The 2017-18 season did not go the way the Calgary Flames had hoped. With Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan leading the offense, Travis Hamonic being brought in to bolster the blue line, and Mike Smith expected to deliver consistent goaltending, playoffs were expected to be a shoo-in. But then, inconsistency kicked in.
Gaudreau and Monahan were lights out to start the year, Smith was looking like a potential Vezina Trophy candidate, and the power play was extremely effective. Of course, this was all early in the year. When it really mattered most, when the wins were an absolute necessity in order to make the playoffs, no one came to play.
For the first few months of the season, Gaudreau and Monahan seemed unstoppable. Gaudreau was in early conversations for the Hart Trophy, while both he and Monahan were on pace to smash their previous career-highs in points. While the pair continued to light up the scoresheet and did go on to set new career-highs in points, their individual success wasn’t being reflected in the standings, due to an extreme drought of bottom-six scoring.
It wasn’t until near Christmastime that all lines were producing offensively, and to no one’s surprise, the wins followed. It was following the Christmas break the Flames would string together a seven-game win streak, scoring 27 goals in the process.
But following the win streak, was a losing streak. Then another losing streak. And then another. Their most recent losing streak was a critical and season-ending one, which they’re currently still riding as of Mar. 26. The Flames have now lost five straight, scoring only seven goals, and realistically dropping out of the playoff race.
Although the lack of offense wasn’t the only contributing factor to the accumulating losses down the stretch, it certainly was the most critical.
“Our scoring has dried up. Not from a lack of effort. Not from lack of chances,” said Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan in a Calgary Sun article. “We’re generating shots and chances. Yeah, it gets frustrating for the guys when they’re getting looks and they can’t bury, but they’ve got no choice but to keep going.”
Not so Potent Power Play
It may be hard to believe right now, but the Flames’ power play was actually excellent to start the season. It seemed like almost every goal they scored was with the man advantage, which ranked in the top ten in the league. But approximately two months into the season, it was nothing but crickets.
Many fans are using Gulutzan and assistant coach Dave Cameron as scapegoats for the drastic decline in the power play’s efficiency. While they could very well be part of the problem, the bigger issue was the loss of Kris Versteeg.
Versteeg may not light up the scoresheet, but he was an essential part of that top power play unit, and immediately after he went down with long-term hip injury, the man advantage also went down. It’s no coincidence the Flames power play was one of the best in the NHL to start the season (with Versteeg), then took a nosedive without him.
“We’re having a little trouble generating, we’re squeezing a little bit five-on-five, but our power play is the one thing that has to bail you out when you go through these things. And it’s not,” said Gulutzan in a Calgary Sun article.
The one area for the Flames that has been solid pretty much the entire season is goaltending. Smith has been as reliable as they come for over three-quarters of the season, and is likely still considered the Flames’ MVP. On multiple occasions, Smith was the sole reason the Flames won the game. He continued to prove night in and night out why the Flames brought him over from the Arizona Coyotes.
But when the Flames needed him most, when the games were must-wins to remain in the playoff race, he simply wasn’t there. Perhaps it was simply bad luck on Smith’s part, as he suffered a lower-body injury Feb. 11 that kept him out of action for one month. It was evident Smith was not the same following his return, which was simply a bad break for he and the Flames. Even in Smith’s absence, backup David Rittich, who was exceptional in each of his starts for Smith’s off-nights, failed to succeed as the temporary starter.
At the end of the day, the Flames showed, at one point in the season, they’re capable of playing to an elite level in all facets of the game. When healthy and on point, the offense can score with the best of them, with the right personnel, the power play can be lethal, and with Smith at 100 percent, goaltending is their biggest strength.
It’s tough to win consistently in the NHL if you’re not executing consistently on each area of the ice. And the Flames simply weren’t a consistent group this season.
I’ve been writing for over three years and have work published by the Calgary Herald, National Lacrosse League, Hard Knocks Fighting and The Weal at SAIT. Although I’ve covered many different topics as a journalist, sports writing remains my main passion and strength.