It’s no question that the Calgary Flames have issues and it seems as though the last week showed us they might be bigger than expected. Offensive consistency has been the most glaring of problems for the team with smatterings of poor goaltending and complete defensive lapses—not a recipe for success if you ask me.
In the midst of a frustrating week, this edition of Sunday Census we asked a simple question. Do the Flames make the playoffs? We asked, you answered.
The options? Simple yes or no, with less room for safer picks of wild card versus seeded positions. This poll was meant to be a gut check on the fanbase’s faith in the team, and well, it seems the Flames faithful are divided.
This past week summed up the Flames’ struggles
In the last week the Flames played much better in Montreal and Toronto to finish out their three-game Eastern road trip that started with an absolutely embarrassing performance in Columbus.
A visit to Toronto started off the week, giving Flames and the organization their first look at AHL leading scorer Matthew Philips. The battle in Toronto marked the first time since 2013 that Milan Lucic had been healthy scratched, the first of three scratches that saw Lucic getting back into the lineup on Friday versus the St. Louis Blues. Dan Vladar got the start and played alright, stopping 29 of 34 against one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The underlying theme was obviously the inability to protect a lead as the Flames gave up three different one goal leads, and then true to form as of late, took a penalty in overtime.
Against the Montreal Canadiens, the Flames saw a bounce back goaltending performance for Jacob Markstrom, who stopped 37 of 38 shots and narrowly missed saving the eventual shootout winner by Nick Suzuki. The team’s energy carried over from a competitive game in Toronto but goal scoring was the biggest issue. Missed opportunities galore and Phillips was a post away from taking the lead on the power play in the third period. Jacob Markstrom gave arguably the performance of the year and was honestly the only reason the team escaped with a point. Penalty trouble once again hurt the Flames, taking a double minor in overtime and killing off all 4 minutes for a total of seven penalty kills on the game.
Back home in the ‘Dome, the Vancouver Canucks came into town with one of the most explosive offences paired with an extremely underwhelming defences amid growing Bo Horvat trade talks. The Flames cut down the penalty trouble slightly and played a competitive game, but gave up two goals from poor defensive puck possession, frankly hanging Markstrom out to dry. The biggest take away from the game was frightening to say the least as Chris Tanev laid out and blocked a one timer with the back of his head. Chris was down on the ice for quite sometime and left the game where he was taken to hospital for testing. Tanev somehow is listed as day-to-day and did not dress for the game against the Blues.
Friday night brought a very streaky St. Louis Blues team into town. To say this game was frustrating to watch is an understatement. Markstrom looked somewhat shaky after a couple great bounce back performances and each period looked like a whole new team. The second period was the best for the Flames but they were unable to capitalize on any opportunities. The third period started well with the Flames controlling the puck well until a defensive lapse led to a wide open shot for St. Louis on their first attempt of the period. Afterwards Connor Mackey got his second of the night shortening the lead to one, but then not a minute later made a horrible pass from behind his own net leading to another goal. That put the game out of reach and really was all you needed to see to understand how poorly the game had gone.
Yes, the Flames will make the playoffs
Narrowly edging out the glass-half-empty crowd, 50.7% polled thought the Flames do have enough in the tank to finish in a playoff spot. I tend to agree. Through 31 games played the team sits fifth in the Pacific division at 13–12–6 for a total of 32 points. A very average point total this season that currently puts them only three pts behind both Edmonton and Seattle for third in the division and tied with Colorado for the last wild card.
They play in a bad division and conference as a whole. Let’s be honest, no one expected Colorado to be ravaged by injuries and plummet as much as they have, and the Pacific division holds three of the bottom 10 spots in the league standings. The math is simple, there’s only eight teams in the division. Essentially five teams competing for three spots and the wildcard is looking like at least one spot will go to the Pacific as the Blues and Avs have had difficult seasons with inconsistent play and injuries.
It’s still early yet, but the Flames do have a team of veteran players that have been there before. Coming into the season I don’t think many people expected this team to have a better first half of the year compared to the second half. This is the turning point here and now. With streaky play the last two weeks this team needs to start building more momentum. Confidence is a hell of a thing and sometimes that’s all athletes need.
No, the Flames won’t make the playoffs
The other side of the coin brings a lot to write about. Glaring offensive issues, defensive inconsistency, penalty trouble, inconsistent power plays and goaltending lapses. The most important being the offence. This team was top-heavy last year and that gap in production has yet to be filled. The Flames’ problems on offence are seriously worrying.
The opportunity to add offence into the lineup is there and we’ve began to see that initiative with Matthew Philips. Although he hasn’t added any production yet, he looked good in his two games. Hopefully we haven’t seen the end of him in the lineup but the team needs him in the top-six and that means moving lines around more so than they already have. The trade market is an option as well but the news of a cap bump of only $1M next season, the team’s in cap trouble.
Overall, there is a lot of gaps to fill right now and a number of things need to come together to make this team successful down the stretch. Some fans even speculating the team should fire Darryl Sutter as he’s lost his connection with the team. Whatever it is, I hope the holidays bring a major turn around or else 2023 might be the beginning of a fate known all to well in Calgary Flames history: Mediocrity.
51 games to go
There’s plenty of time left in the season and the Flames realistically have a very good chance of making the playoffs. There does need to be some things solved but this is still a team with three key players in their inaugural season with the franchise. Confidence will come and I feel very comfortable saying this exact team would perform much better a year from now. Relationships are a hard thing to develop in the midst of a pivotal life change, let alone chemistry. The deeper into the season, the more this group will start to flow. Inconsistency is part of the transition but the team is tracking in the right direction.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire