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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Five Keys from the Flames Biggest Win in Over a Decade... and Maybe Longer

Bob Hartley celebrates, picture by The Calgary Flames.


It was the biggest victory for the Calgary Flames in the last decade, for sure. And maybe longer.

Given how this upstart team has somehow managed to defy the odds and make it to the final eight in a season that they were supposed to finish in the bottom three, makes you wonder if it wasn't the biggest and most cherished victory by Flames fans in over a quarter century.

And on a Saturday night, no less. The Red Mile, by all reports, was electric.

I mean, there were some great wins in 2004 and that was a riveting ride that I thought at the time would never again be matched in terms of the Cinderella nature of it but my goodness, this is darn close.

Wherever you rank last night's win on your personal list and it could very well be at the very top for those not old enough to remember 1989, we can all agree it was certainly one of the all-time greats, coming back from a 3-0 deficit less than 10 minutes into the game.

Here are my five keys to the game:


1. Engelland's Shift From Hell

Second period summary:
  • 1:02 - Sean Monahan scores to get the Flames to within one at 3-2.
  • 1:52 to 5:14 - Deryk Engelland guts out a 3:22 shift, the longest I've ever witnessed. The Canucks pour on the pressure but can't score.
  • 5:35 - Johnny Gaudreau scores for Calgary to tie the score 3-3. 

Epic. There's no better way to describe it. Engelland's average shift length was 42 seconds during the regular season. Saturday night -- at a critical juncture in the game, he ends up caught out on the ice for 3:22 or nearly five-times that. That one shift for the Flames No. 29 was longer than Tyler Wotherspoon (3:16) played in the entire game.

Four times during that spell the desperate Flames iced the puck. So concerned about how weary his players were, coach Bob Hartley called a time-out after the first icing at 2:52. Heck, at that point Engelland was just getting started.

He started the shift with TJ Brodie beside him and the line of Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett and Joe Colborne. He finished the shift with Kris Russell as his partner and the line of Josh Jooris, Brandon Bollig and Mason Raymond in front of him.

Stuck with the longest path to travel -- trapped on the opposite end to the Flames bench and on the opposite side of the ice also, the right defenceman just couldn't get to the bench no matter what. The home bench must have looked like it was located in Red Deer, it seemed so far away.

During that period of furious pressure for the Canucks, Vancouver had 10 shot attempts -- four shots on goal, five more blocked (two by Engelland) and one sailed wide.

Engelland played against all 18 Canucks skaters that shift including the Sedin-Sedin-Hansen line two separate times and the Verbata-Bonino-Baertschi line twice also. Vancouver nearly went through two full rotations of their three defence pairings.

Finally, Karri Ramo was able to smother an Alex Edler slapshot and get a whistle and to cheers from the appreciative crowd, Engelland dragged himself to the bench.

Then, merciless Flames TV host Kristin Hallett grabs Engelland to do the in-arena second intermission interview instead of allowing him to carry on to the trainer's room for his scheduled lung replacement.

When the game was over, the under-appreciated Engelland played 24:29, had three takeaways, zero giveaways, was a plus-one, had two hits and got his 6-foot-2, 215 pound carcass in front of a game-high 10 shots, just one shy of the 11 blocked shots the Canucks team had.

That much ice time was the third-highest in Engelland's career behind a playoff overtime game with Pittsburgh in 2013 (26:18) and Calgary's playoff spot-clinching win over Los Angeles on April 9 (25:17).


2. Hartley Pulls the Goalie Early

As decisive as the Canucks were in getting goals on consecutive shots -- their second and third of the game -- from Brandon McMillan and Jannik Hansen to grab a 2-0 lead 7:32 into the game, Hartley was just as quick with his decision to yank Jonas Hiller right then and there.

And when Radim Vrbata deflected Daniel Sedin's pass over Ramo to make it three on goals on four shots and a 3-0 lead, you wondered what Hartley had done.

Oh, he knew exactly what he was doing, as the veteran skipper explained post-game.

"I spend the entire day here. I'm here at 6:30 in the morning. I always prepare all kinds of scenarios. What happens if I lose a left winger? What happens if I lose a centre? What happens if a goaltender gets hurt or stuff like this. You need to have a plan and that's my job -- to have a plan," explained Hartley, who addressed the matter post-game with his players.

"I apologized to Jonas Hiller in front of the entire team. I didn't pull him because I felt it was his fault. I felt it wasn't a good start for us and I needed to jump-start. There was water in the fuel," Hartley continued. "We could have been up 3-0 before they scored their first goal. Miller made some unbelievable saves and they scored some nice goals and I said, there's no way that I'm going back to Vancouver. If we were going to Vancouver, I was going to go down swinging, not get caught looking. I was ready to try everything that I have in the book."

Ramo came in, stopped 17 of 19 including neatly poking the puck off the stick of Henrik Sedin as he burst in on net for what could have been the tying goal in the final minute.

"Sometimes changing the goalie, it changes the pace of the game and it creates a reaction from the players and our guys answered back," Hartley said.

It was the third time this season Calgary has won a game (plus also got one other to OT) after pulling its starting goaltender. The others:
  • Nov. 8 in Florida - Pulled Ramo down 4-3 in the second period, won 6-4
  • Feb. 16 vs Boston - Pulled Ramo down 3-0 in the second period, won 4-3 in OT
  • Mar. 8 in Ottawa - Pulled Ramo down 4-0 in the second period, lost 5-4 in OT

Picking up wins in these types of desperate scenarios are found money and those five points in the regular season ended up being integral in getting the Flames into the playoffs. Saturday night's win got Calgary into the second round for only the second time since 1989.


3. Stajan with the Emotional Game-Winner

What a moment for Matt Stajan. Just 14 months after the tragic death of his newborn son Emerson and after just recently becoming a father with his wife Katie to Elliot, Stajan notched the dramatic winning goal with 4:17 left in the third period.

After gobbling up an errant Edler pass in the neutral zone, David Jones bursts over the blue-line and lets a shot go that Ryan Miller can't handle. Michael Ferland was stopped on the rebound but on the second rebound, Stajan corrals it, pauses, and looking more like Alex Ovechkin, wrists a perfect shot into the top corner touching off an eruption from the raucous C of Red.

"It's so special. It's been such a tough year for my family and this team's been great all year. We found a way and we found a way tonight to be a part of it. It's amazing," said Stajan.

Coming 11 years after Stajan's only other appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a three-game stint in his rookie season in Toronto, Hartley says his veteran centre is what this team is all about.

"Matt Stajan is a reflection of who we are as a team. A hard worker. Goes hard. You look at the winning goal. That's the Calgary Flames. That's the way we do business," said Hartley. "That's the way we cultivated our identity three years ago and we still have a long way to go to climb the mountain but I'm so proud of those guys. Everyone showed up. We tied the game, gave up a fourth one, we still keep going. Then in the third period, we were who we are. A bunch of young guys that go and have no fear and we don't care and we always find a way to get it done."

Centring Ferland and Jones, Stajan finished with a goal and two assists, his first three-point game in over a year and just his fourth in six seasons in Calgary.

It was Calgary's second third period comeback of the series, having also pulled out game one after trailing heading into the third period. It was a fitting conclusion to the series given the third period rallies all season -- 10 of them in total, third in the NHL -- were a staple of this team all season, which led radio colour commentator Peter Loubardias to dub them the 'Find-a-way Flames'.

(Must-Watch Video: Via NHL.com, Stajan was Mic'd Up for game 6. Listen to him on the go-ahead goal. Next, listen to him during the post-game handshakes and follow him into the dressing room.) 


4. No. 1 Line Finally Erupts

For 16 periods, Calgary's top line failed to score an even-strength goal. They were being outplayed by the Canucks top line and it looked like their ill-timed slump might end up costing the Flames the series.

Monahan must be hurt was the swirling rumours. Surely Hudler must be also. After all, this was the NHL's top line for the final two months of the season and they were a collective minus-13 with just three power play goals to show for the first five games of the series.

Then, everything changed in a heartbeat and led by Hudler, who regained the form that had some people suggesting he could even be a Hart Trophy candidate.

At 1:02 of the second, Monahan scores from Hudler. At 5:35, Gaudreau scores on a set-up from Hudler. Then, tying the game 4-4 on the power-play at 6:14 of the third period was Hudler himself, this time set up by his two linemates, a goal that was greeted by a deafening roar from the sell-out crowd of 19,289.

The top line finishes the night with a combined 10 points, led by two goals and two assists for Hudler in the first four-point game of his career and from what my late-night research indicates is the first four-point night for a Flame since Lee Stempniak on March 9, 2012.

"We had a good game. That's what we've been trying to do all season but the playoffs are different," said Hudler. "You have tough games, they're going to match up against you. When Vancouver is at home, you have to play against great players -- the Sedins are world-class players and Edler and it's tough, but we got it done tonight."


5. Ferland: Punishing All Night, Punishing All Series

Forty hits in six games. That was the physical damage inflicted by rookie Michael Ferland, who had seven in the clinching game to go along with two goals and one assist. The young man, who turned 23 during this series, not only launched his NHL career against Vancouver but he has solidified himself as an everyday NHL player with his combination of grit, smarts, speed and offence.

The one-on-one battle over the past two weeks against Kevin Bieksa, who early in the series referred to him as "irrelevant" turned into a grudge match right out of the 80s and the old Smythe Division wars with the Oilers. Eight of Ferland's hits were against Bieksa himself. Along with those were several verbal jabs and a few of the non-verbal variety to at the end of game three.

NHL Hits Leaders - After Saturday's Games:

1. Matt Martin NYI, 45
2. Michael Ferland CGY, 40
3. Cal Clutterbuck NYI, 37
4. Bryan Bickell CHI, 35
5. Brooks Orpik WSH, 34


It was Ferland's first playoff goal on a beautifully threaded pass by Stajan late in the first period that got the comeback started.

"That's just the way we play. Never give up," said Ferland. "We just wanted to stick with it. In the back of our minds, we knew we were going to get something going here. It feels so good to get that win."

Ferland's second goal came into an empty net with three seconds left. At that point, the Saddledome crowd -- as loud as I recall a crowd ever being -- had already been on its feet for several minutes.

"Let's give credit also to our fans. I've never seen this. I've been in great markets. I remember winning the Stanley Cup in Colorado. To see every fan with the Flaming C, wearing it proudly, you almost feel that they're on the bench," said Hartley. "We had to yell our line changes in the third period when we took the lead. We couldn't communicate. It's their passion for our team and it's our relationship."

Spend your Sunday soaking up that victory, Flames fans. After all, you were a big part of it.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Analytics From 80 Feet: The Flames 'Rich Kids vs Poor Kids' Power Play - The Flames second power play unit hasn't scored a goal in 32 games. I set out to investigate if it's been just bad, or just unlucky. You'll be interested at what I discovered. There's no charts or graphs, just some interesting data that I keep simple to understand.
  • Young Flames with a Chance to Turn the Page on a Checkered Past - Historically, the Flames have been awful when it comes to putting another team away. However this team has absolutely zero ties to those previous teams. It's time for this young club to forge its own legacy.
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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Analytics From 80 Feet: A Closer Look at the Flames 'Rich Kids vs. Poor Kids' Power Play

Thirty-two games.

Seventy-one days.

That's how long it's been since the Flames second power-play unit has collaborated for a goal. It's a funk that goes back to mid-February.

David Jones against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 12 was the last time it happened.

While it sure sounds like a bad skid on paper, I set out to determine exactly how bad it's actually been for that second forward unit made up of players not named Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan or Jiri Hudler.


The Second Unit Cast

Beyond that clear-cut top unit, there are six other forwards that have seen a reasonable amount of time on the man advantage over this stretch. Here they are including their power-play ice time:

1. Monahan, 85:46
2. Hudler, 85:30
3. Gaudreau, 85:00
4. Backlund, 44:01
5. Raymond, 35:20
6. Colborne, 31:31
7. Bennett, 10:04
8. Jones, 9:55
9. Jooris, 6:58


While the sample size is small for Jones and Jooris, I am leaving them in for comparison. Also, Curtis Glencross would have been part of this list but I excluded him for obvious reasons.


Comparing Shot Attempts - As a Unit

Any way you slice it, an attempted shot on goal is a good thing as it means you're in the right end of the ice. You don't generate shots if you can't get out of your own end. You don't get them if you are failing to gain the attacking zone. You also generally won't get them if you can't get set up once you do get in that offensize zone.

Shot attempts (aka Corsi) is the sum of three things:
  1. Shots on goal
  2. Shots that are blocked
  3. Shots that miss the net

Here are the shot attempts accumulated for the team while each of the forwards have been on the ice on the power play. To level the playing field in terms of ice time, I've broken it down to average shot attempts per two minutes.

1. Monahan, 3.85
2. Hudler, 3.77
3. Gaudreau, 3.72
4. Raymond, 3.34
5. Colborne, 3.30
6. Backlund, 2.91
7. Jones, 2.82
8. Bennett, 2.38
9. Jooris, 2.30


As you can see, the top unit generates the most. The second unit is a ways back but it's not like they're getting skunked. They're still creating opportunities.


Comparing Scoring Chances - As a Unit

First, an explanation for those not familiar with how this works.

Not all shot attempts are considered scoring chances even though they may result in a goal. Yes, any shot could go in the net -- even a shot from centre ice, but I think it's a fair to have a minimum requirement for what constitutes a legit scoring chance. In a perfect world, scoring chances would be identified manually where some subjectivity could be applied. However, we have all have better things to do. So instead, I'm using the criteria for scoring chances as applied at the stats website war-on-ice (where all of this article's data has come from).

The war-on-ice folks identify scoring chances automatically based on criteria such as shot type/shot distance/timing, all details gleaned from the NHL's detailed play-by-play summaries. It's not perfect but for my purposes, it's close enough. Deferring to the folks that have put a lot more time into analyzing this than me, their criteria is a good-enough proxy to eye-tracked scoring chances so I'm going with it. Here's their definition if you want to know all the grisly details behind their formula.

Based on power play ice time and the number of scoring chances that happen while each player is on the ice, here are the Flames leaders going back to Feb. 14. The number shown is the average number of scoring chances the team generates per two minutes of power-play time while that player is on the ice:

1. Colborne 2.03
2. Hudler 1.99
3. Gaudreau 1.98
    Monahan 1.98
    Raymond 1.98
6. Backlund 1.82
7. Bennett 1.59
8. Jones 1.41
9. Jooris 0.86


Comparing Scoring Chances - Individually

If you drill down further into the number of scoring chances the team is generating while a player is on the ice, you can separate out how many scoring chances each player individually is actually getting.

Again, to level the playing field, the scoring chance numbers I list below are based on two minutes of power play ice time. (Included in parentheses is shot attempts per two minutes)

1. Colborne, 0.57 (0.63)
2. Monahan, 0.56 (0.56)
3. Hudler, 0.49 (0.61)
4. Bennett, 0.40 (0.60)
    Raymond, 0.40 (0.68)
6. Gaudreau, 0.35 (0.42)
7. Backlund, 0.32 (0.41)
8. Jooris, 0.29 (0.86)
9. Jones, 0.20 (0.20)


Seeing Gaudreau tumble down the list is not a surprise considering he's often passing and usually setting up Monahan and Hudler. Colborne at the top again, may surprise you, but it's a sign he's getting chances.

One observation is every one of Monahan's shot attempts has also been considered a scoring chance. That confirms what my eyes have seen and that's him shooting only from close-range. e.g. The low slot or at the side of the net.

Of note, the disparity in Raymond's shot attempts compared to scoring chances suggests many of his shots are coming from the perimeter and are not considered dangerous. This is also something that many of you have likely observed with the eye-test.


What We Have Learned So Far

What we know is approximately two-thirds of every power play goes to the top unit. We've also learned that the team produces more shot attempts while that top line is out there. That line is made up of three very skilled players so this is not a surprise.

However, you might be surprised to see that the relative number of scoring chances generated by that second unit isn't that far below the top three. Colborne is a bit above, Raymond is right at the same level and Backlund is a little bit further down. From this, one could conclude the No. 2 unit is putting less rubber towards the net but when they do get chances, they're quite often decent scoring chances.


Production vs. Pressure

While pressure is nice and chances are great, ultimately it's the most goals that wins hockey games and the most wins that results in taking a playoff series.

Actual production versus mere pressure is where things vary differently with the top unit compared to the second unit. Here are the percentage of scoring chances the team has converted while each player has been on the ice.

1. Gaudreau, 22.6 (19 of 84)
2. Monahan, 21.2 (18 of 85)
    Hudler, 21.2 (18 of 85)
4. Colborne, 3.1 (1* of 32)
5. Raymond, 2.9 (1* of 35)
6. Backlund, 0.0 (0 of 40)
7. Bennett, 0.0 (0 of 8)
8. Jones, 0.0 (0 of 7)
9. Jooris 0.0 (0 of 3)

* Note: If you're wondering why Colborne and Raymond each have one goal scored on the PP yet I'm calling the second unit as 0-for-32 games, it's because on the one goal those two were on the ice for, the goal was ultimately created by Gaudreau, who set up Dennis Wideman. I'm not including that goal as it wasn't the full second unit on the ice nor were the two players that were on the ice integral to the goal going in.


These numbers would suggest that Monahan-Hudler-Gaudreau have been very opportunistic while the second unit has squandered numerous good scoring chances. Based on the figures above, had that second trio been as opportunistic as the top line, they should have scored 8 or 9 power play goals over the past two months instead of none.

While I believe the real truth lies somewhere in the middle, I do think it would be over-generalizing to assume all forwards are created equal. I'd argue Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau are more offensively-skilled and are simply more dangerous and more accurate shooters than the likes of Colborne, Raymond and Backlund. I wouldn't expect that second unit to ever convert scoring chances at the same rate.

However, I'd still argue that the second unit could very well have produced 5 or 6 goals during that time.


Conclusion

It's just a matter of time before the second unit will click and perhaps the power play goals will come in bunches once that first one goes in.

While no goals in 32 games sounds awful, as you can see, they haven't been nearly as bad as that stat suggests. This is a good thing. Also, while it's a small sample size for Bennett, I have no doubt that his presence will bolster that second unit. I'd also argue that Jones should be in line for some power play time. However, Colborne-Backlund-Bennett would be my second unit at this time and with them being an even-strength line already, that existing chemistry should further help on the man advantage.

Maybe it will be tonight in a crucial game six that the second unit finally get rewarded for their efforts as they're long, long over due. Considering the Flames are one win away from reaching the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that timing to break out of this funk would be perfect.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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  • Michael Ferland: Irreverent? Maybe, but Hardly Irrelevant - Kevin Bieksa called Michael Ferland irrelevant after game three, which is laughable considering the Flames rookie has been the polar opposite of that. My look at the huge impact Ferland has had as he establishes himself as a bonafide NHL player.
  • Blow-by-Blow Recap of Friday Night's Fights and What it Could Mean - Here is a blow-by-blow recap of the four primary incidents from game two -- and what it could mean for the Flames -- as tempers boiled over and hostilities returned to a rivalry that long ago left the so-called 'Battle of Alberta' in the dust.
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  • The Time for Sam Bennett is Right Now - What's better than having an ace up your sleeve? Having an ace in your hand. There is a time to be patient with young players and there's a time to be loyal with veteran players. But now it's time for Bob Hartley to ice the line-up he can to beat the Vancouver Canucks four times in the next seven games. That line-up should include Sam Bennett.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Chapter: Young Flames with a Chance to Turn the Page on a Checkered Past

The Calgary Flames carry a five-game losing streak into game 5 against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

Wait. What?

For real. The last five times the Flames have had a chance to eliminate their opponent from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a victory, they've failed to do so. Five times they've had a team on the ropes and five times they've let their opponent slip out of that noose.

April 22, 2008 in San Jose - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-3 in game 7
May 3, 2006 in Anaheim - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 3-0 in game 7
May 1, 2006 vs Anaheim - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 2-1 in game 6
June 7, 2004 in Tampa Bay - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 2-1 in game 7
June 5, 2004 vs Tampa Bay - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 3-2 (OT) in game 6


New Team, New Chapter

The good news is none of this recent baggage -- not even one single, measly carry-on item -- belongs to any of the players on Calgary's roster today. For the current group and that includes coach Bob Hartley, those past results are no more relevant to today's situation than old black and white footage of ship wrecks you see on the History Channel.

Not one player, not even injured captain Mark Giordano, who tops the Flames in tenure, played in even one of those five games.

The only player to appear in that last game against San Jose, who is still in the Flames organization, is Craig Conroy, now the assistant general manager.

Here's where current Flames were at back on that forgettable night at the Shark Tank in 2008 when Jeremy Roenick with two goals and two assists helped San Jose score four unanswered goals in less than nine minutes in the second period to take a 5-2 lead and cruise to the victory:
  • Elsewhere in NHLJiri Hudler was in Detroit, Dennis Wideman in Boston, Kris Russell in Columbus, David Jones in Colorado, Jonas Hiller in Anaheim, Matt Stajan in Toronto, Mason Raymond in Vancouver.
  • Overseas - Mikael Backlund was in Sweden, Mark Giordano was in Russia.
  • Junior - Brandon Bollig was in USHL, TJ Brodie in OHL, Joe Colborne in AJHL.
  • Minor Pro - Deryk Engelland was in AHL, David Schlemko in CHL
  • Minor Hockey - Sam Bennett was playing Peewee, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Tyler Wotherspoon were in Bantam, Michael Ferland and Josh Jooris were in Midget.

Interestingly, two players in the Sharks line-up in that 2008 game were Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray, both of whom were seen around Calgary for parts of this season although obviously are not with the team any longer.

In fact, one could also argue Calgary's current group is actually 1-0 when they have a chance to eliminate a team as that was the exact script on April 9. It was not the playoffs technically, but was as similar in circumstance as it could get when the Flames knocked off Los Angeles 3-1 at the Saddledome to officially extinguish the Kings post-season hopes.

The players that are still having nightmares about all those opportunities they let slip away from 2004 to 2008 are all long gone. There were four players that appeared in all five of those heartbreakers -- Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Stephane Yelle and recently retired Robyn Regehr.


Misery Goes Back Even Further

The misery surrounding the Flames inability to put a team away extends all the way back to right after Calgary won its only Stanley Cup in 1989. The lone bright spot was 2004 thanks to the heroics of Martin Gelinas. Now a Calgary assistant coach, Gelinas scored the series-winning goal each time as the Flames temporarily reversed the jinx and won three consecutive games when they had their opponent on the brink.


May 19, 2004 in San Jose - Ahead 3-2 in series, won 3-1 in game 6
May 3, 2004 vs Detroit - Ahead 3-2 in series, won 1-0 (OT) in game 6
April 19, 2004 in Vancouver - Tied 3-3 in series, won 3-2 (OT) in game 7

April 17, 2004 vs Vancouver - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 5-4 (3OT) in game 6
May 19, 1995 vs San Jose - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-4 (2OT) in game 7
May 17, 1995 at San Jose - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 5-3 in game 6
April 30, 1994 vs Vancouver - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 4-3 (2OT) in game 7
April 28, 1994 at Vancouver - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 3-2 (OT) in game 6
April 26, 1994 vs Vancouver - Ahead 3-1 in series, lost 2-1 (OT) in game 5
April 16, 1991 vs Edmonton - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-4 (OT) in game 7


Of note, there were five players that appeared in each of those games during that six-game stretch from 1991 to 1995. However, I'm going to give Joe Nieuwendyk and Theoren Fleury a pass as they also have Stanley Cup rings from 1989.

That leaves three players to shoulder the burden of being the face of the Flames post-Stanley Cup failings. The three players that played in all six of those disastrous losses from 1991 through 1995, but didn't arrive in Calgary until after the Stanley Cup season were Ronnie Stern, Robert Reichel and Frank Musil. Fair or not fair, those early-to-mid 90s years and all those missed opportunities to build off the championship season, will always be a dark chapter in the team's history with those three on the cover.

Of course, the subsequent drafting at 6th overall of Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) and Rico Fata (1998) didn't help matters either. But that's a topic for another day.


History is on Nobody's Side Tonight

If you think about it, both teams heading into tonight's clash in Rogers Arena have ugly historic records that they pack with them. The Canucks have lost 13 of their last 15 playoff games going back to game six of the Stanley Cup final in 2011.

Calgary isn't much better having lost 12 of its last 15 playoff games in which it could eliminate its opponent with a victory.

That said, the circumstances are very different.

While none of the baggage from past failings belongs to any current Flames, that's not the case for Vancouver.

Even without injured Alex Burrows, there are eight other regulars that have been with the Canucks the entire time and sport the scars from these last five years of playoff frustration -- Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Chris Tanev.


Making Their Own History

The best part about history is it's exactly that -- history.

It's in the past and while there are so many losses in there that haunt Flames fans to this day -- especially the 40-plus crowd, the current club led by six rookies are creating their own legacy and so far, it's been the opposite to what Calgary fans have grown accustomed to.

In a refreshing change, underachieving is out and overachieving is in.

The whole 2014-15 season was like that. Overcoming an eight-game losing streak was an example of that. Going 15-7-3 since Giordano got injured is another example of that. Leading 3-1 in games over the Vancouver Canucks while being the series underdog is yet another example of that.

Thankfully for Flames fans, it appears a new era is finally upon this city. It's time for Brodie to make people forget about Musil. It's time for Ferland and Bennett to exorcise the ghosts of Stern and Reichel.

That first chapter in the Flames new history book could be wrapped up tonight with a win in Rogers Arena that would punch their ticket to the second round for just the second time in 26 years or more so, make it one-for-one in terms of playoff appearances and playoff series victories for the new Monahan-Gaudreau-Bennett era, which is a better and more fair way to look at it.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Michael Ferland: Irreverent? Maybe, but Hardly Irrelevant - Kevin Bieksa called Michael Ferland irrelevant after game three, which is laughable considering the Flames rookie has been the polar opposite of that. My look at the huge impact Ferland has had as he establishes himself as a bonafide NHL player.
  • Blow-by-Blow Recap of Friday Night's Fights and What it Could Mean - Here is a blow-by-blow recap of the four primary incidents from game two -- and what it could mean for the Flames -- as tempers boiled over and hostilities returned to a rivalry that long ago left the so-called 'Battle of Alberta' in the dust.
  • High-Five: Flames Rookies Getting it Done - Five of the Flames 12 forwards in game one were rookies. How absurd is that? There were only 22 rookie forwards in the line-ups of the other 15 teams in game one of the playoffs. I look at the historical significance of that and reflect on what it means right now and for the future.
  • The Time for Sam Bennett is Right Now - What's better than having an ace up your sleeve? Having an ace in your hand. There is a time to be patient with young players and there's a time to be loyal with veteran players. But now it's time for Bob Hartley to ice the line-up he can to beat the Vancouver Canucks four times in the next seven games. That line-up should include Sam Bennett,
  • The Decisive Dozen: 12 Games That Made the Difference in 2014-15 - It wasn't easy but here is my carefully curated list of the 12 most important games of the regular season, a year in which the Flames did the improbable in making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Included are links to the highlights of each game. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Michael Ferland: Irreverent? Maybe, but Hardly Irrelevant

Irrelevant, huh?

Irreverent, perhaps, about the higher-seeded team he's playing against and the more experienced veterans players he's battling against.

But irrelevant? Oh man, hardly.

Of all the words in the English language, "irrelevant" was how Kevin Bieksa on Sunday night chose to grossly understate the role Michael Ferland has played so far in the testy first round series between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks.

"I think he's pretty irrelevant so far," said the Canucks defenceman after Sunday's game three loss in which Ferland had a game-high eight hits, part of a 33-18 edge for Calgary as all night the Flames took away Vancouver's time and space (read my story for The Canadian Press on this storyline here.)

This, of course, was about a half-hour in real time after Bieksa essentially jumped the irrelevant Flames rookie in the Canucks corner with 1:06 to go and threw three or four punches before Ferland could even get his gloves off.
  • The type of vehicle Ferland drives (surely a Ford F-150 or something similar). Irrelevant.
  • The number on the back of Ferland's jersey (79 for now but surely changing this summer, perhaps to his recently vacated junior number of 27). Irrelevant.
  • The impact Ferland has had on this series. Not irrelevant. 


Veteran Poise From the Manitoba Kid

Ferland played his 29th NHL game Sunday night. Today, the native of Swan River, Manitoba, celebrates his 23rd birthday.

He's young, inexperienced and with a resume as thin as his, many in his position might very well be irrelevant. But Ferland has not been. Not even close.

Perhaps Bieksa picked Ferland in his hockey pool because no goals or assists in game three was about the only fathomable way in which Ferland could be described in that way.

Ferland's line of Matt Stajan and David Jones may have been the lone Calgary trio to not collaborate for a goal on Sunday, but in crashing and banging their way to a collective 14 hits, they were a giant part of the Flames first playoff victory at the Saddledome since April 22, 2009.

Ferland played 12:08 in game three but it felt like he was on the ice twice as much as that. He certainly packed a lot of action into those dozen minutes.

"I want them to know when I'm out there," said Ferland. "The biggest thing for me is to use my body. It's so easy to make those hits with that crowd. I love hearing them after every hit so that's awesome."

Eight hits gives Ferland 18 in the playoffs, which is tied for third in the NHL behind left-winger Matt Martin of the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals defenceman Brooks Orpik, who each have 22.

"Ferly is quite a player and he's just starting," said Flames coach Bob Hartley. "We've got a remarkable young man. So intelligent. You have to be around him to figure out how intelligent this young man is."


Taking Advantage of his Opportunity

Hartley says Ferland is making the most of the chance at playing time that arose when Lance Bouma (upper body) was lost late in the regular season.

"Right from the get go, he delivered some good, solid clean hits. That's the way that we always play. He's filled in. He's taking advantage of Lance Bouma's injury and he's really creating a good role for himself."

There were plenty of signs once again Sunday of how far Ferland has matured from just two years ago when he was returned to junior from the AHL. The coach at Abbotsford that 2012-13 season was Troy Ward, who said this at the time:

"He was basically a 20-year-old that was living like a 17-year-old. When you try to do that in this room and this environment, it becomes very difficult. That's not a knock against Michael – that's just where he was in his development process."

Fast forward to Sunday night and while riding the emotion of a deafening loud crowd, Ferland demonstrated how much he's grown up by being very careful to not get too caught up in it.

When Vancouver antagonist Derek Dorsett tried to goad him into dropping his gloves and fighting in the final minute of the second period, Ferland refused. With the Flames ahead 2-1 at the time, one risk was letting the Canucks manufacture a spark headed to the third. Additionally, perhaps -- although it didn't work -- he could have drawn an unsportsmanlike penalty on Dorsett and a power play at that stage would have been huge.

There was another instance in the game where Stajan and Jones were already caught in deep and Ferland had a chance to take a run at the defenceman on his side that had the puck. Normally, given the way he had been electrifying the crowd with his punishing hits all game, you would have expected him to run at him and try to staple him. Instead, he wisely curled back back up ice in anticipation of the Canucks breakout, which saved Calgary what could have been a potentially costly 3-on-2 rush against them.


Also Shrewd Off the Ice

When asked Sunday night about the shenanigans at the end of the game and Bieksa initiating that scrap with him, Ferland once again showed his maturity by dismissing it, rather than making it a talking point and giving the Canucks something to pin up on the ol' bulletin board.

"The game just got heated at the end, a few guys competing down low. Before I knew it, we were punching each other," Ferland said.

If he continues to let his actions do most of the talking, Ferland will continue to be a relevant part of this series, whether or not Bieksa wants to admit it or not.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Blow-by-Blow Recap of Friday Night's Fights and What it Could MeanHere is a blow-by-blow recap of the four primary incidents from game two -- and what it could mean for the Flames -- as tempers boiled over and hostilities returned to a rivalry that long ago left the so-called 'Battle of Alberta' in the dust.
  • High-Five: Flames Rookies Getting it Done - Five of the Flames 12 forwards in game one were rookies. How absurd is that? There were only 22 rookie forwards in the line-ups of the other 15 teams in game one of the playoffs. I look at the historical significance of that and reflect on what it means right now and for the future.
  • The Time for Sam Bennett is Right Now - What's better than having an ace up your sleeve? Having an ace in your hand. There is a time to be patient with young players and there's a time to be loyal with veteran players. But now it's time for Bob Hartley to ice the line-up he can to beat the Vancouver Canucks four times in the next seven games. That line-up should include Sam Bennett,
  • The Decisive Dozen: 12 Games That Made the Difference in 2014-15 - It wasn't easy but here is my carefully curated list of the 12 most important games of the regular season, a year in which the Flames did the improbable in making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Included are links to the highlights of each game.