It seems that over the past week or so, Sam Bennett has been all the talk on Flames twitter. From a leaked trade request, to a healthy scratch, followed by a goal alongside the top line of 13 and 23, its safe to say that Bennett is probably the hottest topic of discussion amongst the Flames fan base.
With all that being said, he did score a goal on Saturday and the team scored 5 goals at even strength, their most all season.
This got me thinking. The Flames were said to be one of the deepest teams in the North division, but before the BOA on saturday, the team had only mustered 17 goals at even strength in 10 games. That number is abysmal.
However, the team did show some serious life at even strength against the Oil, and if you look into the anaytics Calgary probably should have a few more tallies if it weren't for some bad bounces, this year
So far this season the Flames head coach has recieved "just a tad" of criticism when it comes to deployment and line shuffling.
For fair reasoning, the Flames have been struggling and Ward's offensive system of keeping the puck to the perimeter is quite akin to Glen Gulutzans system that ran the Flames into the ground.
I personally would say when it comes to his system vs deployment, the deployment has been the bigger issue.
When it comes to having depth throughout the Flames lineup, their are 4 players who play integral roles in the Flames increasing their scoring at even strength.
Mikael Backlund has been one of the Flames most reliable centers for the last decade. He finally had a good "statistical" game on saturday and him keeping that up is integral to the Flames success.
The aforementioned Sam Bennett was used at center to start the year but since has been moved to the wing.
This chart from evolving hockey can basically be interpreted by saying that Backlund has been good, per usual. He's just getting bad bounces and has a particularly low PDO (basically puck luck).
Bennett on the other hand hasn't been good defensively and has been worse offensively. However, its still early in the season, and Bennett has two skills that can't be measure by analytics, speed and grit. He can keep up with the Flames fastest players and isn't afraid of going into the corners.
The other two key depth scoring pieces are Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube.
Dillon Dube is currently filling the slot next to Lindholm and Tkachuk. I don't think there is a single Flames fan who would say he is doing poorly. His analytic charts aren't necessarily sexy. But hes finishing on his oppurtunities and the Flames look much stronger on paper and on the ice when he's in the lineup.
Mangiapane is a freaking monster. If you've read anything of mine you would know how much of a man crush I have on Andrew Eat Bread. He's fantastic at driving play and is great at creating scoring chances as well as preventing them in his own end. The only knock on him is that he hasn't been finishing as well as he is creating. However, when Mangiapane is on the Ice the team has had an abysmal shooting percentage of 5%. As displayed on Saturday, this will change.
The other few names that I would consider relevant in this discussion of increasing the Flames ES performance are Milan Lucic and Josh Leivo.
Say what you will about his usage and poor turnovers. Lucic typically has a positive impact on both ends of the ice. If he was getting paid 4 million less, I suspect Flames fans would be a lot less heated with his performance.
Leivo on the other hand hasn't had the statistical impact that his underlying stats suggests.
Hopefully he can bring the GF/60 up, because besides that hes creating chances, and has been good in his own end as well.
What Should The Flames Lineup Look Like
The projected lineup tonight is pretty similar to how the Flames were deployed on Saturday. A game in which our 4th line played 2:04, 4:01, and 5:25 at even strength.
Say what you will about getting the top guys out their more, Calgary definitely can use a 4th line that can contribute on the score sheet. So far the Flames haven't gotten a single goal from their bottom line.
On the contrary, Mangiapane has had a massive impact in early returns playing with Johnny and Mony.
However, moving him away from Backlund could really crush any chance at maintaining a third scoring line.
Backlund finished the year in 2020 on an absolute tear. Playing with 88 and 19.
Moving Mangiapane up to the top 6 may be beneficial for our star power, but in terms of depth scoring I would say he is needed to help boost that third line.
(The Backlund Bump is offically the Eating Bread Bump)
The lines I would like to see the Flames role out would be as follows. (TOI is adjusted to Flames average of 13 minutes per game split between PK and PP. So 47 minutes of ES hockey)
Tkachuk - Lindholm - Dube 14 minutes ES TOI
Gaudreau - Monahan - Bennett 14 minutes ES TOI
Mangiapane - Backlund - Leivo 12 minutes ES TOI
Lucic - Gawdin/Ryan - Simon 7 minutes ES TOI
This lineup does a few things for the Flames and is dependent on paticular roster moves by Ward.
- First line see's tough opposition and around 40-60% Ozone starts.
- Second line see's easier opposition and is heavily sheltered with Ozone deployment.
- Third line see's the oppositions top line and is equipt with play drivers that can deal with poor zone starts
- Fourth line has mix of skill and energy. Guys that face easy opposition and only goal is to outplay the other teams 4th line.
Really this line up would depend on a few things. Firstly, the Flames being smart enough to stop playing Nordstrom and giving a solid propsect like Glenn Gawdin a chance.
While perhaps the most important part of this lineup being succesful is Sam Bennett. If he can play in sheltered minutes, then he could potentially prove fruitful and gain chemistry with 13 and 23. He's fast enough to keep up and can do the dirty work for those softies. If he can't fulfill this role, and the Flames want any chance at an extended playoff run. Brad needs to make a move for a competent right winger.
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Charts and stats via Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick