The Jack Adams Award for the best coach during a given season has in recent vintage gone to numbnuts coaches who have helmed teams who drastically outscore their woeful posession numbers. Last year’s winner, Bob Hartley, proved no different as the Flames made a surprise entrance into the post-season and actually won a round against the hilariously mediocre Vancover Canucks. But as so often proves to be the case, a new season provides a violent market correction, and this year’s iteration of the Flames is not an exception.
That’s not to say that they didn’t make some smart moves in the offseason to try to counterbalance this statistical regression, but the Flames were so goddamn lucky last year that there was always a very good chance that they were going to be a better team with a worse record this year. Which has technically already happened, as the Flames currently sport a 48.1% share of attempts at evens, whereas last year it was 44.4% for the entire year. Now this year’s mark is still good for 27th in the league, but the team is allowing four fewer attempts against per 60 minutes, and taking four more, which is a swing of 8 shot attempts in their favor.
Part of the reason for that gap being closed has been the acquisition of one Douglas “Dougie” Hamilton for a big bag of nothing from the Boston Bruins, who inexplicably traded a clear heir to an aging Zdeno Chara’s throne as a #1, posession driving defenseman. However even in a dogshit Pacific Divsion, Dougie’s found the West to be a bit tougher sledding, as he’s below water in possession even with favorable if unsheltered zone starts. But even still, he provides depth on a blue line (for now) that rivals any team in the conference with Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie still ahead of him on the depth chart. Brodie in particular has been absolutely masterful when he’s been healthy this year, getting far and away the worst zone starts on the team and still turning them into positive possession. Mark Giordano is still as good as ever, though much like Nacho Seabre and his new paper, his contract is going to look pretty gruesome by its end, and Giordano has a far more extensive injury history than Seabrook. Dennis Wideman is still the big shooting calamity he’s always been, and Kris Russel gets shelled night in, night out, but he blocks a lot of those shots so people think he’s gritty. Naturally both are the subject of Hawk trade targets and will probably both score tonight. Deryk Engelland is getting paid $2.9 million dollars a season by this team.
Up front the Flames have a very fun group of young forwards, highlighted by John “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau, who’s diminutive size belies a giant game. He’s lightning quick both on his skates and with his gloves, and specializes in making plays from his off side on the right wing, and leads the team with 13 assists and 17 points. His centerman, (boring) Sean Monahan, has been the primary beneficiary of Gaudreau’s skill, and leads the team with 6 goals. However their line along with Jiri Hudler is by and large getting its head kicked in in attempts against, and even if all three are putting up respectable numbers scoring wise, it’s not a long term recipe for success. The Flames do have possession drivers in Mikael Backlund, and old friend Michael Frolik (who has 11 of his 12 points at even strength), but not enough up and down the lineup. Sam Bennett and Josh Jooris are also among the Flames’ promising young group, with Bennett in having a particularly high ceiling as a scoring center. Brandon Bollig is still a big bag of fucking shit and skates meaningful minutes, because this is a Brian Burke/Bob Harley run team after all.
The Flames have also been helped very little by their goaltending (which seems to be a theme in Alberta), as the three headed monster of Joni Ortio, Jonas Hiller, and Karri Ramo combine to give the Flames a blistering .880 even strength save percentage. Ramo has “emerged” as the #1 among that group, and will make his 8th straight start tonight, with his save percentage being the closest to the mythical (in Alberta) .900 mark overall at .894, and actually exceeding it at evens at .904.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the turnaround from West East St. Louis last night is a quick one, and predictably Scott Darling will get the start in net. Darling has been no world beater either this year, with an .885 overall and .905 at evens. But with the advantage of last change at home some of that can be mitigated. But if Darling’s not careful he could very well get his ass shipped right back to Rockford if he can’t prove to at least provide Corey Crawford a breather against dog food opponents. And though the Flames don’t put a lot toward the net, there is plenty of skill to get anthropomorphic craft beer fridge moving side to side and opening up the five hole.
With no morning skate today there’s no specific word on any lineup changes, but even coming off a win wherein a third of the defensive corps skated meaningfully for the first time in a month at ages well over 30, there won’t likely be any. With any luck Duncan Keith’s minutes will be able to be pared down from the 27-minute deep-end he was tossed into last night, but the bigger concern is what’s left of Michael Rozsival. But again, at home, he and Trevor Daley should get nearly exclusively offensive zone starts.
Even coming off a game last night, there is no reason for the Hawks to let up one bit as they leave the UC for the remainder of the month. The Flames are clearly having issues, but even if Bob Hartley is kind of a nimrod who’s greatest coaching achievement was getting out of the way of the 2001 Avalanche, his teams always skate hard. And if the Hawks are prepared to meet that level of exertion even on minimal rest, the Flames should be dispatched. Again, SHOULD BE.