It’s funny how one week can have such an impact in the NHL. Seven days ago, the Calgary Flames had won five of their past seven games, and were sitting firmly in a playoff spot with a light January schedule ahead of them.
Fast forward to today, and the Flames are coming off of a week that saw the team lose three of four, including two particularly uninspiring losses to the Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils. Throw in a shootout loss on Saturday night in a tightly contested game with the Edmonton Oilers, and the Flames find themselves barely holding onto a playoff spot.
— Calgary Flames Fans (@FlamesViews) January 16, 2017
With only five of the team’s 13 games this month coming against playoff teams, January should be where the Flames are able to create some space between themselves and the teams chasing them. Instead, the Flames have started the month 3-3-1, winning only two of five games against non-playoff teams in that span.
The Predators are Coming
Prior to the season, the Nashville Predators were one of the sexiest picks among prognosticators to not only make the playoffs, but even take home the Stanley Cup. With the blockbuster acquisition of PK Subban, as well as the continued development of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok and others, expectations for the Predators were sky-high.
When Sportsnet’s hockey writers were polled before the start of the season, more picked the Predators to come out of the West than any other team. The annual EA Sports NHL 17 simulation even picked the Predators to win it all as well.
Needless to say, the season hasn’t quite gone as expected so far for Nashville, but after notching three straight wins, the Predators are breathing down the necks of both the LA Kings and the Calgary Flames. With 47 points in 43 games, Nashville is just two points back of the Flames with a crucial three games in hand.
Now that Subban and Roman Josi are both nearing their return to the lineup, the Predators are coming, and now is not the time for the Flames to start slipping. The two teams face off this Thursday, and a Flames’ loss in that game could leave the team on the outside looking in.
Monahan Heating up
In back-to-back losses to the Devils and Oilers to close out the week, the Flames scored a combined two goals. Both of those goals, in fact, came from Sean Monahan, who had previously been struggling though an 11-game goalless drought.
Monahan is now tied with Mikael Backlund for the team lead in goals with 12, which is the type of production expected from the Flames’ $6 million man. Although Backlund has been putting together a career year, Monahan must still be relied on to lead the way in production from the middle.
Aside from his new contract and the lofty expectations that come with it, the minutes and usage of Monahan by coach Glen Gulutzan shows that the young center should certainly be carrying the mail offensively. Leading all Flames centers in ice time, Monahan also gets more offensive zone starts than any other center on the team (per Hockey-Reference.com), and significantly more (61 percent) than his goal-scoring counterpart Backlund (37 percent).
Perhaps Troy Brouwer’s return from injury on Friday night was the spark Monahan needed. After going scoreless with Brouwer out of the lineup in December, the two were reunited on the same line over the weekend, and Monahan was able to find his offense once again. Now it’s up to Monahan, Brouwer and Kris Versteeg to continue to provide scoring along with the red-hot Backlund line.
The Week Ahead
In line with the January theme, the Flames will play a couple of games against non-playoff teams this week, facing the Florida Panthers on Tuesday before the big matchup with the Predators on Thursday. The third and final contest of the week sees the Oilers come to town for a second consecutive Saturday night Battle of Alberta, closing out the Flames’ three-game home stand.
Bearing in mind the two crucial upcoming contests against Nashville and Edmonton, this may be the most important week of the year for the Flames. Picking up wins in a couple of four-point games this week would be a big step in the right direction, especially with the team heading on a tough three-game road trip next week to Eastern Canada, where they will face the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens, as well as the surprisingly tough Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.