Here is a list of things that become terrible after thirty minutes:
- Cereal, because it becomes soggy.
- Nachos, because they become cold.
- History Channel documentaries, because they delve into pure nonsense.
- Philosophy books, because the words become bigger and less understandable.
- Calgary Flames hockey, because they forgot the finer points of the sport and become puke on ice.
The Flames have just had three games in a row where they turned manageable games into complete disasters. This is in part due to their inability to play regular hockey past the halfway point. Most Flames fans can agree that the problem last year was not playing well enough in the first two periods. This year, they fixed that, all while forgetting about the third period, their strongest last year. It's a confusing mess right now.
The most confusing aspect is the lackluster defensive play. Instead of being saved from disaster by the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton, the Flames seem to have completely fallen off the map defensively, and it's costing them games. Let's see why:
As always, from hockeystats.ca
Save for the Capitals game, in which they clearly weren't even close to the opposition, it's pretty eerie how the Flames lose complete control in both games exactly around the 30 minute mark. There are some early struggles, but around halftime, the teams are level. Then the Flames just lose it. Why?
Also from hockeystats.ca
List of grievances:
Remember last year when Brandon Bollig wasn't allowed to play in the third period? Those were good times. Now, he is allowed, and his linemates don't get freedom. His high shift total against Edmonton was probably for "emotion" or whatever, but it's clearly hurting this team. Especially when Jooris and Granlund, players who are more potent on offence than Bollig, are sitting because of him.
- Considering Johnny Gaudreau is the only source of offence this team has thus far, it doesn't make sense to limit his playing time in the second period at all.
- They haven't played a whole lot this year, but Brett Kulak and Deryk Enegelland have been analytic surprises, and Hartley certainly needs to play them more. If something's working, keeping working with it. This can help with late game production. Benching them for whatever reason (protecting the rookie, third pairing guys don't deserve big minutes, etc) isn't helping the team. If they can go out and dominate other teams' third pairings, let them go for it. That's how you generate offence with depth.
- And that brings us to the over-reliance on Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, who have been the worst players thus far in the early season. It's not even bad from an analytics perspective, they've just been incredibly bad. There's no way a hockey coach can look at these two play and determine that what they need is more ice time. It's hurting the team, and costing the Flames wins.
It's time to take a bit of a look at some of the defensive issues on this team, and how to fix them.
- Break up Russell and Wideman
Ever since they started playing for the same team in 2013-14, Russell and Wideman have been together for 1,698 minutes and 34 seconds at 5v5 even strength. Wideman has only played about 700 minutes away from Russell (late season injury in 13/14), while Russell has played about 1,200 away from Wideman. That's a big enough sample size to say that this hasn't been working out.
Over the course of two seasons and five games, Russell and Wideman have a 44.2% corsi on 55.4% OZS. There aren't enough resources to help me look this up, but that's probably one of the worst pairings by that measurement, and probably the worst pairing considering ice time.
"But they produce goals!" But they also allow goals, and one of those numbers is more likely to fall when your PDO comes crashing down to Earth. As it has so far this season.
- Dougie in the dumps
I'm convinced Boston is secretly harbouring the real Dougie in the TD Garden scoreboard or somewhere, and sent the Flames Larry Izzo, a former Patriots linebacker. Izzo, in addition to being the only other red-headed Boston sports player I know of, is more famous for -ahem- making a mess on the sidelines rather than anything football related. This sums up Dougie's short time with the Flames, but with less Clorox involved.
It's hard to say why Hamilton isn't the player we saw in Boston. He's vastly underperforming all expectations, both analytically and visually. Paired with Mark Giordano, another one of the NHL's best defenders, their CF% is 45.3%. Seperated, Gio is a 45.8% and Hamilton is a 39.4% (according to hockeyanalysis.com. Other people are giving different numbers, which are less favourable to Hamilton).
Hamilton has never looked like this before. Everyone knows that this isn't the player he used to be. There is something clearly wrong with the system in place in Calgary, the system that we've deriding for the past few years, especially last season. Lightning doesn't strike twice, and I hope Hartley knows that.
- I miss you, TJ Brodie
Brodie isn't going to fix every problem with the Flames, but he's going to help. Putting Brodano back together allows Hartley to figure out what to do with Hamilton, which may facilitate the breakup of Russell-Wideman. Of course, these players are still on the Flames, which is a problem in and of itself, but the very least you could to do remedy it is by not doing the thing that has been proven to not work over two season.
So how do they fix this?
There's going to be a lot of changes needed. It's not the goalies, who are receiving no favours being killed night in, night out by a porous defence. The forwards certainly need a spark. Despite Bob Murray and other teams' scouts being in the stands, don't expect a trade to come. They all left in the second period just like any other reasonable person.
If I'm being honest, the team needs a new system. There have always been problems with this squad. Not changing them means that the opposition already has a leg up on you, because they know what you're going to do. If Hartley's truly the coach of the year, this has to be done.