Playoff Pressure Mounts in Guildford

Coming into the week, the Flames had never won an EIHL game in Altrincham. They were also yet to beat Fife, but were yet to lose against Dundee. So with just 2 points taken out of 6 from last week, should this really come as a surprise? Well, the short story is that the hunt for a regulation win in 2019 continues.

Wednesday night against the Manchester Storm was always going to be an uphill challenge, as it is well documented that the Flames struggle on the smaller ice surface, and after being heavily outshot 15-6 in the first period, to go into the break just 1 goal down certainly wasn’t the end of the world.

baldwin fight flames vs storm
Baldwin looks to spark the Flames into life at the start of the 3rd period. Credit – @MattyC1981/Manchester Storm Facebook

The second period was not so kind. Storm came out even stronger, and outshot the Flames 20-11, but the game looked dead and buried following a huge turnover by Davies which saw the Storm double their lead, and then add a spectacular third from Long.

An angry Calle Ackered spoke to Storm TV as he came off the ice and said “We know we can score 3 goals in a period, no problem!”, and they came very close as Reddick netted 2 goals in the final period but it was just too little too late and the Flames left empty handed.

Fife came to the Spectrum after a poor run of form but quickly took the lead through a Cazzola powerplay goal. Foster levelled things up shortly after and at the first break, although even on the scoreboard and the Flames heavily outshooting Fife 19 shots to 8, the Flames were not looking at all comfortable and were playing with very little confidence.

Yet again, the second period was one to forget for Guildford. Bloodoff scored early on, and despite again outshooting Fife, another terrible mis-control, this time from Jez Lundin, saw Schaber go through unchallenged on Carrozzi to add a third with just 3 minutes remaining in the period.

flames goal tj foster vs fife
Credit – GuildfordFlames.com/John Uwins Photography

The Flames finally fired back into life when Crooks scored at the mid-way point of the third – A goal which lifted both players and supporters and saw the Flames go on a late push to try to level the game.

The usually strict duo of Hogarth & Rose let the game flow as much as he could, letting numerous questionable plays go unpunished; A Kevin King crosscheck, mid-ice, in clear view of both officials and a long way from the puck, which sent a Fife player to the ice being the pick of the bunch, but with just 1:01 remaining in the game, Crowder was called for holding and Stoflet was called for roughing, meaning the final minute was to be a 5-on-3 in favour of the Flames.

A timeout was called, Carrozzi was pulled and the 6 Flames skaters played numerous passes to open up a shooting lane, until Reddick found Watters:

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A 5-on-4 powerplay continued until the final buzzer, and it continued into overtime where the Flames saw the lions share of possession, but it was Bulmer who fired home the winner which saw Fife keep their 100% record against the Flames.

A 5am coach trip to Dundee followed immediately after, and after a scoreless first period, Dixon told Stars TV how happy he was to go into the break without conceding given the day of travel.

The second period for the Flames was surprisingly successful, and they took a 1 goal lead through John Dunbar into the break. Whilst the scoreline was a positive one, truth be told, it probably should have been more. The Flames were dominant and Dundee were clearly missing the trio of Andersson, Bissonnette and Bouchard.

dundee winns vs flames
Marquardt netting the game winner in overtime. Credit – Derek Black

The third period was a more even affair, and the Stars equalised through Corcaran with 7 minutes left on the clock. John Dunbar then took a penalty with just 1:25 left on the clock.

Luckily for the Flames, the pressure from Dundee didn’t lead to a goal, and the game went to overtime, where yet another big error was made.

This time it was the bench, rather than a player though. As the Dunbar penalty expired and the teams skated 4-on-4, Ferguson took the puck into the offensive zone to hold up play for a Flames line change. The Flames only sent 2 men onto the ice rather than 3, which meant Ferguson had to retreat with the puck, allowing Dundee to change their line. Not long after, Marquardt fired past Fullerton to pick up the 2 points and the first win over the Flames this season.

Guildford Flames Logo

There is a strong case that in all 3 games, 3 substantial errors have good-as decided the game. Whilst that statement may be harsh in regards to the bench error in Dundee, individual errors happen weekly across the league, and to see 2 of the errors punished with goals has been harsh on the Flames. Especially when you take into account how Coventry scored their overtime winner at the Spectrum.

The Lundin error was remarkably similar to the Ackered error the prior week – Both went to control the puck, both saw the puck slide out of their reach and both could only look on in horror as their mistakes resulted directly in a goal. Davies fanned on a pass as he was waiting for a hit, leaving McMillan a free puck to pick out a teammate to score live on TV.

These are freak accidents which are relatively rare, but its sums up how things are going in Surrey right now.

The top line of Watters, Reddick and Dunbar are still arguably the best line in the league. Individually, the going has been tough. They are the 3 highest points scorers on the team, but Watters has yet to find his consistent scoring touch he had prior to his injury. Reddick has struggled in the faceoff circle despite his recent points streak, and the prolific Dunbar has just 2 points in his last 5 games.

The second line is finally settled and looking good. In fact, Jamie Crooks has looked like a new signing – His December form has carried into January, his increased physicality has resulted in many good turnovers and his linemates now actively look to set him up for his excellent one-timers. TJ Foster still struggles with backchecking, but his stickhandling and vision is undeniable. But he seems to have multi-point nights followed by a blank. And Ferguson has picked up a team best of 9 points in his last 5 games, indicating he may well be coming back to form at long last.

Unfortunately though, the third line is anyone’s guess on any night. What was Janssen, Ritt & Davies has seen both King and Waller step in due to injuries across the roster; the latest of which is a long term injury to Evan Ritt. When settled, Janssen, Ritt & Davies have been a horrible line to play against as both Davies and Ritt are like dogs with a bone.

Import limits mean the Flames cannot play the 4 line hockey they would like, but there are 3 more forwards who feature most match nights – Kevin King, Josh Waller and Richard Krogh.

Much has been said about Kevin King. Is he having a bad season? By his own standards, yes. But this is a man who was once captained by Las Vegas Golden Knights defenceman, Brayden McNabb – A season where he outscored another Golden Knight, forward Cody Eakin, and ex-NHL (current DEL) forward, Matt Fraser. Like Ritt and Davies, King is more than happy to get into the dirty areas and play physical. Saturday night against Fife was a prime example, and the experienced forward is far more capable than his current back up utility role suggests.

Josh Waller and Richard Krogh are the future of GB hockey. You will be hard pressed to find a single Flames fan who doesn’t want that statement to be “The future of the Guildford Flames”. The same description used for Ritt, Davies and King can be used for Waller and Krogh – They also play with no fear and will mix it up with anyone to force a turnover and create a play. Both are proven point-getters through their junior careers so far both at club and international level.

Moving onto the defence, and the latest pairings we are seeing:

Craige & Ackered

Ackered is the highest goal scoring D-Man in the league, and is so for the second season running. Flames Captain, Craige, was the highest point scoring D-Man overall last season, and currently sits 5th overall this season. The pairing is just a few games old, but they are more than familiar with eachother, as the top powerplay pairing. Ackered has without doubt improved on his defensive game over the summer and has been vital to keeping the score down at times. Both would walk into any team in the league, but there is a dark side to each man which is having an impact on the team currently.

Both men like to jump up on the play of course (hence their points returns), but this leaves the Flames painfully short at the back. Numerous times over the past week, Dunbar & Reddick have found themselves as the defensive cover following a turnover. And Ackered’s desperation to avoid a hit has lead to turnovers behind the Flames net.

Craige has struggled all season however, despite many blaming his old defensive partner for the issues. And whilst that comment will leave a number of fans wide-eyed, the truth is in the numbers, as Craige has been on the ice for at least 1 goal against for the past 10 games in a row (dating back to the 1-0 shoutout on Boxing Day Vs. MKL) and sits bottom of the Flames +/- standings with eyewatering -16, despite regularly being in the points. There have been regular mis-placed passes as he looks to create a play, creating dangerous turnovers in his own zone and despite playing with his trademark smile, he looks like a man bereft of confidence at this point.

Lundin & Abt

Jez Lundin’s recent demotion from the first line pairing sums up his season so far. He has found himself playing the unwanted scapegoat role, occupied in 17/18 by Kevin Phillips. With a -14 rating at time of writing, the criticism isn’t necessarily unjust to a degree, but the experienced Brit who earned himself a Team GB call up last season is another who appears to be lacking in confidence. But the mistakes he makes aren’t dissimilar to what many others are making – Mis-controlling a puck whilst attacking, jumping up on the play and losing possession and the obvious one of following the puck and not being aware of a forward coming in to pick up a cross-ice pass or rebound. Being a Brit in an import dominated league makes him hugely important to the Flames, and hopefully alongside Jordan Abt, he will rediscover his form of last season.

Jordan Abt is hard to notice on the ice and is seen as someone who doesn’t do much. He has 5 points so far, and just 30 penalty minutes, but what speaks volumes for him is his -2 rating. With Craige’s unwanted record discussed, Abt had something going himself – A run where he wasn’t on the ice for a goal against for 5 games: A run which ended against Dundee on Sunday.

Lindhagen & Baldwin

In a team full of negative +/- ratings, Eric Lindhagen’s own rating looks like a typo. The man who can play forward and defence… And probably run the lines whilst doubling up as the timekeeper currently sits on a +6 rating; helped in part by his 12 points. To put it into perspective, not only does he lead the team but the closest player to him is Evan Ritt, who sits on -1. He suffered against Manchester on the smaller ice and he picked up a couple of poor tripping penalties against Fife, but overall the ex-Panthers man has been immense for the Flames.

And the same goes for Corbin Baldwin. Unsurprisingly, his +/- is just -3 and although the big stay-at-home D-Man has just 5 points to his name, he certainly wasn’t signed to score goals. But here is where a common misconception lies – He also was not signed to play the role of a common goon. The most accurate description I have seen for Corbin Baldwin came back in July from Liam Stewart:

Baldwin isn’t the quickest guy in the team but he plays his role excellently. He is constantly in the shooting lanes or marshalling forwards towards the boards, and whilst his play most certainly lacks the physicality which Paul Dixon alluded to when he signed, he has shown on numerous occasions that he is willing to put his body on the line every night, be it by blocking shots or by keeping order on the ice by simply offering the occasional knuckle sandwich, and when required, as in Manchester mid-week, he is willing to drop the gloves for the better of the team.

Finally, the netminding trio of Travis Fullerton, Chris Carrozzi and Mike Will.

All 3 netminders have done a good job this season overall – Both starters with an over 90% save average and Mike Will has been called on just twice when the Flames have had a really bad night.

With both Fullerton & Carrozzi pushing eachother to be better each night, it is hard to find much fault in either netminder. Carrozzi has seen much more game time, but Fullerton came into the team after a long absence midweek and performed superbly.

In closing on this impromptu review, the above would suggest that the forwards are not an issue, the netminding isn’t an issue, which leaves the defence. Lindhagen, Baldwin and Abt don’t appear to be the issue either, so I guess the question to the plight of the Guildford Flames is this – Is it:

A) The offensive prowess of Craige & Ackered are masking defensive frailties?

B) It’s all Jez Lundin’s fault?

C) There actually is no issue at all?

 

Regardless – The Flames remain in the playoff spots for the time being, and this Wednesday is arguably the biggest game of their EIHL history – The Challenge Cup Semi Final against the struggling Nottingham Panthers.


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