Thanks to last night’s 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the Calgary Flames crawled out of the basement in the Northwest division for the first time since, well, since basically the beginning of the season.
With a record of 13-13-2 the Flames have moved ahead of the Avs and now trail the suddenly struggling Edmonton Oilers by a single point leading into Saturday night’s contest between the two Alberta rivals. The Oilers host Colorado tonight before making the short trip to Calgary for game that will be as important as any December meeting can get regardless of tonight’s outcome.
While the Flames haven’t exactly been on a tear, they have been playing better hockey of late. If anything, their ability to win as many games as they lose is the one thing that has helped them stay close with the likes of the Oilers and Avalanche who have started to fall back to them in the standings.
Now that they have climbed their way out of last in the Northwest, the key for the club will be to try and make sure they don’t return and at the same time trying to move up within the division and the conference. Here are five things that must happen in order to accomplish those goals:
5. Bang for the Bourque: Perhaps no other player is as vital to Calgary’s success as Bourque. When the winger is going good and scoring the Flames are simply a much better hockey team. Coming off his second consecutive season in which he scored 27 goals, Bourque had a tough go of it in October and November but has amped up his play in December (3 goals and 2 assists in last five games).
4. Defense as a Unit: The Calgary Flames are never going to be a team that can consistently beat you with offense, so what does that mean? It means that the Flames defensive unit, no matter who draws in the lineup, must continue to improve. Having yielded 80 goals in their 28 games, Calgary ranks 19th in the league in goals against; a ranking that needs get better if they hope to become legitimate playoff contenders.
3. Conference Success: While the Flames have been surprisingly good within their own division (7-3 vs. Northwest opponents) their play against the rest of the Western conference has been poor. Calgary has managed only four victories in 11 games against other Western conference teams which have all been played against Central division opponents. Having yet to see a Pacific-division team, the Flames will need to grab a good number of points against those respective teams; something that certainly won’t come easy.
2. Kipper’s Court: With back-up Henrik Karlsson on the shelf for 6-8 weeks with a torn MCL, the workload for Miikka Kiprusoff is likely to increase. Kipper had been getting more nights off than he has grown accustomed to in recent years but with Karlsson out head coach Brent Sutter might be hesitant to throw 23-year-old Leland Irving nito the fire. Look for Kipper to have no problem carrying the load just as he has done throughout his entire career with the club.
1. Road Work: Until the Flames are able to establish themselves as a much better team on home ice, their games away from the Saddledome will remain that much more important. Improving their current 7-5-2 home record would obviously be a big boost in its own right, but if Calgary can start to win on the road, their chances at moving into playoff contention would be doubled. There would be no better time to start this “road warrior” mentality than Saturday night..at Rexall..against the Oilers.