The Calgary Flames haven’t gotten off to a great start in their new era and the other top teams in the division aren’t making it easy for them to repeat as division champions. Last season, the Flames took the division by seven points to the second-place Edmonton Oilers. Only two teams even recorded 100 or more points. The Flames had a dominant season other than a small tough stretch in the middle of the season, which they recovered from.
In 2022-23, the Flames don’t have the early lead like they did last season and have ground to make up on some of their divisional opponents who have gotten off to strong starts. Not only must the Flames play much better to even give them a shot, some of the teams in the Pacific Division have to cool off.
Which Teams the Flames Will Be Fighting with at the Top
Similar to last season, the top-four teams in the division will likely end with the Flames, Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Los Angeles Kings in some order. The Golden Knights, Oilers, and Kings are all ahead of the Flames in the standings right now, but the Kings have a lower win percentage than the Flames. A surprise team near the top of the division is the Seattle Kraken who are 6-4-2 and have a better win percentage than the Flames.
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While the Flames have been busy losing three consecutive games and shuffling lines, the Golden Knights have won six games in a row, the Kraken have won three, and the Oilers just had their five-game win streak snapped. I don’t expect the Kraken to hold their position since their goaltending and defence is below average, but the Golden Knights look like a force to be reckoned with in all aspects of their lineup while the Oilers’ forwards are on a war path.
In the playoffs last season, the Flames got a first-hand look of how dominant the Oilers’ forwards can be. Each team has taken a game early this season and only match-up once more. With the Oilers scoring a ton and rostering the two leading scorers in the league, the Flames’ top players must get out of their early-season slumps. While you’d think the Flames should have a major advantage defensively with the system coach Darryl Sutter runs, the strong defensive unit, and a Vezina-calibre goaltender, they only have 0.05 better goals against per game than the Oilers.
The Golden Knights lead the league in goals against per game and it’s not even close. They’re allowing 1.92 goals against per game while scoring at a higher rate than the Flames. The defence of that team isn’t talked about enough, while Bruce Cassidy is once again proving why he’s one of the best coaches in the league. The team is generally healthy and have been a top competitor in the NHL since their arrival. They’re back and as dominant as ever.
The Kings look average at best. They have a couple of players having great starts, but the goaltending is not where it needs to be. The Flames should be able to pass the Kings soon enough. Calgary has the personnel to go on a long and dominant rest of the season, but they can only control what they do. At the very least they should finish in the top three in the division and earn themselves a trip back to the playoffs.
Flames Must Figure It Out Soon
During the Flames’ losing streak, they have been outscored 12-7. That’s not ideal in terms of goals scored or goals allowed. Two of the teams they lost to are also divisional opponents, which makes their task of fighting back up the standings that much tougher.
The Flames have scored 29 goals and allowed the same number. They have 3.22 goals for and against per game. That ranks them 13th in the league in goals scored and 14th in the NHL in goals against. Though those numbers aren’t horrible, it’s the middle of the pack and not division title-worthy. Last season, they finished seventh in the league in goals, averaging 3.55 per game. Their defensive side of the game was even better, allowing only 2.51 goals against per game, which was third in the NHL. With how their divisional opponents are playing, the Flames will need to rise in the ranks of each to at least the top 10 to be able to repeat as division champions.
Players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm must get going for the offence to succeed like it has in the recent past. Jacob Markstrom and the defence are expected to be the driving factor in the Flames’ success in their own end. They must play up to a higher level. The lines were recently thrown into a blender; it didn’t do much in their first game but give it time. The season is long and the top players can’t struggle this much all season.
The Flames’ schedule doesn’t get any easier soon as they battle the NHL’s third place New Jersey Devils twice in the next five games, the New York Islanders who sit seventh in the league, and the first place Boston Bruins. The Bruins have won seven games in a row while the Devils and Islanders have each won five. This will be no easy task for the Flames to find their game at a time when they desperately need to.