Flames Monday Musings: Simple Fixes

Well, that didn’t go as planned.  For many, though, it went as expected.

With the Calgary Flames’ losing streak in Anaheim now approaching 30 games, the team will no doubt be looking forward to playing Game 3 tonight in the comfy confines of the Saddledome.

Prior to the series starting, we looked at how important it was for the Flames to pick up at least one win in Anaheim.  Throwing the monkey off their back early in this series would have been a huge boost to a team that has the Ducks living in their heads by now.

Now, the team faces a mountain of a challenge in getting back into this series.

Digging Their Own Grave

It was clear before the series began that, to have a chance, the Flames were going to have to stick to their style of play and keep it as clean a series as possible.  Getting sucked into stupid penalties at inopportune times was the last thing the players could afford to do against the Ducks, and they all knew it.

Game 1 saw the Flames hand Anaheim seven power plays.  The Ducks scored on two of them and won the game by a single goal.

Following the loss, and prior to Game 2, Dougie Hamilton had this to say about taking mindless penalties:

Hamilton followed that up by taking a brain-dead penalty late in the third period of Game 2, which led to the Ducks scoring the winning goal off Lance Bouma’s skate.  New game, same mistakes from Dougie.

It’s simple: if the Flames continue to take the bulk of the penalties in this series, it will be short.  Like, not even get back to Anaheim short.

Wake-Up Calls

Beyond the penalties, Hamilton has not been up to par through the first two games, but he’s not alone.

The Flames came into this series as underdogs, which meant that to have any chance at winning, they would need their best players to continue to be just that and more.  So far, the top guns have been mostly invisible, or visible in the worst ways.

Up front, Sean Monahan is the only player in the top-six who has pulled his weight so far.  Johnny Gaudreau does one thing for the team, and that’s score.  Yet Calgary’s most exciting player has been mostly invisible through the first two games and has one assist to show for it.

The “3M” line of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk was Calgary’s best line throughout the regular season.  Known for producing while also shutting down opposing team’s top lines, and dominating the possession in the process, they managed to each register a Corsi percentage (CF%) above 55 in the regular season.  Through the first to games of this series, they’re all below 44% and have two points between the three of them.

It’s easy to cut Tkachuk some slack, as he is a rookie.  It’s also tempting to go easy on Michael Ferland, who has done a lot of the right things in registering 10 shots on goal despite failing to collect a point so far.

The problem with this thinking is that both Tkachuk and Ferland have been instrumental in the Flames’ successes this season. Without their contributions, they wouldn’t even be in the postseason, so not having these guys going now means that whole team will be golfing by next week.  They have to step it up.

The Blueprint Is There

It’s not all doom and gloom.

When these teams met in the playoffs two seasons ago, the Ducks made quick work of the Flames in five games, thoroughly dominating the series.  The same can’t really be said this time around, despite the team finding themselves in a similarly daunting hole.  The Flames have been in every game, and have had the chance to win both games.

Losing both contests by a single goal, and having only been out-shot by one (70-69) in the two games at the Honda Center combined, the Flames are right there.  Stupid mistakes and a lack of finish from some players have been the difference so far.  These shouldn’t be complicated fixes.

The old cliché says that you aren’t really in trouble until you lose at home.  Frankly, I don’t buy into that thinking, but it might help if Glen Gulutzan and his players do.  Some stronger play by the team’s best players, and – most importantly – improved discipline will go a long way to getting the Flames back into this series.

The series isn’t over yet.  Lose tonight, though, and it will be.  It’s time for each player to look in the mirror, and start practicing what they preach.