Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters was in good spirits going into the All-Star break. Having just defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in an overtime thriller to cap off a successful string of victories, the Flames entered their nine-day hiatus in a strong and authoritative position. Peters lauded his club’s performance and congratulated his players on a well-deserved period of rest and relaxation.
From the mood displayed by the Calgary coach, one would expect the bye-week to be good for the Flames. As events would show, however, these expectations turned out contrary to reality. Returning from that lengthy All-Star break, the Flames were rusty, sloppy, and all out of their element.
Whiffs from the slot, wayward passes. Flames' execution is off tonight. It's as if they've only played twice in the last 15 days.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) February 8, 2019
From their extended lackluster play, the Flames have endured numerous beat-downs from several rival teams in the early half of February. Since coming back from their nine days off, Calgary has knotted a 3-3-2 record, which is a vast departure from their “red-hot” phase prior to the long rest period. In short, the All-Star break proved to be detrimental to Calgary’s momentum, and it is only recently that the club is showing signs of resurgence.
Struggling Flames Doused in Early February
It all started with a decent but ultimately inadequate performance on Friday, Feb. 1, during Calgary’s highly anticipated first game back from the All-Star break. Confident, seemingly well rested, and going up against an Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals, the odds seemed tilted in the Flames’ favour. However, microcosmic of their disappointing return overall, expectations were contrary to reality.
Losing the initiative early in the first period, Calgary managed to keep things close for the majority of the game, before allowing a goal by Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov in the final minute to fall 4-3 to the Capitals. Though the Flames would regroup two days later in Raleigh to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3, things would continue to go downhill in subsequent games.
That following Thursday (Feb. 7), the Flames got devoured 5-2 by a hungry San Jose Sharks squad, with a vengeful and full-blooded Evander Kane leading the charge. The Sharks capitalized early on Calgary’s costly mistakes, with San Jose goalie Martin Jones successfully shutting down the Flames’ offence to secure the victory. For many of the Sharks, the rout over Calgary is sweet retribution for the events that unfolded several weeks prior.
Back in December, the Flames destroyed San Jose 8-5 in a spirited New Year’s Eve matchup. It was a fiery contest that witnessed numerous confrontations on the ice, including Sam Bennett’s infamous hit on Sharks defenceman Radim Simek, a move that was called “predatory and gutless” by San Jose after the game. The Sharks never forgot that night, and successfully drew blood from the Flames in their latest meeting at the Saddledome.
Calgary’s cold streak would then continue for the next couple weeks. Against the struggling Vancouver Canucks (Feb. 9), the Flames would play well, raining a momentous 47 shots on goal against Vancouver. However, only three of these shots would get past Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, whose exceptional performance would capture a 4-3 win for Vancouver, which was decided in a shootout.
Following that disappointment, the Flames lost 6-3 to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 12, before falling to the 24th-place Florida Panthers 4-3 in yet another shootout loss on Feb. 14. Overall, the first half of February has seen an ice-cold Calgary squad that is struggling to rediscover their winning ways. However, there is room for optimism going forward, as can be seen by the Flames’ performance in recent efforts.
Flames Turn Things Around, Still Top in the West
While the Flames have been struggling for much of February, their performance in the last two contests shows they are far from finished this season. Both of these matchups have ended in regulation wins, captured through early leads and consistent play. Moreover, one of these victories was acquired from none other than Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team in which the Flames have more than a little history with this season.
The last time the Flames and Penguins met (Oct. 25), Pittsburgh humiliated Calgary with a 9-1 thrashing on their home turf. It was a momentous slaughter, but one that proved to be a blessing in disguise for the dumbstruck Calgary club. Following that infamous evening, the Flames, who were then considered middle-tier, quickly turned their game around. The ensuing surge skyrocketed Calgary through the standings, making them one of the hottest teams in the NHL – a position that endures to this day.
Thus, the most recent meeting with the Penguins on Saturday, Feb. 16, must have meant a little more to this Flames squad. Calgary never trailed Pittsburgh last Saturday. Flames left-winger Andrew Mangiapane opened the scoring 7:06 in the first period, before a second-period scoring explosion by Calgary made it 5-2 to start off the third. Though the Penguins would battle back to make it 5-4, the Flames held on for the victory, snapping their four-game slide, and ending their road trip on a winning note.
Returning to home ice on Monday, Feb. 18, the Flames extended their positive tilt against the Arizona Coyotes. With major contributions from their supporting lines, Calgary beat Arizona 5-2 in a hard-fought game. It was a back-and-forth contest that didn’t see the Flames pull away until the third period. With the victory over the Coyotes, the Flames improve to 21-1-0 this season when leading after two periods. Furthermore, their previous two wins are showing that Calgary may finally be out of their early February funk.
In addition to the turnaround, the Flames’ previous strong showing in January, in which they went 9-1-1 for the month, had created a gap that kept their rival Sharks at bay from No. 1 in the Pacific Division, as well as first place in the Western Conference. Currently, the Flames are still second-ranked in the entire NHL, trailing only behind the Lightning.
Taking their woes in stride, one can see that the Flames are still in position for a strong regular season finish. Not only has Calgary stopped the bleeding, but also managed to come out of the slump with their leading position intact. Only time will tell how their season finishes, but right now, things are looking good for the Flames.