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Flames' offense from blue line is by design

by Dan Rosen

The production the Calgary Flames are getting from their defensemen jump off the stats page to the point where you begin to wonder if Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell are actually playing forward.

Point in fact, at times they actually are playing forward, even if nobody is defining it that way.

Flames coach Bob Hartley encourages his defensemen to jump into the rush to create offense, but at the same time he coaches the forwards to understand that there will be times when they have to play the role of a defensemen.

It's happened a lot this season, particularly when Giordano and Brodie are on the ice.

"We laugh sometimes because we do video and early on this year we got a 2-on-1 and it's Gio and Brods who are on the 2-on-1 with our three forwards are behind them," Hartley said in a phone interview Friday. "Sometimes we get a 3-on-2 and it's Gio and Brods with another forward. On many teams you'd see one of them but that's the way we want them to play."

They're listening.

Giordano has 27 points to lead all NHL defensemen. His defense partner, Brodie, has 21 points, tied for second in the NHL. The second defense pair of Wideman and Russell have combined for 30 points, including 17 from Wideman.

To put this into context, no other team in the NHL has as more than two defensemen with at least 13 points; the Flames have four. Calgary's defensemen have accounted for 22 of the team's 84 goals; Boston is second with 16 goals coming from defensemen.

The Flames are third in the Pacific Division with 36 points, six more than the fourth-place San Jose Sharks.

This system doesn't work, though, if Calgary's forwards aren't committed to hanging back to let the defensemen step up. Hartley praised their commitment.

"In order to achieve this you need two things: You need defensemen that can move, and you need the commitment from the forwards because if you don't have commitment from the forwards to play the game as a block of five and accept the fact that you might see a D-man blow by you then we're going to end up getting tons of outnumbered chances against in a game and that's not what we want," Hartley said. "We want to play on our toes. We always want to be on the attack. I think it's the combination of great skill by a defensive group combined with great commitment to play the game the right way."

Hartley stressed that the Flames do not want to be known as a defensive-minded team, but that should be quite clear based on how often the defensemen join the rush.

The result has been a greater level of production by the defensemen than any other team is getting, but Calgary is also losing the fancy stats battle.

The Flames are 29th in the NHL in Corsi-for (43.48 percent) and 27th in Fenwick-for (45.6 percent) in 5-on-5 situations, according to Calgary is also 27th in shots-on-goal differential in 5-on-5 play at minus-103.

It's obvious, then, that Hartley is willing to live with the risk of having both defensemen jump into the rush at times.

So far it's working. Calgary is plus-16 in goals (84-68) overall and plus-3 in 5-on-5 goals (51-48).

"To work as a 'D' pair or a line of forwards you're dealing with two guys or you're dealing with three guys, but to mold them together suddenly you're dealing with a group of five and that's where confusion and miscommunication can happen," Hartley said. "Right now our communication and reads are great, and the boys are having fun playing that system. I think it works for everyone and we're generating offense."


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