Well, one qualifying round has come and gone and it featured the Calgary Flames emerging with a 3-1 series victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Calgary is still awaiting their next opponent, the winner of the Blues-Stars game. With a few extra days to look back at the qualifying round, I wanted to grade each of the Flames players and their performances during the series.
I chose to go with the Excellent, Very Good, Satisfactory, and Needs Improvement grading system rather than the letter grading as I feel it’s a better indicator of a short sample size. There’s a number of players who I put in the very good class who we could argue (quite fairly so) were excellent so I decided to limit it to the elite of the elite.
Here are my grades:
Excellent: Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Cam Talbot
- Bennett: I gotta say, I have not been a Bennett supporter. Perhaps it’s the consistent frustration that he can’t put it together in the regular season, but man can he put it together in the playoffs. Once again he had a tremendous playoff series, playing a physical role with 22 hits over 4 games and also registering three points including a dagger goal in Game 4. Absolutely stellar.
- Backlund: He maintained his strong end to the regular season pre-shutdown with an excellent performance against the Jets. He played a critical role on both the PP and PK while also centering the once-again-tremendous 3M Line who dominated the Jets for pretty much the entire series. This isn’t a stab at the Monahan line, but right now the 3M Line is the Flames #1 line.
- Tkachuk: A thorn in the side of the Jets for the first two games, but he also managed to remain in control of his emotions at all times. He distracted the Jets all series long but also focused on being an elite forward coupled with everything else he brings to the table. Add Winnipeg to the long list of cities where Tkachuk will live rent-free for the foreseeable future.
- Talbot: I have to say, I had some reservations about starting Talbot but I couldn’t argue that he was the better goal down the stretch, in camp, and in the warmup game against Edmonton. Not only did Cam Talbot go shot-for-shot with Connor Hellebuyck (noted Vezina nominee and likely winner), he outplayed the Jet goaltender over the series. A .945 SV% and 1.51 GAA is absolutely ridiculous.
Very Good: Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Milan Lucic, Rasmus Andersson, T.J. Brodie, Elias Lindholm
- Dube: I think we really saw a blossoming of Dube over the course of this series, culminating in a Game 4 opening goal and absolutely dominating performance. In Game 4 alone he had five high danger scoring chances, which was as many as any other Flame had over the entire series. Dube’s entire line was stellar, but with his individual breakout, the team is just that much deeper and stronger for tougher opponents in the Round of 16.
- Mangiapane: In much the same way we saw Dube blossom, I think we saw another big step forward in the game of Andrew Mangiapane. Alongside Backlund and Tkachuk, Mangiapane didn’t look like just a passenger but a key piece of the trio, contributing all series long. His four points alone are impressive, but it was the fact that he helped elevate the line to a level we really hadn’t seen before, even in the heydays of the original 3M line. He could be an X factor in the next round.
- Lucic: Wow, that’s really all I can say. I didn’t have high expectations for Lucic coming into the series, but he really stepped up and filled a role for the team that had been lacking in previous seasons. He was physical, but not stupid, and he also chipped in offensively as well. His entire line really came into their own as the series progressed and they look to be a key part of the Flames success moving forward.
- Andersson: I really don’t have a ton to say about Andersson other than that he was routinely solid on the back end, including an elevated PK role in the series with the departure of Travis Hamonic.
- Brodie: I’ve already talked about this on Twitter, but Brodie has completely changed my opinion over the course of this year. I was all for trading him last summer with him heading to unrestricted free agency this offseason, but he was once again solid throughout the series without any major defensive gaffes. A very good performance for the long-time Flames defenceman.
- Lindholm: Is there anything that Lindholm can’t do? He played big roles in both the top PP unit and top PK unit along with being a solid 5v5 contributor. Lindholm is the Flames best all around forward right now, and will be heavily relied upon if the Flames want to make a run.
Satisfactory: Mark Jankowski, Noah Hanifin, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Tobias Rieder, Johnny Gaudreau
- Jankowski: He’s definitely not the most loved player in the fanbase, but he was a great upgrade over Zac Rinaldo on the fourth line. We might be seeing the last of Jankowski with his higher than deserved qualifying offer in the offseason, so let’s hope he can give us a few more positive memories.
- Hanifin: I wasn’t particularly impressed with Hanifin over the first couple games of the series or the exhibition game, but he was better in the final two games. As a whole though he and Andersson were solid together and gave the Flames a very strong second pairing.
- Gustafsson: He’s still an adventure in the defensive zone but we knew that coming into the series. His acquisition has really made a difference though on the top PP, allowing Mark Giordano to move down to the second unit and both have been strengthened as a result. Outside of an ugly Game 2, the PP was on fire during this series.
- Forbort: Fine on the PK, a fine 6th defender. A fine performance vs Winnipeg.
- Giordano: I’m not trying to slight Gio at all by putting him in the satisfactory category. He wasn’t outstanding in this series but didn’t need to be as the rest of the team was strong. However for the Flames to make a run, we’ll need to see the Flames best defenceman take another step forward against elevated competition.
- Monahan: It’s tough to be too hard on a guy with six points in four games, but I still think we need to see more from Monahan at 5v5 to move him into the very good category. He did what he normally does, get in front and bag some points, but the playoffs are all about elevating your play, and I think Monahan will need to find another gear to give the Flames a better chance against quality opponents.
- Rieder: Scored a nice shorthanded goal, solid on the penalty kill. A very fine 4th liner throughout the series.
- Gaudreau: Similar to Monahan I thought Gaudreau had a lot of flashes in the series, especially on the powerplay, but I think he’s close to finding another gear at even strength. He was fine against the Jets, but the Flames will need him to drive some more play against the Blues or Stars.
Needs Improvement: Derek Ryan, Zac Rinaldo
Ryan: I’ve been a big Ryan fan and I just think he can do better. I understand being bumped down to the fourth line affected his play and his numbers are skewed by an ugly first couple games. I fully expect him to bounce back.
Rinaldo: Love the energy, but they need all the 5v5 strength they can get and he was a black hole in limited minutes against Winnipeg.