It’s been a tough stretch for the Flames. Like, really tough. What began as a prime opportunity to join the duo of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at the top of the North Division with four games in a row against the Canucks quickly turned to disaster as the team split the series, and followed that up with back to back losses against the Oilers, including an embarrassing 7-1 defeat on Saturday. Not great.
To make matters worse, even before the Canucks series, the team was not performing up to expectations. Yes, they won their two games before they faced the Canucks (one against Edmonton and one against Winnipeg), but before that, it was the same story of a missed opportunity to put themselves ahead of the Jets, another team that will be fighting for a playoff spot. In that series, the Flames came away with only one win in the three game series, and even in the win still gave away the extra point to the Jets by allowing the game to stretch into the shootout.
To put it mildly, the month of February has been disappointing. It started with optimism, games in hand, and an easier schedule compared to the late January matchups against Montreal and Toronto. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the team managed to fall to an 8-9-1 record.
Distractions in the media from early in the season seem to be lingering, causing more speculation and frustration every day. Between the Sam Bennett trade request, the early season players-only meeting, and the team’s poor on-ice performance, its been a painful time to be a Flames fan. And it gets worse.
The final cruel twist for fans? While the Flames squandered those precious games in hand, the Oilers capitalized, widening the gap between themselves and the Flames in the standings.
Then and now
On February 1st, the North Division standings looked like this:
The Flames were not where they wanted to be, but were still in a good position to gain ground with at least one game in hand on every team in the division, and four against key rivals Vancouver and Edmonton. With the upcoming series against Vancouver, everything looked promising. Instead of capitalizing, the team has posted a disappointing 5-6-0 record in the time since. Here is how it looks today
Sometimes you might get a break and your competitors may falter at the same time as you, but that has not been the case. The Oilers have posted a 7-2-0 record since the beginning of the month, including two wins against Calgary, and a three game win streak on an eastern road trip. Even in their games against the Jets they were relatively successful where the Flames had failed, winning one without giving away the extra loser point, and losing the other.
When the Flames needed to catch a break, they got the opposite. When they needed to beat teams to gain ground, they let points slip away to the very teams they needed to catch. Today, the Flames haven’t moved up a spot in the standings and are in a worse position overall, having lost the edge of holding so many games in hand. While the team still has a games played edge over some teams, its not as pronounced anymore.
What’s most troubling is the difference between the Flames and Oilers in how they have responded to their recent losses. When the Oilers lost to the Flames in early February, they responded with a three game winning streak. In comparison, the Flames have struggled to string together wins, taking only four of eight points against the Canucks, and then none of a possible four against Edmonton.
Unfortunately, the Flames’ competitors did exactly what it was the Flames needed to do, picking up points against weaker opponents in order to create separation at the top of the standings. Not to mention, they did so without giving away any extra points to their opponents. Meanwhile, the Flames struggled to string together any momentum at all. Ouch.
Despite the challenging start to the season, the Flames don’t get a break. Up next are two games against the Maple Leafs, the top team in not only the North Division but the whole NHL. Considering the Flames dropped points against the weaker opponents they have been facing, these games have added importance if the team is going to stay relevant in the playoff race. As painful as it is to say, its time for the Flames to follow the lead of their rival in northern Alberta, and come back strong after a loss.
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