Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames have found their killer instinct

The Calgary Flames may have had their 10-game winning streak snapped last week, but they rallied in a big way against the Minnesota Wild on Hockey Night in Canada over the weekend. Not only did they bounce back after a truly bad game against the Vancouver Canucks, they dominated one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

For what seems like decades, the Flames have been a team that has struggled to close out games in a convincing manner, and really take care of business when they needed to. In short, they’ve lacked the killer instinct that true Stanley Cup contenders display on a nightly basis. A swagger that says to all the other teams in the league: “you can’t beat us”. Fifty-one games into the 2021–22 season, and it looks like the Flames have found that killer instinct.

Calgary’s comeback against Dallas

The first indication that this Flames team was different was their comeback win against the Dallas Stars on February 1, 2022. Despite being one of the top teams in the league at that point of the season, the Flames were the only team in the entire NHL that had zero wins when trailing after 20 minutes, and zero wins when trailing after 40 minutes.

It may have taken longer than they would have liked, but they broke through that barrier in a big way. Looking at all situations, the game was actually fairly even through the first two periods. The Flames had every reason to just roll over in this game being down 3–1, but they absolutely dominated the entire third period and scored three late goals to win the game. Here’s a chart of the game flow at all situations:

This game was a big one not only for the Flames’ position in the standings, but also in the locker room. Of course, we don’t know what is said behind those doors, but a win like this is always huge for morale and helps cultivate a feeling of “comebackability” (@ Webster’s dictionary, please add that word). Like the Find-a-Way Flames in 2015, this team proved to every team in the league—themselves included—that they can never be counted out of a game. That’s powerful and a necessity come the postseason.

Games against Vancouver and Minnesota

As discussed above, the previous two games have been really important in establishing the Flames as a legit contender in the West. They put up a stinker against the Canucks—a team below them in the standings that should have been beatable—but immediately reset and got back to their style in the following game.

What makes this win even more impressive is that the Wild scored the first goal of the game on their first shot on net. It would have been so easy to let this game slip away, but the Flames just didn’t let that happen.

That’s what dominance looks like.

They trounced the Wild on home ice and showed that losing multiple games in a row is not something they’re going to let happen. The old adage about how good teams don’t lose multiple games in a row has been taken to heart by this Flames team. In a seven-game series against any team, they will be a tough out if they keep performing like this after a loss.

Calgary’s record against top teams

Throughout this season, the Flames have shown that they can hang with any of the best teams in the NHL. We broke down how good the Flames’ record is against top opponents this season, and they made that record even better with their win against the Wild.

It’s important to bank points against teams that are outside the playoff picture, and all the best teams in the league consistently beat up on opponents that are clearly worse than they are. However, it’s a completely different thing to show up and consistently compete against playoff teams and come out of it with the majority of the standings points available.

This is the mark of a truly good hockey team. The ability to identify top opponents and bear down on them is a skill that not many teams have. The Flames know they have a good chance to come away with two points in a game against any team in the NHL, and that’s what makes them so dangerously good this season. Unless you’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, you need to bring your A-game to have a chance against the Flames.

It also doesn’t matter what building the game is in, the Flames are going to show up with their eyes on the prize. In the Western Conference, the Flames have the fourth best home record at 15–4–4, and the third best road record at 16–10–2. The surging home record will bode well for the playoffs too, as it looks like the Flames will have home ice.

Not caring about the score

When Darryl Sutter took over as head coach midway through last season, there was a lot of talk about how this Flames team was going to be boring to watch, and rely on winning games 2–1 or 3–2. That could not have been more wrong.

The Flames have definitely limited scoring chances like vintage Sutter teams do, but they’ve also scored at an incredible rate. With the fourth best goal differential in the NHL and second best in the West, the Flames are absolutely not a team that just relies on their defence and goaltending to win games. Like they showed the Wild over the weekend, they have no trouble pumping six or seven goals past their opponents.

In the month of February, the Flames have averaged 4.5 goals for per game. There was one game where they scored seven, three games where they scored six, and another two games where they scored five goals. Their offence is flying high and has been all season, and they are a threat to score throughout the entire 60 minute game.

Normally, when teams go ahead by a goal or two, they tend to sit back and play a more defensively oriented style to protect the lead. This is referred to as score effects, where you see the statistics of the trailing team improve, but in part due to the fact that the leading team is choosing not to attack as aggressively.

The Flames don’t care about score effects. They will try and score a goal regardless of the score and almost always stick to their style of the game. It’s served them well this season and has made them a very difficult opponent to beat.

Can the Flames translate their play to the playoffs?

What really matters now is the Flames’ ability to translate these new skills and mentalities to the hardest part of the year: the playoffs. For too long, the Flames have been unable to do any real damage after the regular season. Hopefully with this coach, these players, and their newfound killer instinct, that script can change.

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