It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around in a short period of time, and the Calgary Flames’ recent reversal of fortunes is a prime example. After enduring a season-high, four-game winless slide they’ve been able to turn the tide by reeling off four consecutive victories. The Flames completed a perfect three-game home stand with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
Calgary’s skid from Feb. 7-14 was mostly due to the tables turning on them, as they ran into hot goaltending and didn’t capitalize on scoring chances the way they had previously in what’s been a potent offensive season. Their lone poor performance during that funk was a 6-3 loss against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. That contest served as a major wake-up call for areas they needed to improve on to stop the bleeding.
The message was received as the Flames have accumulated nine of a possible ten points since failing miserably in that formidable test against the Lightning. This latest surge now has them firmly entrenched at the top of the Western Conference standings with 83 points thanks to an impressive 38-16-7 record.
Their response to a rare case of adversity has been solid and the confidence level among the group appears as high as ever and the Flames’ struggles appear to be in their rear-view mirror. There are four major factors that sparked the team’s significant turnaround:
Mark Giordano’s Leadership
After the loss against the Lightning where the Flames were completely outclassed, captain Mark Giordano vowed that the team would be better moving forward and not surprisingly he’s been leading the charge. The 35-year-old veteran continues to state his case as for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman. He leads by example with the way he competes on a nightly basis and has shown no signs of slowing down despite the significant minutes he routinely logs.
Giordano has been a stalwart during this latest win streak and is now up to 58 points on the season with his 13 goals and 45 assists. He had a goal and an assist in the 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and in the process established a new career high for points in a season. Giordano is also an impressive plus-29. Whether paired with his usual partner, T.J. Brodie or most recently with talented youngster Rasmus Andersson, Giordano’s intensity and productivity remain in the league’s upper-tier.
Mike Smith’s Rejuvenation
It’s been a trying season for the 36-year-old veteran who had lost the no. 1 starter’s role on a couple of occasions thanks to the ascension of David Rittich. However, with Rittich struggling, Smith has shone at a critical time with his stellar play. He’s gone 4-0-1 during a very important stretch and looks more like the All-Star goaltender from the first half of last season, rather than the netminder who appeared lost at times during this current campaign.
Smith is a completely different goalie of late and his teammates are responding in kind. He’s turned aside 133 of 144 shots for an impressive .924 save percentage during this stretch. His swagger and competitive fire are back on full display and the accompanying victories serve as excellent news for the organization.
All Hands on Deck
The Flames are getting some strong performances from their bottom-six forward group during this win streak. Those leading the way include Austin Czarnik and Andrew Mangiapane. Czarnik has played well since returning to the lineup after being the odd man out for a significant period of time. He’s made the most of getting the call, with James Neal on the sidelines due to injury, by netting goals in three of his last four contests. Czarnik potted game-winners against both Arizona and the New York Islanders and is thriving.
Mangiapane netted the first two goals of his NHL career on the team’s latest road trip and he carried that confidence into the homestand. He notched the game-winner late in the third period in the grinding affair against the Ducks and is getting his share of scoring chances on a consistent basis.
On the defensive front, Travis Hamonic has been a true warrior for the Flames all season with his shot-blocking abilities and incredible pain threshold. He’s found an offensive touch as well of late with a pair of goals during this successful stretch and continues to be a pillar of strength on the blue line.
Dome Sweet Dome and Favorable Puck Luck
After a pivotal 5-4 road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to end their slide it was paramount that the Flames make the most of some home cooking. They were able to win three-for-three at home and continued to be one of the top home teams in the league. The Flames’ record of 20-5-5 at the Scotiabank Saddledome is a far cry from the mediocre ledger they put together during a frustrating 2017-18 season. Their successful home stand also saw them reduce both shots allowed and high-quality scoring chances against.
After being stymied by opposition netminders in losses against the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers, the Flames have also been enjoying better puck luck. The game-winner by Czarnik against the Islanders was an example of that good fortune as he benefited from a Leo Komorov miscue. The Mangiapane game-winner against the Ducks also saw the Flames catch a break as his original pass to a teammate deflected off the skate of Anaheim defenceman Jaycob Megna right back to him, and he promptly buried the unexpected opportunity.
With the Flames righting the ship at a key stage of the season, it’s clear that this team is a different version from the 2017-18 group that crumbled at crunch time. With Giordano as the team leader, the right mix of skill and grit, and quality goaltending, the Flames have served notice that they’re not about to drop from the upper echelon of the Western Conference anytime soon.