THE STATS LINE
8-11-1 record [27th overall (in points percentage)]
2.25 goals-for per game [27th overall]
2.80 goals-against per game [18th overall]
14.3% power-play success rate [22nd overall]
79.2% penalty-kill success rate [18th overall]
THE WEEK THAT WAS
- November 18: On the eve of a four-game road trip, the Flames dominate the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks 5-2. Curtis Glencross had three points and the Horak/Byron/Stempniak line generated the other two goals.
- November 21: The Flames kicked off their four-game road trip with a listless 4-1 loss to the NHL’s worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mark Giordano scored the Flames’ lone goal on the power-play.
- November 23: The Flames snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a 5-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Calgary showed up for roughly half of the game, playing a tremendous second period after a poor first (and tying the game up 3-3 headed into the third). But Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross took consecutive penalties in the third to put the Wings on a five-on-three power-play, with Detroit scoring twice to put the game out of reach.
A TALE OF 20 GAMES
The results from each of their first 20 games tells the story of the season for the Calgary Flames
Loss. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Overtime Loss. Loss. Win. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Loss.
And within those results comes a tale of wild inconsistency. One of the best special teams clubs away from home, but one of the league’s worst in the Saddledome. Wins against good teams. Losses against bad teams. Superstars not yet pulling the offensive trigger. Bottom-six rookies driving the momentum of each game. And a coach that seemingly is coming apart at the seams with frustration over the team’s inconsistencies.
The first chunk of games this season saw the Flames alternate wins and losses. To be fair, the team only played in a couple stinkers in the first ten-or-so games. Their first two outings (against Pittsburgh and St. Louis) saw them out-matched and ill-prepared. They lost both, and deserved to. However, after those set-backs, the Flames strung together seven straight strong efforts (spanning October 13-28) which resulted in a 4-2-1 record. They lost, sure, but in games where they competed well and lost because of a hot goalie or bounces going the other way.
But as November reared its head, the Flames lost their consistency. First up? A 5-1 loss to their most bitter rivals, the Vancouver Canucks, at home. Zero push-back. This was followed by a road win over Detroit, but that was followed up by a dismal effort in a loss to Buffalo (where only goalie Henrik Karlsson kept the game close). Since the Vancouver loss, the effort has been absent seemingly every second game and the team has alternated wins and losses.
In this sense, Brent Sutter’s frustrations make complete sense. Presuming that the message hasn’t changed from October, how come the same group of players are suddenly this wildly inconsistent from game-to-game, when the club showed that they could play consistently (and win more often than not) just a few weeks prior.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
If there was one bright spot for the Flames over the first 20 games (and there are more than just one), it would be the play of the team’s youngest players.
The story of training camp was the consistency and energy of 20-year-old Roman Horak, acquired over the summer from the New York Rangers in the Tim Erixon deal. While Erixon has yo-yoed between the Rangers and the AHL, Horak has nestled himself snugly in the good graces of Flames fans. The secret? A tenacious effort in every shift, maximizing his dozen or so minutes of ice-time to generating scoring chances. Horak’s fine play (7 points and a plus-5 rating in 18 games) has likely given the Flames the confidence to bring up even more young’uns when injuries made call-ups necessary.
The two beneficiaries have been forward Paul Byron and blueliner T.J. Brodie. Byron was part of the trade that sent Robyn Regehr to Buffalo and, despite being 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, he plays a rough-and-tumble game. Put on a line with Horak and veteran Lee Stempniak, Byron has potted 2 goals in 6 games and has a plus-4 rating.
T.J. Brodie was a fourth-round selection of the Flames in the 2008 draft (the same draft class that gave them Lance Bouma and Greg Nemisz) and has looked radically improved on the defensive side of the puck compared to his short stint in Calgary at the beginning of last season. Primarily playing bottom-pairing minutes, Brodie has nonetheless been able to shore up his zone and set up scoring chances. He’s got 2 assists (his first points in the NHL) and a plus-1 rating over 6 games.
Granted, all three of these players are being protected on Calgary’s bottom two lines or bottom defense pairing, but the fact that they’re generating any offense whatsoever is an inspiring sign.
WHERE ARE THE VETS?
While the rookies are arguably the team’s most consistent players, the same cannot be said for the Flames’ veterans. Only four players on the club average half-a-point per game or higher: Alex Tanguay (15 points in 20 games), Olli Jokinen (13 points in 20 games), Curtis Glencross (12 points in 20 games) and Jarome Iginla (10 points in 20 games). [For reference, the team had seven players with 0.5 points per game or more last year.]
That’s right. Jarome Iginla is 4th in team scoring right now, with Lee Stempniak (8 points) hot on his heels. Forward Mikael Backlund is also pointless since returning to the line-up 6 games ago, all while playing with Tanguay and Iginla on the team’s top unit.
While the Flames are one of the league’s worst offensive clubs right now, their defensive numbers are no great shakes (despite very strong goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson). Iginla has a team-low minus-11 rating, and is followed by regulars Tanguay (minus-6), Jay Bouwmeester (minus-5), Chris Butler (minus-4), Jokinen (minus-4) and Mark Giordano (minus-4).
If these names sound familiar, it’s because they are the team’s top players – generally relied upon for offense. Given that the team hasn’t been scoring very much, and that these players (particularly Giordano and Bouwmeester) typically face the other team’s top lines, it’s not surprising that they’re in the red. The only thing surprising is how far into the red they are.
DISPATCHES FROM THE FARM
- AHL: Through 19 games, the Abbotsford Heat sit in an unfamiliar position – first place in the AHL’s Western Conference. Their secret? Scoring by committee and strong goaltending. That and strong play away from home. The Heat have played a league-high 13 games on the road, losing only a pair. Heading into this weekend’s games, Abbotsford boasts six players averaging half a point per game or more: Krys Kolanos, Jon Rheault, Greg Nemisz, Ben Walter, Clay Wilson and Brendan Mikkelson. The team’s top seven leading scorers have plus/minus ratings of plus-1 or higher (Jon Rheault’s plus-7 leads the club). In net, Leland Irving has been very strong; 13-5-0 record, 1.94 goals against average, 3 shutouts, .927 save percentage. He was named the AHL’s Player of the Week last week, during which he went 3-1-0 with a 1.47 goals against average (and one shut-out).
- WHL: Through slightly more than a quarter of the WHL season, three Flames prospects are among the league’s top 20 scorers. Brandon’s Michael Ferland has 39 points in 25 games. Portland’s Sven Baertschi has 39 points in 17 games (he missed a handful of games due to Flames training camp and a hip injury), a nearly unrivaled scoring pace. Kootenay’s Max Reinhart has 28 points in 22 games. Tri-City forward Patrick Holland is scoring at a point-per game pace (23 points in as many games), while Red Deer’s Turner Elson has 22 points in 21 games after being signed by Calgary during training camp.
- NCAA: Boston College has slipped a bit of late, losing three of their last four games, but still sit atop Hockey East’s standings with a 9-4-0 overall record and a 7-2-0 conference record. Bill Arnold has 14 points in 13 games, while teammate and freshman John Gaudreau has 11 points in 13 games (and is second in Hockey East in rookie scoring). Meanwhile, Wisconsin blueliner John Ramage (and the Badgers as a whole) have struggled somewhat this year, posting a 5-8-1 record. Ramage has 4 points and a minus-7 rating in 14 games. In CCHA play, Notre Dame forward Nick Larson has 3 points in 14 games, as the Fighting Irish boast a 9-2-3 overall record. Notre Dame is presently #2 in the NCAA rankings, while Boston College sits at #5.
- Europe: The Flames’ lone European prospect, Markus Granlund, has 9 points in 18 games with HIFK of SM-Liiga. But when he scores, he certainly makes his goals showy.