The Calgary Flames head into Barclay's center which means it's once again time for the annual interview with a resident Flames expert, Matchsticks and Gasoline's very own HockeyGoalieEh. Wait a minute... Anyway, let's get to it.
The Flames surprised some people with their firing of Bob Hartley. Were you surprised?
No. Hartley consistently rolled out a team that was near the bottom of nearly every possession metric imaginable and had the worst-ranked special teams last year. He made the playoffs once during a four year period only to regress heavily and wind up bottom-dwellers again last season. He didn't really have a system to speak of - the team relied on a system of dump and chase that involved considerably more dumping than chasing.
His evaluation of player personnel was pretty terrible, too. He was partially responsible for Paul Byron leaving instead of Brandon Bollig. Byron went on to have a terrific season. The defense saw guys like Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman play huge minutes which only rewarded them for one season off of some crazy puck-luck via Dennis Wideman's shooting percentage. None of the forwards really saw their possession flourish sans Mikael Backlund and much of the offense was revolved around Johnny Gaudreau trying to make something out of nothing.
He was replaced by Glen Gulutzan. How has that gone?
Gulutzan's been kind of a scapegoat and perhaps unfairly so. The roster he's been given isn't great to be honest. The team went out and spent money on Troy Brouwer, a move praised by talking heads and condemned by analytically-minded individuals. He's yet to fit in anywhere and has proven to be the possession drain that many thought he would be. Because of that and injuries to Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg, they have nobody other than the magical unicorn line of Matthew Tkachuk, Backlund, and Michael Frolik that can really push possession, yet they still have improved considerably in Corsi for percentage; that has to be considered a win.
On defense, he has five serviceable options in Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Brett Kulak, and even Deryk Engelland who has been strangely serviceable as of late, but he may be being carried by Kulak there. The sixth spot has been a tire fire where time has been split with Jyrki Jokipakka, Dennis Wideman, and the now-released Nicklas Grossmann. Grossmann was a disaster of unmitigated proportions and Jokipakka is playing Brian Strait-level hockey right now. That leaves Wideman as the odd-man, but that leaves the team with four guys that play the right side and pushes Brodie to the left where he isn't as nearly good and having Wideman in on the top four is certainly not ideal.
The power play and penalty kill are still abysmal, particularly the power play. Dave Cameron was hired to take over the power play after running one of the worst power play performers in the Ottawa Senators in his previous gig. The move made no sense and the power play is stagnant. Players just pass the puck back and forth without moving until Wideman takes an ill-advised shot from the blue line (since he's never met a shot opportunity he didn't like), the puck gets blocked and winds up out of the zone. Their power play is like watching Sharknado - it's so bad that it winds up being comical.
So what's gone right this year?
The Tkachuk, Backlund, Frolik lines is one of the best lines in hockey. Matt Stajan has shown that he's still a competent hockey player now that he's not carrying Bollig's dead weight anymore. Micheal Ferland has developed nicely and Kulak might be something special, but a larger sample size is certainly needed.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been former Islander and Calgary native Chad Johnson. He's been an upper-echelon goalie this year and has won over the starting spot for now. He currently ranks seventh in adjusted Fenwick save percentage out of netminders with at least 450 minutes played in five-on-five situations. Goalies are voodoo magic and there's still a good chance he regresses, but right now he's been the hot hand.
What should we expect tonight?
Johnson isn't in net tonight - Brian Elliott is and he's been one of the worst goalies in the league. He has the second worst adjusted Fenwick save percentage with at least 450 minutes played in the same situations - only Semyon Varlamov is worse. They're also on a schedule loss as they played one of their worst games last night against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Islanders haven't played since Friday.
The Flames are certainly a better possession team right now, but their special teams are disgustingly bad and the team as a whole is underwhelming. The schedule makers really stacked the deck against them tonight and with Elliott playing some of the worst hockey of his life, the Islanders should win this. I say should because the Islanders themselves are a disaster of leviathan proportions. If they somehow manage to lose this one and Jack Capuano isn't relieved of his duties immediately after the fact, it would be a travesty.