Two weeks after the beginning of the 2012-13 National Hockey League season, the Calgary Flames have one win in six games. Sitting with a 1-3-2 record, and just four of a possible 12 points, the Flames are second-last in the NHL’s standings.
But the club’s win-loss record doesn’t tell the real story. Through six games, the 2012-13 edition of the Calgary Flames is markedly different and in many ways better than their previous incarnations. Here is a brief listing of five reasons why hockey fans shouldn’t write off the Flames just yet.
#1: THE CAPTAIN’S GETTING HELP
Historically, the Calgary Flames’ offense has boiled down to one man: Jarome Iginla.
If you’re an opposition coach, that makes it easy to throw your best shut-down line and target the Flames captain and his line. And while this season, Iginla has stuck with familiar linemates (combinations of Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross) and hasn’t scored a goal, the Flames aren’t sunk.
The reasoning? There are other offensive threats on the team now. The emergence of Mikael Backlund this season and the arrival of Jiri Hudler (from Detroit) and Roman Cervenka (from the KHL) has given the Flames more than one offensive line. The Czech duo’s creativity has given the team’s offense a new dimension.
For example, in Calgary’s 3-2 shootout loss against Detroit, the Flames rolled three primary offensive lines: Mike Cammalleri – Alex Tanguay – Jarome Iginla, Jiri Hudler – Matt Stajan – Roman Cervenka and Curtis Glencross – Mikael Backlund – Lee Stempniak.
And that’s with hot-shot rookie Sven Baertschi on the sidelines with a hip injury.
#2: (SO FAR…) BOUNCE-BACK YEARS FROM KEY PLAYERS
Since being acquired by the Flames for Dion Phaneuf three years ago, and signed to a big contract, Flames fans have rolled their eyes whenever Matt Stajan is mentioned. And since his acquisition at the 2007 NHL Draft, Flames have have hoped and prayed that Mikael Backlund would become a bonafide NHL center and not another first-round flame-out.
So when fans and pundits alike see Stajan taking a quarter of the team’s face-offs (and winning more than half) and anchoring an excellent energy line between Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka – two players brand-new to the team and Bob Hartley’s systems – it shows that perhaps Stajan is better than he’s shown to date.
And after an injury-ravaged 2011-12 season, Mikael Backlund took the summer off to decompress, then headed to Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan league during the NHL lockout. He had a great half-season there and came into Flames training camp a man possessed. That confidence and energy level has translated into Backlund driving the net, being much more aggressive on the fore-check and all-together being a much more complete hockey player.
#3: OUT-CHANCING AND OUT-SHOOTING THEIR OPPONENTS
Through six games, the Flames have played five games where they’ve out-shot their opponents and a single game where they matched the shot output of the other team. For a team that’s been criticized in the past for not generating much offensive pressure, that’s pretty big.
In addition, the team has generated more scoring chances. A lot of them. According to FlamesNation’s scoring chance tallies thus far, Calgary has either out-chanced their opposition or been roughly even in scoring chances in every situation. Overall, the team is well above their opponents in terms of even-strength scoring chances.
Oh, and in terms of giving their opponents chances to make up for that gulf by giving them power-play time, the Flames are doing their best to eliminate those opportunities. After giving the Sharks six power-plays on their opening night, the Flames have averaged 2.6 power-plays against in each subsequent game.
Overall, the team appears to be implementing Bob Hartley’s up-tempo system. They’re not executing at full-steam quite yet, but the implementation is there and it appears to be paired with some strong discipline, as well.
#4: KIPRUSOFF WILL ONLY GET BETTER
Through six games, Miikka Kiprusoff has not been his usual amazing self in Calgary’s net. He’s boasting a less than stellar .859 save percentage. That’s 53rd in the NHL. He’s given up 21 goals over the first six games, an average of 3.42 per game. That’s good enough for 49th out of the NHL’s 61 goalies.
But two general trends can probably point to Kiprusoff’s play (and numbers) recovering. A league-average goaltender generally has a save percentage of .905 or .910. And in the past five seasons, Kiprusoff has posted save percentages of .906, .903, .920, .906 and .921. Even if he ends up at the bottom of his general spectrum of play, that’d be a huge, huge leap ahead from where his numbers are right now.
#5: YOU CAN ONLY BE SO UN-LUCKY
Okay. The Flames have out-shot, out-chanced and, by most measures, really out-played their opposition. Why do they only have a single win to their credit?
They’ve been horrendously, almost tragically, unlucky. Both as individuals and as a collective.
As a team, they’re second in the NHL in shots per game. They’ve improved their face-offs dramatically, going from dead-last in the NHL last year (by a country mile) to middle of the pack. Yet they’ve only got 16 goals-for on 203 shots, a collective shooting percentage of 7.9%. That is un-sustainably low. (They shot 8.9% last season.)
And in terms of individuals, consider a handful of performances. Jarome Iginla has 0 goals on 25 shots. Curtis Glencross has 3 goals on 18 shots. Mikael Backlund has 2 goals on 17 shots (and leads the team with 12 missed shots). Over the course of the season, these guys will start finding the back of the net.
DON’T PANIC (YET)
In a lock-out shortened season, every game matters and is even more important than they would be during an 82-game campaign. If you extrapolate the Flames’ 33% points percentage through a 48-game season, they’ll have a miniscule 32 points and finish well, well below .500.
But to be blunt, it’s been two weeks and six games. The Flames have shown quite a bit of promise, and have actually improved quite a bit over last season.
That said, if another two weeks pass and the same results are coming to pass, then it may be time for drastic measures in the Stampede City.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.