Having just won their seventh straight in a shellacking of the New York Islanders yesterday afternoon, the Calgary Flames are rolling.
For the time being, the inconsistent goaltending, the lack of a complete top six and a massive hole on the second pairing all seem to be shored up, and the team is firing on all cylinders.
Ferly has A Shot ? pic.twitter.com/ilCNPFIl38
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 5, 2017
While we can’t realistically expect this level of play to hold for the rest of the season, the team’s recent run has at the very least put them in a much more comfortable position heading into the stretch run.
Just a few short weeks ago, the Flames were on the outside looking in, and the conversation was about whether or not they could even climb back into a wildcard playoff spot. Now, having gone 11-2-1 since February first, the team can focus more of their attention on chasing down the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division, and spend less time looking over their shoulders at the St. Louis Blues and LA Kings.
Yesterday’s win coupled with a Ducks loss means that the Flames are now tied with Anaheim for third in the Pacific, and only two points back of the Oilers.
While there are still almost 20 games to go, catching the Ducks – who are just 5-7-1 over the past month – would set up a Calgary/Edmonton matchup in the first round of the playoffs. A lot still has to happen, but fans in both cities can now start crossing their fingers in hope of the first playoff Battle of Alberta in 26 years.
A Quiet Impact
For the bulk of this season, the hole on the Flames’ second defense pairing with Dennis Wideman in the lineup was causing a ton of trouble for the team each and every night. Then, on February 20, Brad Treliving acquired Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes, and the team’s defensive woes seemed to vanish all at once.
It’s true that the team may have overpaid a bit for the pending UFA, and there will surely be missteps in the coming weeks, but there is a palpable difference in the stability on the Flames’ blue line with the additions of Stone and the recently signed Matt Bartkowski.
Stone hasn’t added much flash, but you can clearly see the impact he’s having on his partner, TJ Brodie. In the seven games since Stone joined the team, Brodie has two goals, five points, and is plus-four – a stark improvement on the minus-25 he held before the trade.
Waiting for His Turn
Strangely enough, one player who’s likely benefitting from this current win-streak as much as anyone is newly acquired Curtis Lazar, who’s been watching from the press box.
Having struggled this year with the Ottawa Senators, the former first-round pick is hoping for a fresh start here in Calgary, and joining a team on a run – where the mood is high and the pressure is low – is only going to help the young forward.
With three days off to prepare for a Montreal Canadiens team that Lazar would be quite familiar with from his time in Ottawa, you’d think it would be the perfect time to slot him into the lineup. But, while Glen Gulutzan may do it, it’s hard to imagine he’ll want to make any changes to a lineup that has won seven in a row.
In the meantime, there’s no doubt that Lazar will continue to practice hard while he waits for his opportunity, and the team can rest assured that they have some quality depth to inject into the lineup should there be an injury or need for adjustment.
This is a good problem to have.
The Week Ahead
As mentioned, the Flames will now hope they don’t cool off in their three days off before the Atlantic-leading Canadiens come to town on Thursday night.
While the Flames will have time to rest and prepare, they’re going to need it. The Habs are on a roll of their own, having won five straight heading into a Tuesday night tilt with the Canucks. With Carey Price looking more like – well – Carey Price, and the return of their offense, the now-heavier Canadiens will offer a tough test for this Flames team.
Following that contest, the only other game for the Flames this week will come on Saturday night as they visit the Winnipeg Jets. While the Jets are refusing to go away in the wild card race, they are three points out and offer up a winnable game for the team before they return to Calgary for a three game home stand next week.