You guys! How about Team Canada!! Last night was an insane and wondrous sports night of totally different tones, from the calm and calculated play from Brad Jacobs and Pat Simmons at the end of the Brier to the complete chaos featured as the Ottawa Senators hosted the Calgary Flames, including a ridiculous number of goals. Both matches had one thing in common, though: there was an insane amount of drama, only further heightened by overtimes. This is what being a sports fan is all about.
(I would apologize for talking about curling in here but I'm not sorry. I was watching the draw at the same time as the Flames and there was a lot of jumping around and screaming on my part thanks to both. It was awesome. I love sports SO MUCH.)
Okay. Back to the Flames specifically. Let's kick things right off with the all situations corsi chart, courtesy of HockeyStats.ca:
Things were okay at first! But then the Senators pulled away... and pulled away some more... and continued to pull away, scoring goals all the while. Until about halfway through the third period, when the Flames suddenly went Hulk mode and came roaring right back, destroying the Sens and actually overtaking them in the possession battle to force overtime. What a team.
Of course, this was in part due to score effects, so let's take a look at the 5 v 5 even strength score adjusted corsi chart:
And yup, the gap's quite a bit bigger. Still a hell of an effort by the Flames, but it was definitely aided in part by the Senators doing less, considering they had a four goal lead and all. Ottawa did continue to try to add to their lead, but that third period by the Flames overtook them, as even when adjusting for score effects, they still out-corsied them, by roughly 23 to 18.
Going deeper into those corsi events more likely to become actual goals, here's the 5 v 5 even strength scoring chances chart, via War on Ice:
The Sens took this one off early on, and kept it up even with their four goal lead. It took the Flames until about 35 minutes into the game before they really got going.
For a barrage of attempts, here's what the shooting range looked like, at 5 v 5 even strength situations only:
Until the third period, the Flames' offensive shot plot was barren. That obviously improved what with the insane comeback, but take a look at just where most of those shots came from. Absolutely nothing from the right side, and the majority of attempts came from the perimeter on the left: a spot where you aren't particularly likely to score. It took the Flames some time to finally get in close on Craig Anderson, and that ended up paying off. All the goals scored on him came from the middle, or close to it; all those perimeter shots did very, very little.
The Senators' attack plan, meanwhile, saw them go in hard on Jonas Hiller constantly. They clogged up the middle and forced their way in on the Flames' net, and that paid off for them, big time. They had some perimeter play too, but the real concentration came in close.
So that's two things the Flames need to work on (three if you count how pathetic their right side looks): get to the middle more yourself, and prevent the opposition from entering the slot so frequently.
Okay. Okay. Here is what I'm pretty sure we can all agree is the best part. Time for period-by-period analysis, via NaturalStatTrick:
Flames at Senators - All Situations
- Ever since the Flames lost Mark Giordano, their possession stats have become absolutely abhorrent, not even approaching 50%. Or 40%, sometimes. Based on the first two periods of this game, things were trending the exact same way.
- And then that third period happened. That's probably the best period the Flames are going to play all season, no contest. They absolutely thrashed the Senators.
- See, a lot is being said about how the Flames had 24 shots in the third. (Another 10 missed and blocked shots adds on to how impressive their totals were.) This is a big deal for one reason: the Flames are actually pretty decent at preventing the other team from scoring on them. Their biggest problem is they simply don't generate enough offensive attempts themselves. So that high-volume third period is an insanely good sign, because it was in direct counter to what has been Calgary's greatest weakness all season.
- That third period alone brought the Flames back into respectable possession territory for the first time since Giordano went down.
- (Not reading too much into overtime. Calgary typically dominates that period for whatever reason, but it's only a five minute sample size, so there's not much to gleam from it. Small sample sizes will tend to skew largely in favour of one team.)
Flames at Senators - Even Strength
- The powerplay breakdown went thus: one for the Sens in the first, one for each team in the second, one for the Flames in the third, and nothing in overtime. So pretty even overall, and yet, the Flames ended up with the worse even strength possession statistics.
- Of the Flames' 34 shot attempts in the third period, nine alone came on that powerplay right before Kris Russell scored to make dreams of a comeback seem less crazy. I think they knew that was one of the best chances they were going to have and kind of... really wanted it, eh?
- The Flames pretty much always get a boost from their special teams play. With the best penalty differential in the league - +48, and Minnesota's in second with +38, so it's substantial - they need to keep it up, because special teams are a big part of the reason as to why the Flames are, against all odds, still in a playoff spot.
Flames Even Strength Data
- Let us begin with our praises for our blessed lord and saviour, Mikael Backlund, he of the best possession statistics, many shots on net, and goal. He spent most of his time with Joe Colborne. It may shock you, but it also totally won't, to know that Backlund was the driving force in keeping Colborne alive.
- How come Colborne got the biggest minutes out of all forwards anyway? He looked awful in the game's start. The leash this kid has is insane. (Not to keep beating a dead horse, but also to totally do that: think Sven Baertschi is still a Flame if he's half a foot taller?)
- Lance Bouma was removed from their line for the third period comeback, and Mason Raymond drew in instead, swapping away from Josh Jooris. With Jooris, Raymond's CF was at 34.78%. With Backlund, 72.22%. This is over seven and a half minutes each. Backlund is absolutely incredible. Raymond didn't score, but he did help lead the way with six shots on net.
- Bouma, meanwhile, got chucked down to what ended up being the third line, alongside Jooris and Matt Stajan. He fared much better alongside Jooris than Backlund. Since Colborne has seemingly taken over David Jones' spot on Backlund's line, maybe Raymond will swap in for Bouma now? It would be a better fit, and put Bouma is a situation where he's more likely to succeed.
- While that new all-centre line got benched in the third, they still ended up being the third line because the fourth line was just cut out entirely. Brandon Bollig and Drew Shore had two shifts each in the third, playing just 44 seconds in a thrilling game of "What's the point?" Shore: fine, whatever, he's only played five games with this team. What's Bollig's excuse? His positive possession stats are negated by the fact that he simply didn't play.
- Seriously: Hartley saw his team down four goals in the third period. He figured the game was realistically still in reach, so he ceased to play Bollig. Now watch him dress for next game in a move literally none of us will ever understand that has been going on all season long.
- Jones got the shaft in the third, too. What happened to refusing to break up the Bouma - Backlund - Jones line, seriously? He only had just under two minutes with Backlund, and was 100% CF with him during that time. I'm not advocating for that line to reunite, just baffled by how Hartley is simultaneously steadfast and fickle about his line combinations.
- The Flames' top line got pretty killed out there. Johnny Gaudreau ended up being the main force last night, carrying Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan as they floundered a bit more without him.
- Backlund and Monahan both faced top competition against the Senators last night, but Backlund was far, far, far better defensively.
- Speaking of the word "defence": Russell and Dennis Wideman got the biggest minutes, but continued to be the most sheltered defensive pairing as they started most of their shifts in the offensive zone, Wideman receiving the slight extra benefit.
- David Schlemko is looking good as a defensive depth pickup, especially for free. Even if he's no longer 100% on shootout attempts.
- Okay, now here's the big story of this game: the TJ Brodie defence partner swap. Brodie and Engelland flat out do not work together. We tried the experiment for a couple of games, it was terrible every time, and a direct contributor to Russell and Wideman being overplayed.
- Brodie spent 9:20 even strength minutes with Deryk Engelland over the first two periods. In the third period, Hartley mixed things up a bit, placing Rafa Diaz with the Flames' number one. They played 10:30 together. Meanwhile, Engelland went with Schlemko, and the two of them spent 4:01 together, dropped down to the third pairing and not playing much in the third as the Flames fought to come back. In fact, Schlemko got an extra shift on him, as Engelland's night was over right when the Flames drew within one.
- These new defensive combinations keep a left-handed shooter with a right-handed one. Hartley's not going to split up Russell and Wideman, so the only option was to put Diaz with Brodie and Schlemko with Engelland. And here's the really important part: it paid off, big time.
Position Spotlight - The Defence
I know I'm a broken record here, but: the Flames were thin on defence even before Giordano went down. Without him, they've been a flat out disaster. One of the biggest problems has been Engelland's elevation to the top four.
Engelland is not a top four defenceman. Hartley would occasionally scratch him at the start of the season so Diaz could get some playing time, and by the time he'd played his seventh game of the season, Engelland was firmly on the third pairing. Elevating him when Giordano went down was a mistake. Hopefully one that won't be repeated again. Observe:
Brodie and Engelland are not compatible. They simply are not. It's not going to work. It's not an issue worth forcing. They're abhorrently awful with one another, and have been the entire time they've been made a pairing.
One of the strengths Brodie and Giordano have as a pairing is when one decides to jump up into the play, the other is typically guaranteed to be able to get back and cover for him immediately. Brodie doesn't have that luxury with Engelland, so if he wants to move offensively, he pretty much has to cover for himself. And Engelland isn't someone with offensive instincts, so there's no risk-reward factor with Brodie covering Engelland, it's purely risk.
Diaz, on the other hand, is a much more mobile skater, and while he isn't a high scorer, he does have a pretty decent shot as a weapon. Brodie's stats shot way, way up once they were paired with one another, and the Flames' performance as a whole improved by leaps and bounds.
Engelland, meanwhile, was much better away from Brodie, away from the tougher assignments, and playing a more sheltered role with Schlemko put him in a position to thrive. Not just be less worse: Engelland's stats were legitimately good once he was separated from Brodie. I was wrong to compare Engelland's partnership with Brodie a parasitic relationship earlier; truth is, they're simply abhorrent together, the both of them.
While nowhere near as dramatic, Diaz and Schlemko benefited from the change in partners, too:
So here's the thing: the Flames fucked up when they signed Engelland. He's the team's fourth-highest paid defenceman this season, but at absolute best, he is a third pairing guy - and he's still signed for another two seasons.
Meanwhile, Diaz, the training camp tryout signed to a cheap one-year deal, is the best option to slot into the top four. Switch their contracts, and things wouldn't be perfect, but they'd make more sense compared to the players' abilities and potential on-ice contributions.
The expensive guy is the depth defender who needs to be sheltered and the cheap tryout is the ideal top four replacement. That's the way this has shaken down without Giordano. For Diaz to have been a healthy scratch so often early in the season was bad, but that's been fixed. Now, it has to be taken up another level.
Because if the Flames want to find success, they can't keep playing Engelland in the top four. He can't be Brodie's partner. If that means Diaz getting top four minutes - something Hartley has pretty much completely refused to do until last night, when he played a season-high 18:42 - then so be it. They were significantly better when paired that way, and it wasn't even close.
If the Flames want to make the playoffs, and Hartley refuses to split up Russell and Wideman, then that's the defence combination they're going to have to use. Stop wasting your best defenceman's time and put him with someone who can keep up, and the likelihood of success is significantly greater.