In the 80s the Russians had the green unit, a group of five players that played together always. They were all household names, one of them, Sergei Makarov, actually played in Calgary.
What made it unique was the fact that the Russians under coach Viktor Tikhonov attempted to play three forwards with two defenseman at all times, a depart from the North American model that essentially lives on today; that forward lines and defense pairings.
The Flames this year have taken a huge step forwards in the standings and the possession analytics that show the team generating more shots than they give up on most nights. That takes systems, but it also takes utilization decisions and more often than not Glen Gulutzan has his big five play drivers on the ice together in Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Mikael Backlund, Micheal Frolik and rookie Matthew Tkachuk.
The big five were one ice together for all three Flames goals tonight, and all five going +3 in a solid 3-1 victory over the very green Dallas Stars on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Russians had KLM, so why not build a five around 3M?
Great bounce back period for the Flames, as they seemed to carry the play from the drop of the puck with an exception of the third line getting hemmed in a few minutes into the game. The Stars had the only powerplay of the period, but the Flames were sound positionally and gave them nothing but perimeter stick handling; put on a show. The only goal of the period comes with about 16 minutes into the period with birthday boy Mikael Backlund finding Michael Frolik in the slot, Frolik going post and in for a 1-0 Flames lead.
Calgary comes out very aggressively in the second period, carrying the play once again from the hop. Most of the zone time ends up being just that, time, in the first five minutes as they don’t get the puck to the net or past Lehtonen when they get their chances. The flood gates open a bit 5 minutes into the period, ironically after a great Dallas spell in the period, with an epic shift that will surely have Gulutzan doing the Wiser Clap tomorrow in video. The play starts with the Monahan line but they keep control long enough for parts of the Backlund line to enter the fray. The goal happens when some good coverage for both defensemen pinching keeps the play alive, with Hamilton finding Mark Giordano heading from the corner to the slot who slips the puck low to the slot for Matthew Tkachuk to tip in; 2-0 Calgary. A few minutes later a Tkachuk high stick is waved off when he out smarts two Stars to keep the play alive, allowing Giordano to flip the net and get a fluke one when the puck goes off a Dallas defender and past Lehtonen. The Stars were much better in the second but didn’t get the bounces, and the Flames didn’t give up the rebounds; Flames lead 3-0 after two.
Solid third period for the Flames, and it starts quick with two quick scoring chances in the two first shifts as the Flames look to add to their lead but are foiled by Lehtonen. The ice continues to look sloped towards the Stars’ net for the better part of the first half of the period with some great chances but blocked shots and Lehtonen keep the game within three. The Stars break Elliott’s shut out when TJ Brodie bobbles the puck badly on his own giving up the puck to Brett Ritchie who hammers it past a startled Calgary goaltender. From there the Stars push sensing life, but Elliott stands tall and takes it home for his personal best 10th straight win; 3-1 Flames.
1st Period – Shot attempts in the first period were 16-14 Dallas (17-14 when you include their powerplay, the only call of the period). Scoring chances were 9-5 Calgary however, matching the eye test from my standpoint.
2nd Period – A much better Dallas period, but a similar twenty minutes when you look at underlying stats. The shot attempts were 20-20 with zero powerplay opportunities, and the scoring chances were once again heavily in Calgary’s favour with a 12-8 edge.
3rd Period – In a very consistent game overall, the third looks a lot like the first two periods with the Stars having a slight edge in shot attempts 14-12 largely led by a late push after their late goal. Calgary as they did in the first two periods had the scoring chance edge again with a 10-5 tally. On the game the shot attempts five on five were 50-46 Dallas, scoring chances however were 31-18 Calgary.
Players – As you see almost every night, the Flames big five mentioned above were all 50% or above, the 3M leading the way with 65-75% nights. Other guys that crept into the top ranks were Derryk Engelland and Matt Bartowski. On the underside the Brodie/Stone pairing had a rough night with Stone coming back into the lineup, additionally Stajan, Brouwer and Versteeg had tough nights.
1. Mark Giordano: Very complete night for the captain as he blocked shots, broke up dangerous chances, used the body and was in on all three goals with a goal and two helpers.
2. Brian Elliott : Lost his shut out on a brutal TJ Brodie blunder but was great, especially in the second period when Dallas was pushing.
3. Matthew Tkachuk : Goal and an assist, takes a puck to the back of the neck but returns no worse for wear other than a brutal bruise.
Brian Elliott was solid from coast to coast but the save of the game has to go to Kari Lehtonen for his toe save on Johnny Gaudreau in the second period. Gaudreau takes a pass from Ferland off the boards and heads in all alone, sells going to the far side and the tries to Forsberg it in the short side only to be blocked by the extended toe by Lehtonen.
TJ Brodie has to get it doesn’t he? His blunder doesn’t cost his team the game, but a mistake like that has goat horns all over it. On the Dallas side Jason Spezza and Dan “should have been traded to Dallas last year” Hamhuis were both -3, and on the ice for all three Calgary strikes.
Have to go with the birthday boy, don’t we? Mikael Backlund has an assist, is +3 and part of a dominant performance for his 3M line again as he blows out the candles.
Odds and Ends
Some good signs in roster changes tonight with the flu ridden Brian Elliott returning to the cage hoping to keep his personal streak alive now that the team has lost the win streak; he’s won nine in a row and has points in 11 straight. Additionally the Flames get Michael Stone back on the blueline, the undefeated Flames from the date of his acquisition from the Arizona Coyotes. … Have to hand it to Dennis Wideman for his play with Stone on the sidelines however, he more than held his own for the first two games, but was -3 against Boston, a game that nobody played all that well. … Interesting non roster moves today as well with Rasmus Andersson not getting reassigned to Stockton with Stone cleared to play. Instead we find out he has had his emergency recall converted to a regular call up, meaning he can stay but it burns one of the four the Flames have for the rest of the season. Want him around for practice? Is he getting in? Bottom line, the news wasn’t generated today as the change from emergency to regular would have had to happen when Dougie Hamilton was able to play in Winnipeg, or certainly when he was able to go again against Boston. … If you go back and watch the youtube of Sam Bennett’s four goal night against Florida and wind your way through to his fourth goal, you’ll notice former Flame Jiri Hudler not looking all that excited about getting into a celebration with his teammates. Flash forward to tonight and you have Micheal Ferland not avoiding hammering him at the bluine, and Lance Bouma hacking and whacking with Hudler on a face off. Not the most popular guy in Calgary? I know the media didn’t love the guy. … I gave Glen Gulutzan credit for utilization in the opening, but it should be pointed out that Brad Treliving has acquired three of the five players that are heavily driving play in Calgary. He mentioned possession as an issue early and then targeted Michael Frolik in free agency, Dougie Hamilton with a shrewd trade, and then maybe more obviously selected Tkachuk in the entry draft last June. … Gulutzan switched up his bottom two lines tonight moving Sam Bennett down to the fourth line with Alex Chiasson and Lance Bouma, with Matt Stajan moving up to the third line with Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer. Was it a punishment or sweet salvation for Bennett though? It’s pretty in these days to hammer Brouwer for his sketchy possession stats, but getting two periods on the fourth line moved Bennett 10 and 25% clear of his regular linemates for shot attempts while Matt Stajan sunk to second worst. Maybe the switch out was a creative way to get Brouwer away from Bennett..
On Sunday the Flames wrap up this home heavy section of their season, as they head out on the road for games in Washington, Nashville and St. Louis. Game time on Sunday is 7.30pm on Sportsnet.
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
Versteeg – Bennett – Brouwer
Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Stone
Bartkowski – Engelland