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Five Questions with Arii from Matchsticks and Gasoline

Here's our chat with Arii from SBN's Calgary Flames Blog Matchsticks and Gasoline.

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Anaheim Calling: Starting with the obvious, I was by no means the only one to count Calgary out when Mark Giordano was injured, though I was happy to be proven wrong.  How has the rest of the team compensated for losing their top defenseman, best offensive player (at the time) and captain?  Also, since he's started skating again, what do you think the odds are that he might be available by the end of the series?

Matchstciks & Gasoline: The Flames have only really compensated in the sense that they have no other choice. Deryk Engelland has been bumped up into the top four and, well, he's Deryk Engelland; he became TJ Brodie's partner, and Brodie has gone from looking near Norris-worthy to struggling (but still pretty awesome; he's been huge and in Giordano's absence, is the Flames' number one guy). Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, the Flames' second pairing throughout the season, became the top pairing as a result. On the one hand, it's kind of nice for them, because they tend to score a lot, so more ice time helps them with that; on the other hand, they're not particularly great defensively, so they get exposed. The one small blessing is increased play for David Schlemko and Raphael Diaz, who are sneakily effective in a bottom pairing role; however, with Diaz's injury, the Flames are effectively playing with five defencemen with Tyler Wotherspoon picking up maybe five minutes a game if he's lucky.

There's absolutely zero chance Giordano is back for the series against the Ducks. Should the Flames move on, there's a slim chance he could be back for round three, but he will not be playing in the second round. His injury was a torn bicep and he's only just started puck handling again, and he's not taking contact.

AC: We're very familiar with Jonas Hiller here in Anaheim, how is he viewed in Calgary and how have your perceptions of him changed (if at all) having been able to see him on a nightly basis?

M&G: I liked him when the Flames first signed him, and I still like him a lot today. For context, he effectively replaced Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald on the Flames, so it's hard not to like him just for the basic upgrade he immediately provides. That said, aside from the odd or weak goal here or there - towards the end of the regular season he had a bad habit of letting goals in on the first or second shot, but that's for the most part stopped - he's been incredible for the Flames, including singlehandedly keeping them in, or outright stealing, games. Game 6 against Vancouver aside, he's been especially phenomenal for Calgary as of late. He's definitely well-liked around here. Although should he blunder, the Flames have a more than capable backup in Karri Ramo, and as we saw in Game 6, there won't be any hesitation to put him in if Hiller is having one of his off nights. Those are thankfully few and far between.

AC: For the last few years, the Ducks have been the poster boys for unsustainable possession metrics, but the Flames fall even further down the shot attempt totem pole (28th overall in CF%/SAT% this regular season).  Is it just the Flames' lightning quick counter attack that allows them to defy the possession stats or is there more to it?

M&G: Scoring on the rush has paid massive dividends for the Flames, but shot quality has been huge for them. The reason the Flames fail in possession metrics ultimately comes down to the fact that they just don't shoot the puck that often. However, you'll find that a high volume of their shot attempts and goals come right in the scoring chance area, and the Flames have done pretty well in the scoring chance stats. The top line, for example, has a much higher focus of shots from within home plate than anywhere else.  This extends to the rest of the team, where they all succeed in driving to the net, especially during third periods.

One other thing that has helped the Flames defy possession statistics is, well, goaltending. Last season, when the Flames picked fourth overall, they had some of the absolute worst goaltending in the league. This year, Hiller alone has shot them up to average levels, which translates to more wins.

AC: Who should Ducks fans be on the lookout for as an unsung hero for Calgary and who might be the Flames' biggest potential liability in this series?

M&G: You may have heard a lot about 18-year-old Sam Bennett from the first round, but his centre, Mikael Backlund, doesn't get nearly enough credit. He has a habit of not putting up a ton of points, but he's a possession monster, and really drives the play for his team. Matt Stajan is older than Backlund, but he fits in this category as well; those two are the Flames' main defensive centres. Also, don't be deceived by the fact Josh Jooris is currently on the fourth line: he has sneaky good stats if you know where to look, and consistently makes really smart little plays that lead to good things for the Flames. Micheal Ferland is more than a hitting machine, too: the kid can actually play. Any rookie for Calgary has the potential to be dangerous.

As for liabilities, Deryk Engelland playing 20 minutes a night still isn't great, though he did somehow survive a 3:22 shift against the Canucks in an elimination game. Joe Colborne is on the second line with Bennett and Backlund, but he's definitely the weakest link. Bob Hartley occasionally makes odd decisions, like constantly playing Brandon Bollig, so there's that; also, if he decides to take out Tyler Wotherspoon for Corey Potter, that could be an issue (but we're talking maybe five minutes, so that's splitting hairs... Wotherspoon is still developing whereas Potter is, um, not good, though). Finally, again with Ferland: if he doesn't keep his emotions in check, that could lead to some problems for the Flames.

AC: Finally, and least importantly, what's the craziest thing you've seen/heard of on the Red Mile after a win?

M&G: Well, we recently just had the police warning Calgarians to "keep your pants on and don't set off fireworks," so that's definitely one fun mental image at least. People will climb on streetlights, and chant silly things, like "We want the Cup" (yes, we all do, but it's just the second round!). A recent trend has been giant cardboard cutout heads of various Flames personnel: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler heads have become rather popular; Jonas Hiller, TJ Brodie, and Mikael Backlund are present; and even Brian Burke and Bob Hartley are starting to appear. The old "shirts off for Kiprusoff" chant has morphed into "show your cans for Monahan," but the city is working on curbing the rampant sexism, and turning the "cans" into food bank donations, which is much nicer. Although "Flames in six, show your dicks" may be a thing. Which brings us full circle, in that Calgarians need to keep their pants on (although to my knowledge it's just been one guy so far, which, out of a crowd of... lots, isn't too bad).


Big Thanks to Arii for answering our questions, you can go read my answers to their five questions on M&G, here.