Several weeks ago, as the holiday season was entering its peak, the Calgary Flames went into Christmas break with questions lingering about their NHL elite status. Though they have been doing well leading up to the holidays, their performance in the final three games left much to be desired.
Now that the break is over, however, and the Flames have returned to action stronger than ever, there is no longer any question. This 2018-19 Flames squad is the real deal, their stellar performance is much more than just an early-season fluke, and yes, their powerhouse offence is here to stay.
Flames Come Roaring Back After Holiday Break
If there were any doubts about the Flames going into the holidays, then these doubts were effectively crushed on Dec. 27, in their return game against the Winnipeg Jets. Coming back from Christmas break swinging, the Flames lit up their Western Conference rivals in a 4-1 victory, a rout that came to mark the start of Winnipeg’s fall from No. 1 in the West.
Despite suffering an unlikely defeat to the Vancouver Canucks in a close 3-2 matchup two nights later, the Flames would more than redeem themselves on New Year’s Eve against another Western Conference contender – the up-and-coming San Jose Sharks. Thanks to a third-period scoring explosion (one of many this season), the Flames turned a close 5-4 contest into an 8-5 blowout that left the Sharks reeling well after the final whistle.
Not only did this victory over the Sharks let Calgary close out 2018 on a high note, but also solidified their position as a Western Conference leader. After Calgary’s win over San Jose, any questions about the Flames’ elite status, or the productivity of their top lines, have been answered with authority. Add their recent wins against Detroit (Jan. 2) and Philadelphia (Jan. 5) this past week, and it is clear that the Flames’ success is more than a spark in the early season.
Since coming back from the holidays, the Flames have gone 4-2 in their last six games. Though not perfect, Calgary has demonstrated that they are not a one-hit wonder team. Top players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and so many others, continue to produce night in and night out. Head coach Bill Peters is still leading the club with clear eyes and a steady hand, and thanks to David Rittich’s breakout season, the Flames’ ongoing goalie problems are drawing ever closer to finally being resolved once and for all.
Overall, the Flames are firing on all cylinders, with the vast majority of their recent engagements ending in the win column. These victories are not insignificant, either. With all of their successes, the Flames are currently finding themselves at the very top of the Western Conference – an outcome that, as of late, starkly contrasts with their early season rivals.
In the West, the Flames Reign Supreme
Back in December, when the Flames battled their way to the top of the Western Conference for the first time in a long time, the hockey world was caught completely off guard. To reach the top of the West standings, at that point in the regular season, was a feat the Flames had not accomplished since January of 1993. This accomplishment put the Flames on everyone’s radar, turning them into one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
During that point in the season, the Flames were in a tightly contested race with the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets for Western Conference supremacy. Even though the Flames were on top for a short time, the standings shifted constantly. Often, the Jets were seen holding a consistent place at the top, with the second place position being wrestled back and forth between the Predators and the Flames.
A lot has changed since then. The Western Conference standings are looking a little bit different than before the holidays. Both Winnipeg and Nashville have been knocked out of the second place position, with that slot being filled by the early-struggling Vegas Golden Knights.
Currently, the Jets are loosely hanging on to the No. 3 position, with the Predators and Sharks following close behind. Amid the recent developments in the Western Conference race, the Flames remain on top, with two games in hand over the Golden Knights.
At this midseason mark, the Calgary Flames have once again silenced the doubters. Outlasting their early season rivals such as the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, the Flames are also effectively warding off the encroaching Sharks and Golden Knights to retain primacy in the west.
There is still much to be seen in this second half of the NHL season, but it seems that Calgary is ready for the road ahead. Over the course of this 2018-19 campaign, the Flames have found themselves and discovered their winning formula – something that is unlikely to change anytime soon.