A failing core? Flames miss the playoffs for a third straight year

Miikka Kiprusoff Flames

Miikka Kiprusoff and the Flames will be missing the playoffs for a third straight season. (Icon SMI)

THE STATS LINE

35-29-16 record [20th overall (in points percentage)]
2.39 goals-for per game [25th overall]
2.66 goals-against per game [15th overall]
18.2% power-play success rate [11th overall]
84.0% penalty-kill success rate [9th overall]
46.0% in the face-off circle [30th overall]

4 points out of 8th spot in the Western Conference
2 games left in the regular season
0% chance of making the playoffs (as per SportsClubStats.com)

THE WEEK THAT WAS

  • March 28: In a must-win game, the Flames allowed the Kings to score a scant five minutes in and never again were really in the game. The Kings out-shot Calgary 30-19 and won 3-0.
  • March 30: Needing to win to have a hope at the playoffs, the Flames threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Colorado Avalanche. Despite putting 39 shots on Semyon Varlamov, only one (by Jarome Iginla) squeaked through and Calgary lost 4-1 to effectively (but not mathematically) end their playoff dreams.
  • March 31: A day after their home loss to Colorado, the Flames traveled to Vancouver to play a Canucks club that also played the night before. In arguably their best game in weeks, Calgary scrapped their way to a 2-1 third period lead but could not hold on, losing 3-2 in overtime. The loss mathematically eliminated the Flames from the playoffs.

FLAMES FAIL TO MAKE PLAYOFFS. AGAIN.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our selves.” – Julius Caesar

For the third straight National Hockey League season, the Calgary Flames will watch the playoffs from the sidelines. Once again, the Flames have collapsed down the stretch and will finish outside of the Western Conference’s elite eight.

The club was officially eliminated on Saturday night following their 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

There will undoubtedly be much hand-wringing and finger-pointing during the off-season regarding the underlying factors of the Flames’ playoff elimination, but the most obvious recent culprit is undoubtedly the team’s Jekyll and Hyde month of March. In the first half of the month, the Flames were excellent. They boasted a 6-1-1 record and out-scored their opponents 29-20. Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross led the team’s injury-riddled offense, but even Matt Stajan, David Moss and WHL emergency call-up Sven Baertschi got into it. Bolstered by this record, Calgary hung around the playoff picture and fans and pundits wondered how the team would fare once it managed to get healthy.

Then the second half of March happened and the bottom fell out, with the team going 1-4-4 in the final 16 days of the month and being out-scored by a 26-14 margin. In short, the Flames were almost as bad in the second half of March as they were good in the first half, both collectively and individually. The blame may fall on the team’s best players.

  • Jarome Iginla: 14 points and +4 in the first half, 4 points and -6 in the second half
  • Olli Jokinen: 7 points and even in the first half, 3 points and -13 in the second half
  • Alex Tanguay: 11 points and +4 in the first half, 2 points and -3 in the second half
  • Curtis Glencross: 10 points and +2 in the first half, 3 points and -11 in the second half
  • Jay Bouwmeester: 2 points and +2 in the first half, 1 point and -10 in the second half
  • Mark Giordano: 7 points and +6 in the first half, 4 points and -5 in the second half
  • Miikka Kiprusoff: 6-0-1, 2.38 GAA and .926 SV% in the first half, 1-3-3, 2.37 GAA and .911 S% in the second half.

The degradation of Kiprusoff’s numbers in late March will likely be the subject of much debate. Injuries to several Flame blueliners (at one point Cory Sarich, T.J. Brodie and Derek Smith were all out) forced the team to use Anton Babchuk on a more regular basis. Babchuk is a power-play specialist with a great shot, but can be utterly terrifying in his own zone. Babchuk taking a regular shift in the second half of the month can be representative of a larger degradation of Calgary’s defensive play in late March, as Kiprusoff’s save percentage and shots-per-goal both dropped significantly, suggesting the opposition may have been getting higher-quality shots.

Beyond the defensive side, though, the Flames were easily the healthiest they’ve been during the entire season. The sad truth may be that when the chips were down and the team needed to win, their best players simply were not good enough.

But more about that in the weeks and months to come.

INJURY AND ROSTER UPDATES

381-man games lost (up to the March 30 game with Vancouver): David Moss (48), Mikael Backlund (38), Brett Carson (30), Derek Smith (27), Henrik Karlsson (25), Anton Babchuk (24), Mark Giordano (21), Lee Stempniak (21), Blair Jones (19), Alex Tanguay (16), Matt Stajan (15), Curtis Glencross (15), Brendan Morrison (14), Chris Butler (13), T.J. Brodie (12), Lance Bouma (9), Mike Cammalleri (9), Tim Jackman (6), Raitis Ivanans (5), Scott Hannan (4), Blake Comeau (4), Cory Sarich (4), Rene Bourque (1) and Krys Kolanos (1).

Cory Sarich returned from his upper body injury on Friday night against Los Angeles. Clay Wilson was immediately sent back to Abbotsford (AHL) on Friday afternoon, where he actually played upon his return and was the first star in Abbotsford’s victory over the Chicago Wolves.

Mikael Backlund (upper body) is now skating on his own. T.J. Brodie (upper body) and Derek Smith (upper body) remain out.

DISPATCHES FROM THE FARM

  • AHL: Six points separate 4th place from 12th place in the AHL’s Western Conference, but the Abbotsford Heat forge ahead in the hope of earning a playoff berth. And with the Flames getting healthy, so are the Heat. Recent college free agent signings Brady Lamb and David Eddy have been joined in the lower mainland by WHL graduates Turner Elson, Max Reinhart and Joey Leach and NHL re-assignees Clay Wilson and Roman Horak. Oh, and first-liner Jon Rheault and team captain Quintin Laing are healthy once again, too. This development has meant that the Heat have too many bodies for a single practice session, so coach Troy Ward is splitting sessions between the game group and the so-called Black Aces. With six games to go, all these extra bodies could come in handy.
  • WHL: The first round of the Dub’s playoffs have been completed. Edmonton, Portland and Brandon (among others) have advanced to the next round, while Kootenay has been eliminated. The second round begins this Friday; Brandon will play Edmonton, while Portland faces Kamloops.
  • NCAA: This was the off-week between the NCAA Regional Playoffs and the Frozen Four in Tampa. The Frozen Four goes this Thursday and Saturday.

Ryan Pike
A native of the Stampede City, Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and as Managing Editor of FlamesNation.ca.
Ryan Pike
@DonBraid that's a fantastic quote. - 10 hours ago

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