Hockey

And now this disaster. I was thinking earlier this morning that there really isn’t a parallel to the Oilers wasting one of the best players of all-time for years, but of course there is. It’s the Anaheim Angels. Mike Trout appeared in the playoffs once, and his team has been weighed down by incredibly bad contracts and journeymen and kids who were never up to it. And the same goes for Connor McDavid. Other than Leon Draisaitl, they’ve been surrounded be either old trash or kids that just haven’t popped the way it was thought (looking at you directly, Darnell Nurse). And this season doesn’t look to be any different. We can only hope this is the one where McDavid snaps and demands a trade midseason or in the summer, to give us some proper drama.

Let’s get through it together:

2018-2019

35-38-9  79 points (6th in Pacific)

2.79 GF/G (20th)  3.30 GA/G (25th)  -42 GD

47.9 CF% (25th)  46.6 xGF% (26th)

21.2 PP% (9th)  74.8 PK% (30th)

Goalies: Sweet Jesus God. As we said with the Flames preview yesterday, the two Alberta teams pulled an indirect goalie switch, with Mike Smith, his .900 SV%, and his cantankerous nature landing behind an even worse defense than the one he had in Calgary that had him throwing whatever he could fit under the bus. Won’t his go well? Smith had a promising playoff performance while under constant carpet-bombing from the Avalanche, but that won’t be a worry here. Though the carpet-bombing might be. Smith is also 37, and I guess the hope here is that being reunited with coach Dave Tippett will help them rekindle the sporadic and greatly overblown success they had in Arizona. Good luck.

Backing him up is Mikko Koskinen, who earned a three-year extension from Peter Chiarelli, which must have been the last straw as Chiarelli was fired the very next day. Which might lead one to ask how you’re letting a GM you want to shitcan sign anyone to an extension, but keep in mind EdMo is where logic freezes and then is pissed on for sport. Koskinen’s .906 last year really inspired the masses, and as he’s 31 now there’s little reason to think it’s going to get much better. Sure, Tippett can batten down the hatches and try and create trench after trench in front of him. But with this outfit, what would that matter. Fun fun fun!

Defense: The “definition of insanity” quote isn’t actually real. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results just makes you the Oilers. So once again, these clowns are going to roll out Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning, and even Brandon Manning, and then be truly perplexed why McDavid is bringing a machete to the dressing room that he keeps sharpening and whispering something about the time of purification being at hand.

Nurse just has never blossomed into the atom-smashing, puck-moving loudmouth he promised as a junior, and is basically just kinda there. Klefbom, while allowing for a bunch of Tom Jones jokes, is just an ok possession-driver. Larsson is great at putting all his equipment on. The rest you know. They must hope Evan Bouchard can stick this time, though he seems to be a bit of a plodder and will need to quicken up to be effective at this level. Ethan Bear is going to keep Bouchard in the AHL for now, along with something called Joel Persson, because you always want to trust 25-year-olds making their NHL debut to really impact your roster. The hope must be for Bouchard to bludgeon the AHL for half of a season and then be up.

Forwards: Zack Kassian is going to be on McDavid’s line. I don’t know what more I have to say.

Once again, the Oilers will keep having the debate of whether Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins should play center or be moved to McJesus’s wing to give him any talent to play with, and once again there really won’t be a right answer. They’ve reassembled the bad parts of the 2015 Wings with Riley Sheehan and Tomas Jurco here, and remember that Wings team sucked. James Neal escaped his hell in Calgary to stand still and fire here with whatever passes McDavid or Draisaitl can get him. Which should actually work for 20-25 goals or so.

Sam Gagner has come home again, even though you were pretty sure he was dead. Tippett will find a way to keep Kailer Yamamoto off this roster, even though it could use all the dash it can find.

Prediction: This is where I’m supposed to say that Tippett will tighten things up and at least lower their goals against to keep them competitive for a while. But Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do it, and that’s all he does. And Todd McLellan is no idiot and he couldn’t either. Even if you trusted the goalies, which you shouldn’t, the defense has no top pairing player anywhere. Maybe if Tippet is finally the one to unlock Nurse, things could improve. But how many coaches is it going to take?

Tippett surely isn’t known for getting max scoring out of a team, and this team was short on scoring even with McClavicle, RNH, and Leon The Ladies Man. They still think Kassian can do anything. Neal might pop for a few goals, but not enough. They’re simply miles behind Calgary, Vegas, and San Jose, and you can’t see them running with any wildcard contender either. It’s another lost season up in EdMo, barring some miracle.

Save yourself, Connor. No one else here will.

Everything Else

How do you say goodbye to something you barely knew was there?

Sure, Calgary was the West’s #1 seed, and you probably treat that revelation with an, ‘Oh…riiiight,” response. You knew it, somewhere in the back of your mind, and then forgot it, much like whether or not there was cream cheese in the fridge. You’re just as likely to buy more and then come home to realize you have even more cream cheese you’re probably not ever going to get to. And that’s the Flames. They’re in the fridge, but you always forget, and they’re just in the door until they go green.

Honestly, Calgary is the Canadian team that makes up the numbers. They’re not hilariously run and bad like the Senators or Canucks or Oilers. Their fans don’t make the spectacle of themselves that Toronto’s or Winnipeg’s do. They’re not constantly crying for attention and think they invented the sport like Montreal. They’re just there, kicking the horseshit around their town and not really bothered. Oh sure, they’ll have an arena debate every few months just to remind everyone they’re still alive and maybe act like a big boy. But that’s about it.

Oh, how they tried to make their goalie failures everyone’s problem. But they didn’t do it as well as San Jose, and everyone was like, “No, we already have a contender with no goalie in the fridge, thanks.” They tried to claim that Matthew Tkachuk’s upcoming restricted free agency was a real problem, but the Leafs had that market cornered. And they tried to tell you how good Sean Monahan was…until he died right before the first round. Sky point. So they’re left to try and scream about how Mikael Backlund is the most underrated player in the league, and you look at people spending time talking about Mikael Backlund and you can’t help but wonder who hurt them in life.

There was the Mark Giordano Lifetime Appreciation Tour, and his fellow Norris finalists all might be done in the first round. It’s a cursed award. They retired Jarome Iginla’s number. It was an emotional night for those in Calgary to praise their team’s greatest ever player and an emotional night for everyone outside of Calgary how such a gift of a player could toil in a city that was such an afterthought for so long. Connor McDavid watched the ceremony and wept, knowing there was no way his career would go any differently. And he probably won’t even get a couple gold medals to make it better. Enjoy that trade to Carolina when you’re 35, Run CMD. But that’s not why you called.

The Flames were actually entertaining for a while. They spent the first part of the year just not playing defense, and then wondering why Mike Smith couldn’t bail them out. Recurring theme with Bill Peters teams. Then they seemed to figure it out with either Big Save Dave or Smith, except the former went back to being a goalie you’d never heard of and Mike Smith was Mike Smith.

Then Peters, in his first playoff series as coach, showed up with a plan that consisted of, “Uh, do some shit?” It didn’t contain any notes on how to contain Nathan MacKinnon, who proceeded to mirror Nene when he made Joakim Noah’s Defensive Player Of The Year Award look like the dumbest possible decision in NBA history. Nene! You go ahead and accept that Norris there, Gio, though some one is going to have to hold it for you while you’re in the burn unit. Also, Nate went that way.

Of course, the most interesting thing about the Flames was that after all the kvetching about Smith or from Smith, he was clearly the Flames best player in the 1st round. Perhaps they were just too surprised and kept letting the Avs through to barrage Smith to make sure what they were seeing was real. “No, this can’t be right, not after the last six months. Here, J.T., why don’t you go on through and try again and we’ll sort this out.”

Peters answer for all this was…well, we’re still waiting for an answer. Always has to be encouraging for a team and organization when your coach throws his hands in the air right after his team is eliminated when asked what happened. It’s not like his job to know or anything. This is exclusive to hockey coaches. Imagine an NBA coach trying this. Steven A. Smith would turn puce. But hey, Bill is a good Canadian boy so it can’t be his fault he doesn’t know. Hockey’s weird!

What happened was his defense is slow, and while his top six is quick, it’s not MacKinnon quick. And Monahan died. Other than that, everything is fine.

And this is the team they’ll basically have going forward, partially thanks to James Neal having four years left on his deal. Stationary shooters age so well in a speeding-up league, it’s a wonder this didn’t work. Tkachuk will gobble up most of the space, and if he’s anything like his old man will spend the rest of the time gobbling up whatever is on the table in front of him. The Dreaded Laramie is going to become The Bloated Laramie.

So toodles, Flames. You were here, I guess. No one’s sure why. And you still will be in the seasons to come. And no one will know why then, either. It’s the role you play. Sadly, you’re basically the Oilers or Islanders but only a quarter of the faded glory. Nice threads, though. You’ll always have the Oilers to laugh at, and the Canucks, in your weird little Western Canada cabal. It’s probably going to suck when Seattle comes in and is immediately better than all of you. Probably should have done something anyone can remember. Maybe you can get Daymon Langkow to punch Iggy on his lawn again.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Flames 26-13-4 (1st in Pacific)   Hawks 16-21-7 (6th in Central)

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY’S: FlamesNation.ca

It’s a cruel world, this NHL. After the Hawks played what was maybe their best game of the season in Pittsburgh last night, outplaying the hottest team in the league, their reward is to wheel it back out there again tonight against another first-placed team who has been waiting for them. And one that’s already beaten them twice this season. It ain’t all waitin’ on you, as Sheriff Tom Bell’s brother told him at the end of No Country For Old Men. 

All seems pretty right in the world for the Calgary Flames, who are at least almost all of the way pivoted to David Rittich in goal, which was their biggest issue. The top line has gone absolutely bonkers, with all of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR….) Lindholm in the top-20 in scoring in the league. Matthew Tkachuk is having quite the free agent hear with 49 points his own damn self from the second line, where Mikael Backlund continues to beat anyone about the head and face possession-wise. They even get contributions from the bottom-six, even if James Neal will soon require a Hazmat treatment to be around.

The defense is the real key, where Mark Giordano‘s normal Norris-worthy year has been joined by a rebound from T.J. Brodie, and a bigger rebound from Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing. They’re even letting child Rasmus Andersson freewheel on the third-pairing, and he’s got wheels for days (and you got ass for weeks yeah yeah yeah).

Earlier in the year, the Flames were having defensive issues, even with that personnel. That seems to have cleared up a little, as only the Sharks give up less attempts per game at evens, and they’ve improved to middle of the pack in xGA/60 from near the bottom where they were. Any middling goals-against numbers are mostly the result of having Mike Smith and his arms that don’t work on the roster, and insisting on playing him any other time than when Rittich has the plague. As with most Bill Peters led teams, their metrics are glowing and this all appears to be real.

Whether the Flames can negotiate their way far in the spring depends on if Rittich is the real deal when it really counts, and if they can finish top of the division. Do that, and you only have to beat one of the Knights or Sharks to get to the West final. Don’t and you have to go through both, and that’s going to be a real trick.

As for the Hawks, they’ll turn to Collin Delia tonight, and you’d have to imagine given the Flames firepower he’s going to be awfully busy. In his limited NHL experience, this is about as good of an offense he’s seen, barring the uncaring Jets at the end of last season. Sure, the Avs have their top line but the Flames have that and then more. So this will be an interesting test, especially behind a tired team.

Shouldn’t be any other changes. Would expect Chris Kunitz to stay in the lineup after not being a toxic waste dump last night. Henri Jokiharju did fly back to Chicago last night and could play but I think Wednesday is more likely. They’d want at least one practice or morning skate, if only to figure out where exactly he slots. But you never know. Other than that, Drake Caggiula makes his home debut.

If the Hawks are going to get anything out of this one, they’ll need the special teams just like they did last night. The Flames aren’t a great PK team, and their power play is not as good as you’d think given what they have on it. A power play goal or two are close to a requirement.

 

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@BookofLoob is yet another creature we’ve unearthed from the darkest depths of the internet. We asked it questions, but don’t ask too many questions about it. 

The Flames are still in first. This thing has to be real now, right?
 
Nashville is finally being undone by their “I love domestic abusers and a 36 year old Finnish Mike Smith” GM, and good things are never, EVER allowed to happen to Winnipeg, so yeah, this is real. You get some goaltending and you let the fake goalie ride the pine, mix it in with a top line that’s scoring at will, plus you throw in that, aside from Garnet Hathaway, you essentially have a top to bottom roster with real, functional players, the results are going to roll in.
Power play still sucks.
 
Johnny Gaudreau is fourth in the league in scoring. And yet he doesn’t seem to get the press of McDavid or Kucherov or the Colorado kids. He should blow past his career high of 30 goals with 23 already. Why the breakthrough?
 
If we’re calling this a breakthrough, it’s only because the breakthrough has been going on for about three or four years now and progressing as Johnny H enters his prime. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan could always rack up the points together, but it used to be Gaudreau carrying his line while Monahan got the vulture goals, but in recent years, Monahan has added a few dimensions to his game as well. Having a legitimate number 1 RW on their line with Elias Lindholm doesn’t hurt either.
Or maybe it’s because Johnny doesn’t get black out drunk at Cowboy’s anymore. But it’s probably not that, because Johnny absolutely still gets blackout drunk at Cowboy’s.
 
What are the Flames going to do before the deadline?
 
If you ask Leafs fans, it’s trade Rasmus Andersson to them, but if you ask anyone rational, it’s probably just a depth move here or there. As good as the Flames have been, they’re probably not Tampa Bay Lightning tier just yet, and unless they can swing Mark Stone, not many of the rental players out there are going to bump them up to that level.
I think they’d like a backup goalie in case anything happens to Big Save Dave, because you don’t want to have to rely on Mike Smith for anything other than wearing cool hats on the bench. Ideally, if you could murder him or trade him somewhere or something, that would help. One of the big mistakes the team has done this year is bury a really effective Michael Frolik, to the point where I see him being traded sooner rather than later. Maybe there’s something there.
But goddamn how cool would it be to get Mark Stone?
 
Let’s have you bitch about James Neal some more…
 
How about something nice? He’s the first overpaid, underachieving, head scratcher of a Brad Treliving acquisition that isn’t an ex-Hawk.
At least not yet 😉
 
Finally…do you want to walk with Elias?
 
I have bought so many scarves, floral shirts, and a Fender guitar. I want everyone watching the game to silence their cell phones, hold your applause, and shut your mouths. There is one universal truth, a tenet I hold above all else. You see it when the top lines rolls over Brent Seabrook, and you feel it when you look into Cam Ward‘s eyes, his terrified, self aware that he is Cam Ward eyes. It becomes a part of you when the game is over and it’s 5-1 for the Flames and the Hawks are salivating over Jack Hughes while Calgary looks to wrap up home ice throughout the playoffs, and that truth is…. WWE STANDS FOR “WALK. WITH.ELIAS”.
Say it with me now Sam.

 

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The Flames season was on the verge of turning into a mini civil war before October even ended. What was a talented team, and more than talented enough to compete in a learning annex of a division that is the Pacific, couldn’t stop spinning its wheels. They were scoring enough, were even fun to watch for the first time in a dog’s age, but kept seeing their work undone by bulging twine in their own end. The fans had already starting crafting effigies of Mike Smith. You can’t help but wonder if some of the players started to have furrowed brows as well, given the way Smith continually tossed them under the bus for his struggles in the press.

And then, over the ridge, at first just a silhouette on the horizon, but quickly coming into shape and definition, an apparition of hope and salvation, appeared “Big Save Dave” Rittich. And suddenly the Flames season was pulled from ash and chaos…

Ok, that’s dramatic. But the Flames are tussling at the top of the Pacific, where very few would have had them before we kicked this all off, mostly thanks to their goaltender from out of the ether (or the Czech Republic).

And make no mistake, Rittich has earned that “Big Save Dave” moniker, while at the same time proving that though it was indelicate, Smith may not have been wrong in shredding the Flames defense in front of him.

Currently, Rittich ranks first among all goalies with 500 minutes of even-strength time in high-danger save-percentage, at .883. Quite simply, this is a bonkers number. Last year, Corey Crawford had the best high-danger SV% at .859. The highest mark in this category from the past five seasons is Carey Price‘s .876 in ’16-’17, which earned him a Vezina finalist slot. No one else has been above .870 for a season when it comes to stopping the best chances.

And Rittich has had to be. Both he and Smith are in the seven-lowest expected-save-percentages in the league, meaning they’re facing some of the best chances around every night. Which is a touch weird, given that the Flames give up the third-lowest amount of attempts per game in the league. But the ones they do give up tend to be prime. Rittich has pulled their ass out of a sling, Mike Smith has eaten that sling.

That’s getting better, though. The Flames were 24th in October in scoring chances against, and 30th in high-danger chances against. In November that has improved to 2nd and 5th, respectively. They haven’t needed as much of the big saves that Rittich was so happily providing, which is good. It’s also why they rocketed up the standings.

It would behoove them to keep that going, because given the recent history, Rittich isn’t going to be able to keep up anything near a .880 SV% on high-danger chances. And Rittich’s pedigree is a little on the light side. He played 31 games in the AHL last year and put up a .924 overall, which is promising. But it’s 31 games. Other than that, it’s all back in the Czech Republic.

But the Flames have little alternative. Smith is what he is at this point, despite his acting chops. He was sinking their season, and Rittich has saved it. They might as well see how far the bolt of fortune can take them, especially if they’re tuning up their defensive game.

 

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Any of you who have been around these parts for any length of time know that we rate coaches and GMs on a binary scale of Moron/Not A Moron. That’s kind of how backward the NHL is, that we can’t decipher anything more than that.

We’ve always categorized Bill Peters as Not A Moron. His Carolina teams always had some of the best possession numbers in the league for years. And they did it without really any top-line talent, though with one of the best blue lines in the league. That’s really all we had to go on, that and whether the teams actually won or not. Though that’s not always a clean indicator, because as we well know there are plenty of morons who end up with good teams (is that you peaking out from the back, Randy Carlyle?) Hell, Darryl Sutter ended up with two Cups and mere months later his players wanted to knife him in the back and leave him out in the loading dock.

And yet the Hurricanes never really came close to a playoff spot. And the reason they never did is their goalies always sucked. Like hardcore. Last year, they had the second-worst SV% at even-strength. Same story the year before. It was much better the year before that, as they were third-worst. And on it goes.

And it spanned numerous goalies. It was Cam Ward and Scott Darling last year. The previous season Eddie Lack joined in on the fun of turning into a cartoon elephant in net (which you’d think would be quite effective, except for the cartoon part). Two years before that it was Anton Khudobin who kept acting like he misplaced his wallet in the crease. All of Khudobin, Lack, and Darling came to Carolina with a solid rep as backups from previous organizations. Perhaps the GM Ron Francis missed on all of them. Perhaps Peters had no other options. But how many goalies does he get?

It hasn’t started out much better in Calgary. Mike Smith is continually facing the wrong way or waving at butterflies that don’t exist in net so far this year. David Rittich has looked good, but he only has four starts on the year, and yet Peters keeps sending Smith out there. He claims it’s the defense that’s letting Smith down, and yet .871 SV% is an .871 SV%.

Maybe Smith is just too old. Maybe there are too many miles. But this is the fifth goalie in the past five years that ends up staring at the lights at the end of most games. The fault lies not in our stars…

So there must be something in the system, right? Something we can trace? Ah ha. We may be on to something there.

Though Calgary has some great Corsi-percentages, they’re 26th in expected goals-against. Carolina last year was ninth in the latter category, but 22nd in the season before that. In ’15-’16 they were 26th. We now have a foothold.

It’s the problem the Hawks have. They might gather more attempts. But the chances they give up are far better than the ones they get. And that’s because the defense is so active, required to help create offense, that the goalies are left to fend for themselves. You can see where the Hawks need it, given how short they are at forward. But are the Flames? They have one of the best top-sixes around. Sure, the bottom-six could use some help, but it’s not an abyss. Why is the defense running all over the place?

Maybe Rittich can save them. Maybe he’ll be the one that stands up against the mudslide that’s seemingly always headed toward Peters’s team’s net. If he’s not, we’ll almost certainly have an answer on what the problem is.

 

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Some creatures fascinate science in how they came into being. And then some are viewed with the feeling, “Some questions are best left unanswered.” That’s the category @BookOfLoob falls into. Don’t ask, just let be.

What has new coach Bill Peters changed from Glengarry Glen Gulutzan last year? And why should it work better than it did in Carolina?
Outside of the team being able to do anything on the power play, effective players being frequently scratched for reasons like “shrug” and “felt like it”, goaltending ruining any chance of anyone ever dying happy, and being constantly reminded by his presence in the lineup that Garnet Hathaway is in fact a real person, everything is different.
It was nice to see Peters shed the mantra of “Old Ass Idiot Hockey Man” by actually making expensive, shitty Michael Stone ride the pine in favor of both Jusso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson (who is perfect), and the team is generating so much sustained pressure offensively that Mike Smith really has to try hard to lose the game for them.
Which he is absolutely doing.
How’s that Dougie Hamilton trade working out?
You invited me to do this just to ask me that question knowing it would make me cry. Rest assured I will get you for this. (We feel it’s important that Floob express his emotions. -ED)
The short answer so far is “Mixed Results.”
Noah Hanifin, it turns out, is not that good, especially relative to what I believe is a Top-10 defenseman in the NHL in Dougie, but at least he’s not, and this is off the top of my head, Brent Seabrook. Everyone’s kinda hoping he can turn this around soon, and seeing as he’s 21 and it’s still early, he probably can, but underwhelming has been a word I’ve had pop into my head a lot whenever he’s on the ice thus far.
I will not make a museum joke. Much like most Calgary Flames, I’ve never been in one so I wouldn’t know where to start. (What about Amsterdam? -ED)
Elias Lindholm, however, I will walk with that guy forever.
Why does Peters hate Michael Frolik?
I don’t know, but give me two minutes with him and I’ll make him see the light.
There’s a weird thing going on with both Frolik and Austin Czarnik. Both are quality players. Both players have been scratched or benched frequently by Bill Peters. Both have last names that end with “ik”. But when either of them are in the lineup and getting a regular shift, they are on the ice with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, who are heavily relied upon to play the toughest minutes every game, and both Frolik and Czarnik thrive on the 3M or MMA line, whichever it happens to be that game.
Essentially Peters trusts them entirely, or not at all. I don’t really care, he’s not Bob Hartley, so they aren’t benched in favor of Kevin Westgarth and Brian McGrattan at the same time
James Neal, on pace for 12 goals.  So that’s going well. 
Do you guys want James Neal? You still owe us for Brandon Bollig.
Would the Flames be a playoff team if David Rittich took over the starting goalie role?
The only goalie I trust less than Mike Smith is Cam Ward, and he died 16 years ago, so I never have to worry about seeing him in a Flames jersey. I made a joke earlier this season about everyone being afraid of Mike Smith’s save percentage, because .789
Everyone had a good laugh at that because there’s no way an NHL goaltender in this day and age would ever be that bad. Then he let in four goals on like three shots the other night against Colorado and for a good chunk of the game it was literally .789. Life is hell.
They say if you have a good team, you only need league average goaltending to make any noise. David Rittich is my hero and I am building him a house on top of Mike Smith’s car, but he hasn’t played enough for us to know if he’s a league average goalie yet.
But I think this team looks good enough to win a bunch of games if the goaltending is only kinda bad, so even if that’s the bar Rittich needs to clear, I’m willing to retire his number right now. Best goalie since Chris Osgood.

 

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We won’t lie to you (we never do). Watching Mike Smith‘s total and rapid meltdown in Calgary of late has done us good. Everyone has to cling to whatever brings a smile in this current world, and every time Smith points at a defender when another 50-foot wombat confusedly gets past him we believe that there is good in this world.

No, the scars of 2012 do not heal so easily.

It’s not even Smith’s fault this year. Well, his terrible play and seeming need to blame it on everyone around him is. But Smith is what he is. He’s 36, he’ll turn 37 during the season, and he’s got a lot of miles on him. He was bad in the second half of last year, when his .888 in February and .880 in March torpedoed whatever playoff hopes the Flames had. No one wins the battle with time, and the Calgary front office should have known what they had in the ginger thespian in net.

It’s Bill Peters who keeps sending him out there, convinced that with the right defensive play, the Flames can somehow get away with having a goalie with hair in his ears. They have a perfectly good substitute in David Rittich, but no, the unwritten rules say you have to stick with the veteran until he actually turns to mulch. And Smith might before the season is out.

So Flames fans can get accustomed to Smith screaming at his d-men that they didn’t block some shot that is more of a question from the blue line. Or breaking his stick on a post after he gives up a third goal in 10 minutes. Or diving to the ice like a suicidal falcon when any forechecker comes within five feet. It should only be a little longer, but one wonders if those points won’t matter come April.

Maybe they worry Smith will be a dressing room distraction if he loses the starting job. He’s done it before, with Arizona only too happy to move him along and welcome the far sunnier Antti Raanta in. Either way, it’s excellent theater for us. And eventually, those ’12 wounds will heal.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 24-20-7   Flames 25-18-8

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago here, Sportsnet up there

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It can get exhausting living this way. After most losses you pronounce the season over, only to build yourself back up by the next game to say the turnaround has to start RIGHT NOW, even though that’s what you said before the last game. The constant push and pull gets deeper every time, and no matter which side you’re on that day THIS TIME YOU MEAN IT. So it is with that in mind that we say once again, the Hawks have to start their attack run RIGHT NOW, especially considering the next four points on offer are four points they could deny a direct competitor in the Calgary Flames. They’re going to have to climb over teams, and they get to face Calgary, Anaheim, and Minnesota in the next two weeks. Biff it, and then we’ll know it’s all over but the shouting and we can get on to dreams of Yoan Moncada and a Kyle Schwarber renaissance.

And this might be a good time to catch the Flames, who appear to be a real mess. On the same night the Hawks were letting out a beer belch in Vancouver, the Flames were spectacularly blowing a 4-2 lead to the Lightning at home to lose 7-4. That probably doesn’t do it justice, either. Mike Smith gave up four goals in eight 3rd period minutes to blow that lead, and it was a singular meltdown. You probably saw the GIF of him breaking his stick against the post before being pulled, though we’ll excuse you if you can’t tell it apart from the dozens of other GIFs of Mike Smith going apeshit toddler on his posts and stick.

It broke a hot streak for Smith, who before that had only surrendered 14 goals in his last eight starts. Overall he’s been really good with a .922 SV% and a .943 SV% in January. And yet the Flames haven’t been able to get going fully, other than a seven-game winning streak which they counteracted by failing to win any of the six after that (four losses in OT or SO).

If Smith isn’t the problem, the offense is. Before the outburst against Tampa, they’d managed eight goals in five games. And Edmonton, LA, and Buffalo were part of that slate and you’re supposed to get goals against them currently. Basically if Johnny Gaudreau’s line doesn’t score, the Flames won’t. Michael Frolik has returned to reassemble the 3M line and give them something of a second option, and they’re slowly trying to fortify the bottom six with a couple kids like Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane. Also, Kris Versteeg looks like he might make it back before the season ends, but if you’re in a place where you need Kris Versteeg you’re probably in a place that has no running water.

The Flames aren’t clean on defense either. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton have been just about the best pairing in the West all year. But below that, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic are in a competition to see which can turn the other more into unidentifiable ooze all season. Michael Stone lives below that and that’s definitely a place that doesn’t have running water. And for some reason Glen Gulutzan won’t play Dougie enough to make a difference. Strange days, indeed.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Flames’ power play is also holding them back, and unlike the Hawks it has a couple natural QBs to run it. Their penalty killing hasn’t been as good either, and in this league special teams can make a huge difference. They won’t find much sympathy here, of course.

Now to the Hawks. There’s been yet another reshuffle, and it appears that Q’s patience with Brandon Saad has come to an end. Toews’s line remains the same (does anybody remember laughter?). Artem Anisimov moves back in between Schmaltz and Kane. On the surface this is a little frustrating, but then you remember that Wide Dick Arty is pretty much useless unless he’s playing with Kane and you have to maximize what you have. Saad is going to play with Wingels and Hartman as Q wants to keep Jurco-Kampf-Vinnie Smalls together, and with good cause. What a Saad-Wingels-Hartman line does is anyone’s guess, as we’ve said about the third line all season. What it might do is force Saad to start creating his own chances, which is in his holster but we don’t see very often. Or he can continue to drift aimlessly through games. He’s now gotten called out in the press by his coach, which is usually the last card Q wants to play. Now or never, bud.

It’s Judgement Day for the Hawks over the next couple weeks, as nonsensical as that sentence actually is. They face a bunch of teams around them. They could actually gain ground. But they’d have to put a streak together for more than three or four games, and that’s been beyond them all season. You turn enough corners, all you’ve done is end up where you were.

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@BookOfFLoob is just one of those things that stuck to our shoe on Twitter. That sort of thing happens in the digital world. Everyone calls him Floob. If you want to make jokes about “Loob,” go right ahead. But he won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. We’re fairly sure he’s afraid of girls. And they of him. 

Last time we saw the Flames on New Year’s Eve, they were just hovering around the last playoff spot, not meeting expectations, and still waiting to take off. A month later, they’re hovering around the last playoff spot, kind of not meeting expectations, and waiting to take off. Why hasn’t it come to a boil in Calgary?
There are several different things, both real and real but exaggerated, that I could blame this on, and that list is too big to write it all out. But I’m going to try:
  • Troy Brouwer. You know the monorail episode of the Simpsons where Homer throws the M off the Monorail sign as an anchor and it sticks into the Lard Lad donut to stop the train? Like it’s anchor designed to slow everything down and halt everyone’s production? Remember that one? Me neither. Troy Brouwer fucking sucks. (See? -ED)
  • Flames fans doing the C of Red chant during the American anthem (if you don’t know, I won’t tell you. There’s no way you come out the other side of that rabbit hole a better person)
  • Dave Cameron’s experimental power play where he attempts to figure out how long you can try something that doesn’t work over and over again until maybe it does work once except it doesn’t and everyone is miserable. Dave Cameron is a capitalist.
  • You. Specifically you, Sam Fels.
  • TJ Brodie’s slow descent into shithood. For a guy that once looked like he was going to crawl his way into top 10 defensemen in the league territory, he’s decided his new plan of action is to Seabrook this entire operation. The prevailing theory now is he once looked amazing due to his pairing with Mark Giordano, and maybe that means Giordano is just a little bit incredible.
  • The death of Scorch. We always knew that was going to have lingering effects. Miss you every day forever, Scorch.
  • Goaltending. I’ll get shit on for this one, but Mike Smith, who indeed has been amazing at times, is flipping that other side of his own coin where his great performances are being met with his garbage ones. The next time he tracks the puck will be the first time. He’s like a bigger, dumber Jonathan Quick and is luckier that more pucks hit him than don’t.
  • I have to think 9/11 is at least a little bit responsible.
 
Do we know if Glengarry Glen Gulutzan falls into the “Moron” category or “Not A Moron” category yet?
 
First of all, he’s Glen Gu Tang Zan, if we’re doing nicknames. Anyway, if you and I are morons, and we most certainly are, than yeah, of course, Glen Gulutzan is a Hall of Fame oaf. There are so many wrinkles that need ironing and he ignores them like women ignoring Sam’s phone calls after the first date (Notice a theme here? -ED).
But that’s not to put the blame on him for what’s been going on lately. There are maybe 4 or 5 coaches in the league that have that profound an effect on the results, and he ain’t one of them. His usage of players is troubling, to put it mildly, but the guy knows how to craft a breakout, so it kinda evens out. The team just KILLS it 5 on 5, it’s when they have to call on the special teams (Hi there, Dave Cameron’s power play) where hockey goes to die.
There are a lot of fans out there who want Gully fired. And to those people I say “Congratulations, here’s Dave Tippett. Try to enjoy another hockey game even once before you die.”
You can’t.
At least there’s Dougie Hamilton, right?
I just defended Glen Gulutzan, but it is borderline criminal to keep Dougie Hamilton off the ice as much as the coaching staff in Calgary seems to delight in doing. I am extremely good about talking about this in a calm, rational way, which is good because it would be really easy to fly off the goddamn handle about how you have an elite goddamn defenseman who can carry a team on his back and make you look like a bunch of Gods, but no, you’d rather give more ice time to Michael fucking Stone, because some shit about how he’s less of a liability defensively, like you’d even fucking know what that means, you clod, why don’t you go fuck yourself if you’re not going to play the guy who gets shit done every time he’s on the ice. It’s the same garbage from last year where it took you half a season that you’ll never get back that he should be getting closer to 30 minutes anight so you don’t need to “rely” on Deryk Engelland, holy FUCK, Deryk Engelland, and why did you go back to that formula this year and why is it taking longer to right the ship? What in the hell is going on out there? Who hurt you Glen? Was it Dougie? Did he call you names? Did he give you a noogie? Did he do something so heinous that you would actually lessen your chances of winning every game by not playing one of the 4 or 5 most important players on your team for way more time than you already do?
It would be pretty bad if I couldn’t keep my cool while talking about it.
The Flames don’t seem to be in a position to just punt on the season given their development curve, so what might they do at the deadline? And are you afraid it’ll be stupid?
Oh, trust me. It will be stupid. But it doesn’t have to be.
Michael Frolik has come back from injury, and he gets back on a line with Mikael Backlund and the beautiful boy Matthew Tkachuk, forming the world’s most perfect trio. They’ve called up their best player from the minors in Andrew Mangiapane, and once they learn to give him some ice time, that will be another bonus. Also Kris Versteeg is coming back sooner than everyone thought, and I know Blackhawks fans have a hard time believing this, but he’s been really effective in Calgary, and they’ve certainly missed him.
The biggest factor is Rasmus Andersson, a defenseman who is WAY too good to still be in the minors, and could theoretically be playing on the second pairing in Calgary right now. The thing that’s holding him back is a traffic jam of veteran defensemen who Rasmus is better than, and ones who could be traded. Michael Stone has trade value, somehow, despite being a Tanooki Mario statue, and could be traded out of town to either recoup some draft picks or get a good prospect from some of the dumber GMs out there. Getting rid of either him or Travis “Whoops This Didn’t Work Out At All” Hamonic would pave the way for Andersson as well, and balance would be restored.
Which is why they’ll probably trade for like Dan Girardi or something, because apparently they’re not mean enough.
Given that the Kings actually suck and the Ducks are weird, the Flames really should still get into the Pacific’s three playoff spots, right?
 
Isn’t it great that the Kings suck again?
I can’t believe Vegas is going to be the thing that probably somehow ruins this for everyone.

 

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