The Calgary Flames were mired with utter disappointment and outright embarrassment last year game in and game out. In a perfect storm hitting far too many posts, being on the losing end of far too many one-goal games, and having a head coach who was far too disengaged, the Flames just couldn’t get results. Now with roughly the same roster coming back, the Flames are playing with a new outlook.
There are many things that can go right or wrong for a team in any given game, any given season. Hockey is especially notorious for having the most random results in major sports. However, most teams that can find a way to turn the tides in their favour have strong discipline, fundamentally sound systems, and are also able to have fun while they play. Here’s why the Flames are getting things going the right way in 2023–24.
Things going right for the Flames
Preseason opened with a 10–0 shutout
A preseason game does not mean much, but a 10–0 shutout win over a divisional rival in the Vancouver Canucks will still feel good any day of the week. For a team that was for lack of a better word fragile last season, having a big game against a lesser team was still an important outcome. The Canucks did not dress an NHL roster, but the Flames rightfully cruised to victory. They didn’t struggle, they dominated. The little details matter and losing against an AHL roster would have set the wrong tone. A blowout win gives the team acknowledgment that they are in fact an above-average team, they just have to start seeing results.
A complimentary coach
Ryan Huska has been the antithesis of Darryl Sutter. While Huska has a long way to go to be as positive and upbeat as Craig Conroy (let’s be real, everyone in the league has a long way to go to reach that status), Huska has still been much more complimentary towards the team. So far he’s coming off as a no-nonsense coach who can appreciate the positives. It’s a low bar to clear from last season, but Huska has clearly done much good for the atmosphere so far. We’ll see how he does when the team faces real adversity in tougher stretches of the season.
A captain was named
It goes without saying that the Flames were a team that needed—extra emphasis on needed—a captain last season. With the departure of Mark Giordano, the Flames had one great year without a captain, but when it came down to starting a new era of Flames hockey after significant roster turnover, the team opted to remain captainless. Now, with Mikael Backlund named captain, the team has their leader and the locker room has completely bought in on the choice. On top of that, the Flames named their new leadership core which includes Elias Lindholm, Jonathan Huberdeau, Chris Tanev, and Rasmus Andersson. All of them were great options and each had merits worthy of being captain before Backlund was selected.
An injection of youth
The Flames got younger over the offseason. With the departures of players like Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and even Michael Stone, the Flames got younger without making any new moves. The oldest player is now Mikael Backlund at 34 years old. However, they went and added 20-year-old Matt Coronato to the opening night roster, traded for 25-year-old Yegor Sharangovich (in exchange for 31-year-old Tyler Toffoli), and claimed 26-year-old A.J. Greer off of waivers, among other moves. The roster is simply younger and that should be reflected in the team’s speed. Of course, age isn’t everything, but there’s an organisational shift that good young players deserve their chances too.
A season-opener win streak
The Flames finally snapped their astounding 12-year season opener losing streak last season. One game doesn’t mean much, but the demons appear to be slain. Instead of reverting back to losing, the Flames now have a win streak of two for season openers. A small feat, but a significant one given their running record.
Building on the first game
Right off the bat, the Flames opened the year by playing a “bad” game. They were outplayed and the Jets should have won based on on-ice chances. By all accounts, this is exactly the type of game that the Flames of 2022–23 would have lost in demoralising and deflating fashion. However, Jacob Markstrom played an excellent game and made all the saves he needed to make, including the first shot he faced. Despite the Flames blowing three separate one-goal leads, they found a way to score the game-winner in regulation with under two minutes to go. Last year, they would have turned down the pressure and settled for overtime. Gutsy wins take gutsy performances and this was as good a game as any to tick off in the win column as the team prepares for a five-game Eastern road trip.
A fresh start for the Flames
The Flames are ushering in this season as a second chance to play to their potential. From big moves to small details, they have the right mantras in place. Now they just have to go out and put together a winning campaign.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire