Flames Looming Questions as Holiday Break Ends

Are the “surging” Calgary Flames still surging? What do we make of their three-game slide going in to the Christmas break? Was it just a fluke? Is it all over? Was it all too good to be true?

These are not fun questions to ask, but they must be asked nonetheless. Many will probably say that the questions posed above are overly hyperbolic, an overreaction, and way too soon to call. Hopefully they are right.

After all, there are plenty of games left to play in this 2018-19 National Hockey League regular season. Only time will tell whether the sour note the Flames left off with was just a minor hiccup, or the beginning of the end for what was truly a remarkable early-season run.

Either way, let’s talk about it. Let’s clear the air and get everything off our chests before the Flames return to action tonight against another Western Conference leader, the formidable and dangerous Winnipeg Jets.

Are the “Red Hot” Flames Finally Cooling Down?

Whether you are all in on the Flames or erring on the side of skepticism, the fact of the matter is that the last three games have not been kind to Calgary. While one of those losses was an acclaimed overtime thriller versus Tampa Bay, the other two were regulation losses to teams that are not particularly impressive within the league this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Erik Cernak Calgary Flames' Sam Bennett Louis Domingue
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Erik Cernak checks Calgary Flames’ Sam Bennett into goalie Louis Domingue (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

The first regulation loss came on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the hands of the Dallas Stars. In this contest, the Flames were blanked 2-0 against a team that sits ninth place in the Western Conference. If that weren’t enough, the Flames would be handed another defeat in regulation on Dec. 22, this time against the St. Louis Blues, who rank even lower in the standings at 13th in the west.

The debacle against St. Louis was particularly troubling, since it was only two nights before on Dec. 20 that the Flames were lauded for hanging with the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning, in an exhilarating titan clash that many are calling the game of the year. Contrasted with their strong showing against the Lightning, the Flames’ defeat at the hands of the struggling Blues was harshly criticized by observers

Questionable showings such as these beg the question of whether the Flames are finally running out of steam. After all, hot starts are all too common in sports, with many teams tapering off as the season wears on.

The issue of slacking off has not been taken for granted with the Flames’ leadership. Head coach Bill Peters himself recently warned of complacency settling in when things are going well. “Some teams are going to check-out, right?” As the holiday season enters its peak, Peters expected that “some guys are going to check out around the league,” before cautioning his own club: “Don’t be one of them,” (from ‘Flames notes: Backlund looks ready for action,’ – The Calgary Sun – 12/14/18).

Even with the foresight, the Flames’ recent three-game skid (which happened precisely in the timeframe that Peters warned against, one might add) shows that not even the Calgary Flames are immune from inadvertently taking their foot off the gas. However, despite the Flames’ recent woes, there is still much reason for optimism going forward.

…Or Are the Flames Just Getting Warmed Up?

With all the salty talk about the Flames heading into the break, it is easy to forget that they are still, at this very moment, one of the best teams in the NHL. As we speak, the Flames are still sitting pretty at second place in the entire Western Conference, with only three points behind the number one Winnipeg Jets, and flirting one point ahead of the third place Nashville Predators.

Compared with the rest of the NHL, the Flames remain fifth place in overall points, fourth in goals, and sixth in point percentage. More impressive too is that these numbers persist even with the Flames’ three-game losing skid. So, while the Flames’ performance as of late has been less than optimal, there is much indication that upon returning to action, this fiery squad will pick up right where they left off – among the league’s elite, and a heavy playoff contender.

Given the Flames’ overall performance so far this season, it is arguable that their disappointing efforts are more the exceptions, as opposed to the norm. Before the three-game skid, the Flames were dominating the competition, going 12-2-1 in their 15-game stretch. Moreover, the most recent 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues is Calgary’s first home loss in regulation since Nov. 15, a fact that may be lost on some fans, whose wounds may still be raw from the recent string of losses. The fact that losing is unfamiliar territory for Calgary fans these days is a testament to what this Flames squad is truly capable of.

Let us not forget that these Calgary Flames are the same ones who are currently projected to be the best that the Red Mile has seen in over a quarter century. They boast one of the most dangerous offences in the entire NHL, and are stacked with a deep pool of talent whose abilities have only begun to be realized, often in an explosive and dazzling fashion manifested most vividly on the scoreboard every game. Through it all, the Flames have displayed a resiliency and consistency that has come to define their season thus far. These attributes have proven to be instrumental in their winning ways, and do not seem to be faltering anytime soon.

Therefore, with all things considered, there are abundant reasons to be optimistic as the Flames return to action. While they may have allowed themselves to slow down a bit entering the holidays, it is asserted here that this is in no way indicative of things to come. Around the league, the Calgary Flames are still the topic of conversation, and a force to be reckoned with against any team. There is more than half of the NHL season left. As such, there is still much to be proven, and even more to be gained.