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'REALLY, REALLY, STRONG'

Brodie coming off impressive performance against the Sharks

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The stat sheet tells only one side of the story. 

Credible yes, but lacking in context.

It's also unbiased. Unfiltered. 

Honest. 

So, when the numbers leap off the page and so fully mimic the eye test, you can't help but stop, stare, and marvel at what was accomplished. 

Yes, TJ Brodie was THAT good. 

"He really was," coach Ryan Huska said of the D man's impeccable showing Sunday in San Jose. "Noticeably different. Really, really strong."

Let's break it down:

Brodie sat at the top of the table with a staggering 19-3 (86%) shot-attempt differential. 

You read that right - a paltry three ATTEMPTS were all the Sharks were able to muster when Brodie was on the ice, 5-on-5. 

Remarkably, he did so with the second-lowest offensive zone-start percentage (30%) on the team, with seven of his 12 even-strength shifts beginning in his own end of the rink. 

For a top-pairing blueliner facing a steady diet of the other guy's best, those numbers are, quite simply, mind-boggling. 

"I sort of got away from what made me, me," Brodie said of the games prior to the back-to-back set over the weekend. "I knew I had to get involved offensively, start moving my feet and start skating like I used to."

He did. 

In a big way. 

In addition to being the team's lead driver when it comes to possession and controlled breakouts, he also contributed to the Flames' lone tally of the night, an assist on Elias Lindholm's third of the year, by bringing the puck into the middle and hitting his target at the top of the circles. 

"It's like anything in life, when you feel good about yourself, your game's going to flourish because you have more confidence," Huska said. 

"I think the opportunity that he's been given on the powerplay, he's taken advantage of it because of the way he's moved the puck around and really quarterbacked that unit from the backend.

"Sometimes, that translates to the rest of your game, too, and I think we're seeing the product of that right now.

"The real challenge for him moving forward is to bring that consistently, because when he brings that style of game and when he's engaged like he has been the last couple of games, he's a real dynamic defenceman and does a lot for our group."

 

 

Brodie has given the Flames a new look on their second powerplay unit, and while the troupe was unable to score over the past two games, they did everything but. 

You may recall the frantic finish to the middle period in Vegas when the Flames generated five shots, three misses, and had another two blocked in a wild, 90-second sequence that left the crowd stunned.

Brodie had a big part in that. 

He also the team's top possession player, 5-on-5, with another 60-plus per cent outing in a game that was otherwise forgettable, for most. 

"He was really moving his feet," said longtime partner, Mark Giordano. "A lot of the time, he can break the puck out on his own with the speed he has. When he's moving his feet and making plays, that's when he's at his best.

"He's doing both for us right now, and that makes him super easy to play with."

That, coming from a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman, is the ultimate compliment. 

It's also a testament to how well Brodie has played individually, and as a match on the top pair. 

It isn't easy, a left-shooting rearguard, playing on his off-hand most nights with the team's heart-and-soul captain. But it's a skill he's developed over time, and can rotate easily on that role to the one he played during the first two games of the trip, on his natural side with Rasmus Andersson riding shotgun. 

Doing both on a regular basis - at an elite level, no less - is almost unheard of. 

But Brodie thrives on it. 

Tonight, as he ties Joe Nieuwendyk for the 12th-most games played (577) as a Flame in franchise history, he'll look to continue what has been one of the hottest starts of his career.

"Honestly, a lot of people think it's the in-zone play at either end of the ice that poses the biggest challenge (of playing on your off-hand)," he said. "It's actually the neutral zone. 

"It's a little harder to hit that wide-side pass, and then you're not really a one-time option up top in the offensive zone. Other than that, a lot of positives to playing on that side, too. Going back for pucks in your own end and wheeling around the net, you're on your forehand.

"I like it. Gives our team a bit of a different look and I think I handle it well."

No argument from Huska.

As one of the most versatile players on the backend, Brodie's game has given the Flames a much-needed a boost.

All over the ice.

"He's been excellent," Huska said. "A lot of defencemen can't do what he does with that level of proficiency. 

"When pucks come around the wall in the offensive zone, it's harder for him because he's got to grab them on his backhand instead of making a play on his forehand like most can right away. But he has the ability to spin in those situations, get pucks to the middle of the ice and be confident in doing that. 

"That kind of sums up his game in general: Confident. 

"It's great to see and we want to keep him going down that path." 

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