mostly faced off against the Kings' top defence pairing and top line, and he had an excellent performance against them.
- Okay, man of the hour time. Hartley is still sheltering Gaudreau - he had the easiest zone starts on the team - but it's important to remember that, for all of Gaudreau's skill and talent and general being-amazing-ness, he's still a rookie. Clearly a very, very good rookie, but a rookie. He'll almost certainly be able to take the tougher assignments with time.
- Ever-present on Gaudreau's line, Jiri Hudler was the beneficiary of high offensive zone starts as well. He wasn't quite as awesome, though. Hudler's an exceptional complimentary player, but not really a core guy. Still, you need exceptional complimentary players, especially when you're rebuilding. What a great free agent signing he's really turned out to be.
- I love Markus Granlund with all my heart, but he's pretty clearly not on quite the same level the Flames' other young forwards are. At the same time, considering what was asked of him - mostly defensive starts against a tough team like Los Angeles in their own building - he didn't do a bad job.
- Remember when Joe Colborne returned from injury, and Hartley immediately dressed him on the first line with Monahan? Yeah... that's clearly not a role for him. Not now, at least, and honestly, probably not ever. He got hit pretty hard.
- Matt Stajan is better than both Brandon Bollig and Lance Bouma. This should go without saying, since one wouldn't normally expect to find Stajan on a team's fourth line, anyway. Is it a coincidence that when he finally starts getting more ice time, he puts up better performances? Probably not.
- The Flames' remaining three veteran forwards - Curtis Glencross, Mason Raymond, and David Jones - all had different levels of effectiveness. (Glencross and Jones seriously benefited from playing with Monahan, while Raymond got a big boost from Byron. It's some of the younger guys carrying the veterans, now.)
- Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie played a lot of minutes against top competition. Brodie struggled more, but he's still coming into his own as well; regardless, he and Giordano make a great pair.
- Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell did a fair job themselves, however, albeit against easier competition.
- Also those four blocked 20 shots together. Look at Brodie's fenwick in particular for his redemption: he alone blocked eight of the Kings' shots.
- ... And then Raphael Diaz and Deryk Engelland barely played and also they were crushed out there, SO, that's understandable. The Flames really need to upgrade their defencemen. It'll have to be through the draft, probably, so... they really need defensive prospects to start stepping it up. Fortunately, there's time yet, but this is a definite need. It's not good strategy to rely on just four defenders for almost an entire game.
Player Spotlight - Johnny Gaudreau
I mean, who else? Gaudreau is always with Hudler, but this was the first game - largely in part due to Josh Jooris' injury, I'm sure - in which he spent most of it with a new centre. I've been pleading for Gaudreau and Monahan to play together for something like six weeks now, and tonight, that finally came to fruition. These are the numbers in all situations:
- Gaudreau spent all of about five minutes away from Hudler. It's not a big sample size, but you can see the impact Hudler really has on Gaudreau's game. No matter how much line shuffling goes on, it's good to see this is one pair that's going to stay intact.
- His original centre for this game was Granlund. That didn't last very long. And Gaudreau's stats with Granlund are slightly better than his stats without him likely because Granlund faced easier competition.
- Because, well, Monahan saw the big dogs all night. Consequently, when Gaudreau joined his line, the quality of competition he saw increased. And yet, Gaudreau's percentages only dropped a little when he was with Monahan.
- To put this into perspective: Gaudreau and Monahan spent roughly half their ice time together (a little more, actually). Together, they broke even. Apart, Gaudreau's percentages went up 2.38%. That's not a lot. The two are probably ready to spend more time playing on the same line - and if Mikael Backlund returns soon, he should take the toughest assignments away from Monahan, allowing Monahan and Gaudreau to probably thrive even more.
- Quick defence note: again, Giordano and Brodie saw tougher competition than Wideman and Russell, hence, Gaudreau's numbers look better with the latter.
Gaudreau is still a developing rookie. He's coming into his own, especially offensively, but remember: he's played all of 36 NHL games ever. That's not a lot, and he's going up against guys who have played hundreds. His numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, but they're very respectable, especially considering he's a rookie - and possibly the team's absolute best forward - on a rebuilding club with terrible possession numbers. So... this is just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot to look forward to when it comes to Johnny Gaudreau.