As the Calgary Flames turned the calendar over to 2017, they began the year in a playoff spot. With a January schedule riddled with games against non-playoff opponents, the team has a perfect opportunity to gain some ground on the rest of the Pacific Division, and other teams chasing them for a wild card spot.
With the first week of the month in the books, Calgary can be pleased with their efforts in picking up two out of three wins. In two decisive wins, first on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, followed by a victory on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames took care of business.
The team’s one loss – Friday night in Vancouver – was likely their best showing of the week, but a couple of goals on odd bounces and a less than stellar outing from starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Brian Elliott kept the Flames out of the win column.
While the previously red-hot Elliott wasn’t up to the task on Friday night, it was a relief for fans to see Chad Johnson return to form on Saturday night against the same Canucks team. Making 28 saves on 29 shots, Johnson delivered some crucial saves throughout the game, particularly in the third period while the Flames were nursing a one goal lead. Fortunately, three goals from three different lines was enough to get the win.
The Return of Secondary Scoring
When Troy Brouwer went down with a broken finger right before the Christmas break, the Flames’ already urgent need for a boost in secondary scoring became that much more critical.
One player who was singled out as much as anyone was Michael Frolik. While he has been playing sound hockey, and flanking the Flames’ best line this year alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, Frolik simply hadn’t been scoring enough. Considering his annual cap hit of $4.3 million, the Flames needed more from the Czech winger.
After a 20 game goalless drought from November 18th through December 29th, Frolik finally broke his slump on New Year’s Eve against the Arizona Coyotes, netting a goal and an assist in a Calgary win. Since then, he has scored four goals in his past four games.
In the six contests since Brouwer’s injury, Calgary has received those four goals from Frolik, as well as two from Alex Chiasson and two from Kris Versteeg. It’s no coincidence that the Flames won four of those six games with some key depth players picking up the slack.
Brouwer does appear to be ahead of schedule in his recovery from the broken finger, but once he returns the team will still need continued production from the likes of Frolik, Versteeg and Chiasson to keep the team on track for a playoff appearance.
A Rivalry Renewed
While the Flames have three games to play this week before the weekend hits, it’s hard not to look ahead to Saturday night’s contest against the Oilers in Edmonton. The two teams haven’t met since playing a back-to-back to start the season, which saw the Oilers walk away with two decisive wins.
No one knew much about either team following those first two games, as the year had only just begun. But now, sitting at the midpoint of the season, you have to go back 11 years to find the last time where both Alberta teams were this competitive. The last time both Edmonton and Calgary made the playoffs was 2005-06 — the year the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.
The only player still on either club today who was on their respective team in 2006 is Mark Giordano. That year, the young defenseman was just getting a quick cup of coffee in the NHL, playing the first seven games of his career. Needless to say, times have changed, and fans can now look forward to watching this generation of talent on both teams hopefully forge a stronger rivalry.
Following this Saturday’s matchup in Edmonton, the Flames and Oilers will meet again next Saturday in Calgary. With both teams occupying playoff spots and continuing to play solid hockey, the next two weekends may see the rivalry take a step or two in the right direction, back to what it once was.
That being said, it’s playoff matchups that breed the most contempt. Calgary and Edmonton haven’t met in the postseason since first round of the 1990-91 playoffs, which the Oilers won in seven games. It may be a long shot, but there could be a chance we see a Flames/Oilers first round matchup this spring.
In the meantime, the Flames have a busy week ahead, visiting the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, then returning home for two games against the San Jose Sharks and New Jersey Devils before Saturday’s contest in Edmonton.