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With Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, et all out of the lineup, I think it might make sense to give James Neal a legitimate shot on Matthew Tkachuk's line. Nobody else in the lineup has grabbed a firm hold on a 2nd line spot and the Flames really need to get Neal going.
The latter is really struggling with two things this season. First and foremost, he can't score. The Flames pay him for that so it's a bit of an issue. The other thing he's struggled to do is drive play. Among 13 eligible Flames forwards, Neal ranks 10th with a Relative Corsi For of -2.43%.
Tkachuk could be the elixir to both problems.
At this point, he's more than established himself as an elite playmaker. He is tied for 23rd among forwards in 5v5 assists and sits 13th overall. He's spectacular at creating chances for teammates below the dots and he's piling up the assists as a result. Neal could certainly benefit from Tkachuk spoon-feeding him looks around the net.
Tkachuk could also help offset Neal's possession struggles. No. 19 was a big-time play driver over his first two seasons and nothing has changed this year. He ranks 3rd – behind only Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund – with a Relative Corsi For of +3.15%.
Again, the Flames need to get Neal going. With Backlund and Frolik – Tkachuk's primary linemates – out of the fold, now seems like the perfect time to experiment.
Neal has zero (0) points at 5v5 over the last 17 games. It's not like he could do any worse.
Mike Smith is currently banged up so it's not a pressing issue but I really think David Rittich should be getting more work moving forward. Even after Smith's hot streak, his numbers aren't better than Rittich's in any key category. He's still not even in the ballpark.
One glaring takeaway: At 5v5, Rittich's save percentage on high-danger shots (aka Grade A looks) is almost as good as Smith's all-encompassing save percentage. As mentioned Thursday, Smith is also very prone to allowing clunkers on low-danger shots.
I honestly have no idea how Smith has continued to start a larger share of the games. His level of performance has not been close to Rittich's. It's about time the workloads start to reflect that.
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