THE STATS LINE
18-15-4 record [18th overall (in points percentage)]
2.46 goals-for per game [25th overall]
2.62 goals-against per game [12th overall]
17.5% power-play success rate [16th overall]
83.5% penalty-kill success rate [11th overall]
45.1% in the face-off circle [30th overall]
THE WEEK THAT WAS
- December 22: The Flames rush out to a 3-0 lead over the Detroit Red Wings, then hold on for a 3-2 win. Curtis Glencross scored twice and Miikka Kiprusoff made 29 saves.
- December 23: Starting rookie Leland Irving in net, the Flames played arguably their most complete game of the year and beat the Vancouver Canucks in regulation for the first time since October 16, 2009. Jarome Iginla had two assists in the victory.
- December 27: In their third attempt, the Flames finally solve the riddle of the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 2-1 shootout win. Jarome Iginla led the way with his 498th career goal to send the game into extra time, then potting the only goal in the shootout.
UNCHARTED TERRITORY: ABOVE .500
After wobbling around with a record just at or below the .500 mark this year, the Calgary Flames have very quietly gone on a four game winning streak and crept three games above .500. While the club’s turn of fortunes still have fans a bit bullish on the team’s ultimate direction, it has quieted calls to blow up the team and trade everyone involved for spare parts.
That the Flames have won four straight isn’t shocking, but it’s who they’ve beaten in that stretch – Minnesota, Detroit, Vancouver and Columbus. Four conference opponents, two of whom (Vancouver and Columbus) have seemingly been in the Flames heads in recent years.
How have the Flames rattled off four wins in a row? Ultimately, just a bit of consistency. Against the Red Wings, special teams made the difference. Against Vancouver, Leland Irving made some big saves and the Flames managed to go shot-for-shot with the mighty Canucks. Against Columbus, special teams and some clutch scoring by Jarome Iginla got them the win.
Iginla has been on a scoring tear of late, approaching the 500 goal mark. However, Olli Jokinen remains the Flames scoring leader with 31 points through 37 games. Calgary’s nets have quieted, with Miikka Kiprusoff (17-11-2 and a 2.41 goals against) and Leland Irving (1-0-1 and a 1.44 goals against) holding court while Henrik Karlsson sits on the injured reserve.
FACE-OFFS: THE BATTLE CONTINUES
While the Flames are gradually improving, moving up the league’s standings in points, goals against and special teams, they continue to be the league’s worst – by a mile – in terms of face-offs.
In two of the three games the Flames won this week, they lost more than 60% of face-offs. Overall:
- December 22 vs. Detroit: Mikael Backlund and Olli Jokinen took a combined 28 draws, winning just 11. Calgary won 39% of face-offs.
- December 23 vs. Vancouver: Brendan Morrison went 3-for-11, but Backlund and Jokinen combined for 16-for-30. Calgary won 48% of all face-offs.
- December 27 vs. Columbus: Backlund and Jokinen combined for 14-for-34. Calgary won 34% of all face-offs.
Overall, of the Flames’ four regular centres, only Brendan Morrison has averaged more than a 50% winning percentage this year (53.4%). Mikael Backlund (46.5%), Olli Jokinen (44.7%) and Roman Horak (39.7%) are all averaging below 50%, which sounds much worse when you realize that Jokinen takes twice as many draws as any other Flames pivot.
Heading into their road trip, Calgary had six regulars on the injured reserve and another out week-to-week with an injury. Matt Stajan (ankle), David Moss (ankle) and Henrik Karlsson (MCL) are out indefinitely. Alex Tanguay is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Mark Giordano (hamstring) and Anton Babchuk (hand) have resumed skating, with Babchuk considered close to returning to the line-up. Brett Carson is also back on the injured reserve with an upper body injury. Carson wasn’t great when he returned from his AHL conditioning stint, and the injury could be related to his off-season back injury.
With the Flames at the 23-man roster limit, they would need to return a player to the AHL to make room for Babchuk. Presumably either Greg Nemisz or Joe Piskula would head back to Abbotsford to make room.
DISPATCHES FROM THE FARM
- World Juniors: Flames prospect Bill Arnold scored a goal and set up another in the United States’ 11-3 win over Denmark on opening night of the World Juniors. Markus Granlund (Finland) was one of five Finns that weren’t minus players during an 8-1 beat-down at the hands of Team Canada on Monday. Sven Baertschi (Switzerland) was minus-2 in a 3-0 loss to Russia on Monday.
- WHL: As of this writing, junior club teams were just getting back into action following Christmas break.
- NCAA: Boston College participates in the Great Lakes Invitational this coming weekend in Detroit. Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau will be lacing up for the Eagles after being cut from the US World Junior team.