After a three goal deficit and everything else after, during, and between we see the Calgary Flames moving onto the second round for the first time since 2004. It's incredibly hard to comprehend still, but within that beautiful chaos that was the 7-4 win we have some incredible examples of smart decisions.
We're going to start off with a common thing that I've talked about in the last month: the penalty kill. The Flames spent a disgusting amount of time shorthanded in this series due to poor decision making and discipline issues. Fortunately they had at least one strong PK last night that showed off their strengths.
Example One - Flames PK in the first period. Limiting shooting lanes, moving up ice, and shutting down entries.
So Josh Jooris' penalty was probably the last thing that Calgary wanted after going down 3-0 in the period, seeing their starter pulled, and having a ton of issues controlling play. The PK could have gone better (I mean Radim Vrbata scoring wasn't part of the plan) so thankfully they had their heads in the right place for this one.
Here is a prime example of when shot blocking pays off:
Ramo has full vision of the play and isn't obstructed from watching for the puck. All three players are lined up to prevent as much of the puck from heading to the net. Positioning is key here and it leads to more success as the puck hits someone and heads to the half-boards.
A puck battle ensues and the puck is shot around the net to try to set the play up again. The entire focus of the Canucks' main power play unit always seems to be setting up and allowing the Sedins to start the cycle play. As it's rimmed around, Calgary reacts:
Stajan heads towards Alex Edler while Deryk Engelland as usual heads to this location in the corner while cutting across in front of Ramo. Stajan pursues as the puck is rimmed around to the half-board by Henrik Sedin. Oddly enough Engelland does make smart decisions at times on the PK. We've highlighted them before and this time it sort of works out.
Right here you see the work in the corners pay off from Deryk Engelland, allowing TJ Brodie to start moving the puck to Joe Colborne who is prepared to receive the pass. It's important for several reasons:
- TJ Brodie's ability to skate is arguably his strongest asset. The man has wheels and he can turn it on whenever he wants. The slight side-step going around the net gives him enough time and space to ensure his lane is open for Colborne.
- The strongest penalty killers have the innate ability to shutdown shooting lanes, force turnovers, and move up ice. All of parts of this particular kill had those attributes. This breakout is crucial as it kills time as well, allowing the Flames to get fresh bodies on ice.
Colborne recovers here, fortunate as the puck heads to the corner. This is a VERY lucky break as Colborne forgot about Vrbata. As the puck is sent out to center ice, the Canucks regroup again. Monahan applies moderate pressure on the forecheck leading into this little sequence:
This is a great little play by Sean as with just a decent push on Henrik Sedin, he forces a turnover. After Monahan gets a weak shot attempt on Ryan Miller, Mikael Backlund is in pursuit as usual. His ability on the PK is one of his strongest attributes as he finds opportunities to pounce on:
Just a really basic tag-team with Engelland to allow Backlund to move the puck out with a soft-chip out as David Jones pursues.
- Calgary was able to limit Vancouver to three shot attempts on this PK, of which they did find seams to get them towards Ramo, though nothing ever came of it.
- The Flames spent a lot of time forcing the Canucks to cycle the puck, trying to find the most opportune way of striking. This inevitably killed time and made their lives difficult.
- Puck movement in and out of your own zone is so crucial.
Jones reads the play perfectly here and extorts the Vancouver attack. It forces the Canucks to react and switch gears for a potential zone entry or dump in. A smart decision is made by Jones to chip it along the boards so Stajan can carry the puck in.
Which inevitably leads to this beauty goal by Ferland to make it a 3-1 game.
The final and most crucial part of this entire goal is Stajan's ability to thread a pass through Kevin Bieksa's legs as shown on the replay. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for this pass:
- David Jones did a phenomenal job overall starting this. The Flames struggled all season and in the series still with limiting zone entries and it's simple suppression techniques like this that impact your team positively.
- The goal was another off the rush and it seems to be a calling card of this young team. This is an ingredient in Calgary Flames hockey. It's why we've all sat and watched 80+ games this year.
- Matt Stajan had one hell of a game along with the young upstart Michael Ferland. When you utilize players who can drive play by entering the zone and making things happen it leads to success.
Example Three - Johnny Gaudreau and his backchecking skills in the second period.
This isn't something new by any means. Gaudreau has done this a number of times during the regular season and it doesn't get old. The entire play starts in the neutral zone after...
... Monahan receives the Brodie pass and enters the zone on an entry that isn't exactly an entry that will lead to success. The silver lining at least is it was carried in.
A pass that was hopefully trying to connect with Gaudreau doesn't make it there and is broken up by Bieksa which sends the Canucks up ice with numbers. Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler are all caught behind the play initially.
Vrbata's ability to receive the pass, pick up speed, and enter the zone with the puck is huge. Deryk Engelland is left alone but thankfully Hudler is the first forward back.
This entire GIF is just an assortment of things happening.
- Engelland's decision to try to prevent a pass is far too early as he slides out of position.
- Hudler also tries to slide in and poke-check the puck away which doesn't work out either. Sliding into Engelland delays him from getting back into position.
- Brodie makes it back into the play third and seeing a one-timer play set up, gets in line for a potential shot block. This is yet another example of when shot blocking is necessary as it's a high danger shooting area which hopefully could be prevented if the shot were to happen.
- After the puck gets into the Canucks' zone, the Flames are able to hold play there long enough to try and generate shot attempts. All because of Gaudreau.
- During the offensive zone time, Nick Bonino takes an unfortunate penalty trying to shutdown the situation. This all wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the backcheck initially.
The decision making here is really confusing. It's almost like they're hoping to catch the Flames napping and get an easy entry. Or, at the very least chip it into the Flames zone and start on the forecheck.
Due to this being super blurry, the puck is circled. Fortunately Jones reads the situation correctly as they miss the puck and the Flames head up ice. Once again a strong zone entry while carrying the puck in will lead to better chances.
Jones elects to shoot here, using the screen as a tool to either beat Miller or force him to give up a rebound. As usual, Ferland is heading to the net to cause havoc and hopefully clean up any rebounds that might exist.
As Ferland heads on net, it's important to note he does pull Ryan Miller slightly to the right which impacts his positioning of being fully square to the impending shot attempt.
The puck flutters in the air which gives Jones a very lucky bounce to knock it down to Stajan who puts it past Miller to give the Flames their first lead of the game.
Overall the entire sequence is systemic of smart reads in the neutral zone. A lot of folks on television are going to talk about "hockey IQ" and how player 'X' has it. David Jones and Matt Stajan, on both goals their line attributed to, used that same hockey IQ to find success. At the end of the day, it's all logical decision making that puts them in situations to succeed.
Example Five - TJ Brodie on Henrik Sedin late in the third.
The final sequence we'll examine is a lapse in the defensive zone late in the game as the Canucks try to find an equalizer. This might be one of TJ Brodie's single most important decisions to recover the situation in his career.
As the puck battle continues, Wideman heads in to support the young forward group. Brodie slowly glides towards it to be in position to move the puck down the ice if needed, but it unfortunately leaves Henrik Sedin to skate behind the defenders.
The entire sequence itself is a short one but it inevitably leads to the Jiri Hudler's empty net goal, fully cementing the demise of the Canucks in the post-season.
Overall the final game of the series provided some incredibly important moments that often led to success for Calgary. I personally believe that this game should quell all remaining doubters of Matt Stajan as his work on the ice last night was key to success. At this point there should be no reason to question his abilities as an optimal third line centre who is a benefit to the team.
The necessity for carrying the puck in, as opposed to dumping it, is it continued to allow the Flames' strengths of going to the net, as well as attacking on the rush. Calgary has an incredibly difficult opponent in Anaheim as the Ducks that will push them even further than in the Vancouver series. Still, if the Flames can continue on the rush scoring, driving to the net, and working in the neutral zone they may have a stronger chance of making a series out of it.