Just one night ago, Jonas Hiller let six goals past him. He was objectively terrible. So with another game the next night, with the Vancouver Canucks playing host, of course you'd start your backup. That backup being Joni Ortio, he who had a hellish day of travel - literally 24 hours - just trying to get from Glens Falls to Calgary (and have airlines lose his luggage on the way). You'd think his Calgary Flames would want to play for him, but apparently not. Not like that was a problem, though. After all: he's a goalie from Turku.
Right from the very beginning, the Canucks dominated. It was very fortunate for the Flames that Ortio, one of the most-played goalies in the AHL who had barely gotten any sleep since being recalled, apparently wasn't tired, remaining solid in net, well-positioned, and having very little trouble with the initial nine shot attempts the Canucks had.
But then finally, after more than five and a half minutes, the Flames managed a shot attempt of their own. A turnover in the neutral zone led to Johnny Gaudreau picking up the puck, and when Gaudreau picks up the puck, good things have a habit of happening. Gaudreau chipped it up to David Jones, who went in on Eddie Lack with Mikael Backlund alongside him. A deft little pass over to Backlund, and the the Swede made it 1-0 to give the Flames a lead only Ortio truly deserved.
The Canucks' 10th shot on net was a break by Ryan Stanton. This 10th shot on net came about 10 minutes into the period. The Flames still had just one shot on net at this point, because they wanted Lack to have a bad save percentage, apparently. Anyway, yep - Ortio had it.
Other than Ortio and Backlund, the only Flame probably worth anything was Gaudreau. He initiated the Flames' goal, and seemed to be the only Calgary player who could play through the neutral zone. Pretty much any Flames chance came off his stick: going behind the net to throw the puck out for Backlund, who just missed getting his stick on it; and later, a pass to Kris Russell, whose hard shot Lack managed to save.
On the other end, Chris Higgins took the puck behind the net and then neatly passed it to Nick Bonino, who whacked away at Ortio, who had it. Then the Canucks won the next faceoff and shot it on net and Ortio had it. That was happening a lot.
The Flames did have one other notable scoring chance. Sean Monahan, in the faceoff circle to Lack's right, was left completely alone with the puck in what could be described as a questionable decision by Canucks personnel. He spun around and beat Lack, but unfortunately hit the post, so the Canucks remained down by just a goal.
The opening frame ended with some physicality. First, Derek Dorsett and Lance Bouma got into a fight, which resulted in a quick takedown by Dorsett. Second, Ortio went behind the net to collect the puck. He then continued to back up, effectively blocking Brad Richardson and forcing him to take an interference call as he backed up into him.
The Flames got to close out with 22 seconds of powerplay time, resulting in one great Mark Giordano shot, and the Flames leaving outshot 15-6, and out-corsied 26-13.
The powerplay has been super bad as of late, so it was encouraging to see the second start off with Giordano expertly manning the point, and Gaudreau and Backlund displaying some amazing give-and-go action. It wasn't amazing enough to put the Flames up by two, but it was pretty close.
But once the Canucks managed to clear the zone, the powerplay reverted back to its garbage status. Monahan tried to mimic his buddy Gaudreau and his ability to actually carry the puck into the offensive zone, but he forgot to actually try. He quickly turned it over, and a Henrik Sedin to Daniel Sedin pass nearly tied the game shorthanded, but the latter rang it off the post, and the penalty was killed.
With the game returned to even strength, the Canucks resumed outplaying the Flames, but it wasn't quite as bad as the first. The Flames actually managed some shots and chances of their own, but the Canucks' were more frequent and much better, including several close calls.
Ortio gave up a rebound on Alex Edler's shot and Alex Burrows picked it up and went right for the wraparound. Ortio wasn't having any of it, though, and cooly slid over and stayed strong against the post to keep it out, no matter how much the Canucks whacked at him. Then Bo Horvat received the puck right in the crease, but Ortio was square to him and wouldn't let him score. And then Jannik Hansen hit the post, Ortio's new best friend, because his teammates weren't doing him nearly as many favours. Also he had a chance right in the slot, but Ortio is now the best player of all time, so the puck stayed out.
Gaudreau, Paul Byron, the fourth line and bottom defence pairing, and of course, more Gaudreau all got in their chances, but Lack and/or the Canucks' defence were holding strong at this point, and not giving them any more amazing Gaudreau-and-Backlund-together-esque chances.
And then the Canucks scored thanks to some quick Sedin moves. H. Sedin to D. Sedin and an immediate redirect that should have gone in, but Ortio was right there to block it out. The Sedins continued playing and passing, ending up with the centre from behind the net to his brother. Winger got a shot off and the puck flew high. Centre, from behind the net, decided to knock it in with his stick. Mike Leggo was the referee behind the net, so - you can't do that. With H. Sedin celebrating like a dummy, the goal was waved off, because his stick was very blatantly above the crossbar and that is not a permissible way to score. And so, it was still 1-0 Flames.
We got a little four on four action when Markus Granlund was driving to the net and Kevin Bieksa was on him. Granlund was holding Bieksa's stick and Bieksa hooked him, so both players were sent off. With the open ice, the Sedins very nearly scored again as Russell was the lone Flame back with them, but unfortunately for them, Ortio exists, and Ortio continued to make saves.
While it was a better period for the Flames, they were still outshot 13-8, and out-corsied 24-18.
The goal-scoring trio of Backlund, Jones, and Gaudreau nearly kicked off with another goal, but it just wasn't meant to be again. Despite a couple of excellent scoring chances thanks to Luca Sbisa turnovers (Matt Stajan alone in the slot and a nifty Gaudreau drop to Backlund, both of which Lack had), it was definitely the Canucks' period.
Sbisa did have another goof - a hook on Monahan - but the Flames' powerplay, true to form, was awful, and the Canucks probably ended up with more scoring chances over those two minutes than the Flames.
Of course, the Canucks, being the better team and down a goal, had the majority of the chances, so outplaying the Flames no matter what the on-ice situation should have been expected. It often looked like Vancouver, ever so desperate to actually score a goal, was on the powerplay, even though they didn't get a single call all game.
(Although they essentially were on a powerplay when Bouma's shot blocking guard malfunctioned, causing him to stumble and trip up over his skate, and it was thanks to the heroics of Granlund that the Flames were able to get the puck out of the zone while pretty much down a man.)
But when Dorsett is blowing by your players and driving hard to the net with the puck, well, it's just not your skaters' nights. It's your goalie's night, because he stayed right with the big body that is Dorsett and out-muscled him to keep the puck out, though, and that's what was really important within the game.
With the minutes ticking down and the Canucks still without a goal, they were especially desperate. The Sedins were constantly out there creating havoc for the Flames in what was an extremely frantic minute, with the Flames occasionally gaining the Canucks zone but not really getting set up, and the Canucks going absolutely nuts trying to get the puck past Ortio.
Flames pressure was good enough to force Lack to stay in his net until the final 50 seconds, but from there on out, it was extremely close. They were hesitant to shoot at the empty net for fear of icing it, and while the right call, their hesitancy prevented the Flames from scoring an empty netter as well: the closest they got was Bouma, but Edler got back just perfectly enough to cut him off and get the puck back into Ortio's zone.
Multiple mass scrambles initiated by the Sedins occurred. Seventeen and a half seconds to go? Ortio knows where it is. Two and a half seconds to go? Ortio has it. No timeout for the Canucks because they used it up after an icing call in the second?
Are you even going to get the puck back with two seconds?
No. No, you are not. And so, we waited for Burrows and the Canucks to finish up their temper tantrums - including Burrows having to be pulled off of Giordano on the ice, because acting like an adult is apparently not something he is capable of - so we could get on to more important matters.
Like congratulating Joni Ortio on his return to the NHL, and with it, his first career shutout.
Bless him, his beauty, and his goaltending skills, because the Flames were outshot 36-23, and out-corsied 77-46. He stole it on national television.
Flame of the game
Miikka Kiprusoff. Wait no that's not right. The new one. Joni Ortio. Because Ortio got Kipper'd tonight, hung out to dry by a bad Flames team that was completely outplayed and outclassed in every area that doesn't require a Finnish goalie. And he responded like that other 6'1", 185 lb. Turku native. Ortio was incredible all night. He was strong on his skates and strong against the posts. He never lost sight of the puck. There were so many scrambles on top of him, and not once did he panic or flounder. He made 36 extremely strong stops while having to be aware of an additional 41 attempts. He didn't have a great start to the year, but holy crap, I guess we get why he was named an AHL All-Star.
- If it weren't for the second coming of Finnish Jesus, the Flame of the game would have been Backlund, and not just because he scored the game's only goal. He was the best Flames skater, leading the way with 52% CF at even strength - the only other Flame to be a positive possession player was Jones at the same rating, but Backlund started in the offensive zone less.
- How badly were the Flames missing this guy? If you know somebody who's still underrating him, feel free to punt him or her off a cliff. This was Backlund's third game back since abdominal surgery for an injury that had him affected since the pre-season. Over those three games, he has three goals and five points. He also has 11 shots. He. Is. So. Good. And again, without question, needs to be locked right up. The Flames cannot afford to let this guy go. Honestly, not many teams could.
- While Backlund was the best skater, Gaudreau was a close second. It seemed as though he was the only Flame who could actually skate with the puck and carry it into the offensive zone. He kicked off the lone goal of the game, and he had a number of other great setups that his teammates either couldn't get a handle on, or couldn't get past Lack.
- And speaking of Backlund and Gaudreau, they played a lot of the game together, and their chemistry was palpable. We saw a fair amount of that on the powerplay, but they really fed off one another at even strength, too. Jones was okay, but man, remember how good Gaudreau and Hudler are together? Now put Backlund in between those two. Man.
- Good lord, somebody help the defence. Giordano and Brodie both played over 28 minutes. Russell and Dennis Wideman were relegated to 21, and Wideman in particular didn't look exactly great. Deryk Engelland and Rafa Diaz played just over 10 minutes. The Flames' number one priority has to be acquiring another top four defenceman, whether through savvy trade or praying Tyler Wotherspoon fits the bill, and soon.
- The Sedins, now 34, are still amazing. They were a horrifying threat all night. Ortio is better.
- Somebody really needs to give the kind folks at Sportsnet - people who are literally paid to talk about hockey - a clue.
"Shots are 21-10 and the Calgary Flames are winning 1-0 so do shots really matter? I don’t know." God, seriously— &ruhee; (@ruhee_) January 11, 2015
Between that and the insane obsession about the Flames outhitting the Canucks - culminating with Scott Oake asking Willie Desjardins if that was a concern and Desjardins basically saying, "What? No. We outplayed the hell out of them. That's why they were outhitting us. Because we had the puck. Stop talking to me" - it was extremely vapid and embarrassing commentary. God, shut up. Rescind your broadcast rights already.
... Bob Hartley figured out the proper lineup? He's been so close, but no cigar the last two games. There are just two very, very easy steps:
1. Don't play Engelland and Ladislav Smid together.
2. Don't dress Brandon Bollig.
Last game he goofed on #1, this game he goofed on #2. Come on Bob, you can do it, I believe in you.
... the Flames had a functioning powerplay? They do a lot of good work to draw powerplays, and are pretty good and not taking many penalties themselves, but holy god, they really need to learn how to score with the man advantage. Way, way too many lost chances thanks to the powerplay constantly fizzling out. Against the Red Wings and Panthers, at least they just effectively killed two minutes. Against the Canucks, they gave up a lot of shorthanded chances. It's so bad. With all the upcoming time off, it has to be a point of practice. (Maybe try keeping Brodie and Giordano together on the man advantage instead of swapping Wideman in?)
The Flames finally have their first win of 2015, and it's all thanks to Mini Kipper. That's gotta be a good feeling, especially with the next four days off before the Flames embark on a four-game Pacific Division road trip before All-Star Weekend. It kicks off at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15 against the Arizona Coyotes.
In the meantime, be sure to come back to M&G over the little break: first for the stats recap tomorrow (preview: it's not gonna be pretty), and then some for a couple of Flames features!