The Calgary Flames have done everything in their power to make this a difficult season in the standings and in the hearts of fans. The team has had underperforming stars, goaltending woes, confidence issues, line combinations that seem to rotate more than a merry-go-round and plenty of talk about the overall mismanagement of prospects and the coaching of the team. That’s just to name a few.
But after all of that, the Flames still have a fighting chance—though it’s a rapidly diminishing chance—of making the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Is is not great by any means, but that’s been the theme of the year: “not great.” On that same note, historically mediocre finishes to the season when in similar positions is something the Calgary Flames have experience with. Nothing like having your heart broken to finish a point outside the playoffs and get a 16th overall pick.
Now whether or not you’re team tank or team go for it, take a minute to think about the team’s current trajectory. The team’s 4–3–3 in their last ten games. A tally of 11 out of a possible 20 points. Not amazing, but the Flames’ offence has exploded the last two games against strong opponents. Could the 11th hour push for the Flames actually get them into the playoffs?
Race to the finish
The Winnipeg Jets are 4–4–2 in their last ten, attaining 10 out of a possible 20 points. Sitting four points ahead of the Flames (and holding the tiebreaker over Calgary as well) in the final wild card spot with no games in hand.
The Nashville Predators, who are ahead of the Flames by one point currently made themselves relevant again by going 5–3–2 in their last 10 games for a combined 12 out of a possible 20 points. Nashville is the team the Flames will have more concern for down the stretch, as they have three games in hand.
The Flames have had a difficult season, but not a horrible one. There’s been flashes of great play, just inconsistency. The team has the potential to finish out the regular season strong and earn the chance to play the hockey games everyone said their roster is built for, the playoffs.
With that in mind, lets analyze three potential playoff opponents the Flames could face if—and it’s a big if—they make it into the second wild card position.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights currently sit atop the Western Conference with 90 points and strong play as of late, going 7–3–0 in their last 10.
The Knights had a fairly active deadline bringing in Ivan Barbashev, Teddy Blueger, and Jonathan Quick—All moves tailored towards depth and beefing up the playoff roster.
The Golden Knights have a +29 goal differential with a well balanced offence led by Chandler Stephenson and Jack Eichel with 53 and 51 points respectively. Vegas’ offensive production numbers sit among league average with strong defensive numbers and good penalty discipline.
Vegas has entered the Bruce Cassidy era well and played consistently despite their injury woes.
The Vegas Golden Knights are one team the Flames have played well against this year, most notably with their 7–2 win this past Thursday. That win marked the Flames’ first win in T-Mobile Arena in franchise history.
Before that, the Flames came up short losing 4–3 in overtime after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period.
The first meeting of the year was shortly after the season began, when the team was in the midst of its best start in franchise history, winning 3–2 against a great performance by Vegas goalie (and Calgary-born) Logan Thompson.
The Flames play the Golden Knights again next week. This could be a good window into a potential playoff opponent, or opportunity for that matter. If the Flames can string together some wins against a strong Vegas team, maybe they finally get some momentum going.
The Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars sit one point behind Vegas for the first seed in the west playing the same amount of games. Similarly to the Golden Knights, the Stars has been playing well as of late, closing out a very close game against Calgary with a 6–5 overtime win. Dallas has played close games, and had some blowouts, posting a 7–3–0 record in their last 10.
The biggest deadline acquisition for the Stars came from the Montreal Canadiens—forward Evgeni Dadonov. Nothing too exciting, but in all honesty Dallas has looked like a team with potential for a deep run. Surprisingly, they’re considered a “dark horse” by some folks despite being division leaders. The team has had moments of turbulence this season, but much like Vegas have been the beneficiary of the new coach effect with Peter DeBoer.
In three meetings this season, Calgary has gone 2–0–1 against the Stars winning 5–4 earlier this month after Tyler Toffoli sealed the game on a breakaway in the dying seconds, and another tight win for the Flames, fending off a Dallas comeback attempt in the 3rd to hold out 6–5.
After last year’s first round matchup, Dallas has the potential to be a very exciting first round matchup again. The fact that the two teams have scored a total of 31 goals in three games against one another says as much. The Flames have played tight, high-scoring games against the Stars all year. Both teams seem to have carried over some energy from last season.
The Los Angeles Kings
If not for Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov’s injury, the Wild would have been my second choice to push for the 1st seed in the Western Conference. Without Kaprizov for three to four weeks it seems as though the Wild are headed for a slight decline in points percentage headed into the playoffs.
That brings in the Los Angeles Kings, a team with potential to jump or fall drastically in the final stretch.
Kevin Fiala has looked like one of the best free agent signings from last season, leading the Kings in scoring with 68 points. Anze Kopitar has played well above expectations in his 17th season and the Kings just shook up the fanbase by trading tenured goaltender and Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick to Columbus for Joonas Korpisalo and Vladislav Gavriko. The Kings have struggled with goaltending this season but Korpisalo should be a good fit for a strong playoff run.
The team’s been playing well as of late too, going 7–1–2 in their last 10 games.
The Flames have gained a point both games they’ve played L.A. this season. Their last matchup just before Christmas, the Flames fell in overtime 4–3 after scoring 2 unanswered goals in the third period.
The first matchup saw Calgary capture a high-scoring but close game, winning 6–5.
The two teams will face off two more before the end of March, rounding out the list of challenging opponents the Flames have left to play. With neither team seeing each other since before the turn of the calendar, these next two matchups could be pivotal once again for the Flames to pick up momentum.
Better team with better opponents
The proof is in the stats and it’s a fact this season that Calgary has played on average, much poorer against teams weaker than them. This last stretch of the season is critical to say the least.
With a dozen games remaining in the schedule, there’s a lot of movement that could occur at both the top and bottom of the standings in the weeks to come. Vegas, Dallas and L.A. are all playing well currently but have played under .500 collectively against the Flames this season.
A 5–0–3 record against three of the top teams in the west is genuinely great with a 0.813 point percentage and the team averaging 4.75 goals a game.
Maybe a playoff berth really is all they need?
Get past bad teams in the regular season and then they can face teams they play well against. Doesn’t make any sense but hey, that’s the results they’ve displayed all season so in theory it works right?
Teams can slide and Calgary has the potential to finish strong in the midst of a hot offensive touch in their last two games.
Hope continues to waver and it’s thinning out fast, but if there were anytime in a season to peak, it’s now.