Everyone knew these two games against the Ottawa Senators were must-win games. Everyone knew the Sens’ injury woes forced them to start a 22-year-old rookie netminder with zero NHL games under his belt. Everyone knew the Calgary Flames had to finally take advantage of playing the worst team in the division to try and save their season. By now, everyone knows they did the exact opposite, dropping heartbreaking back-to-back losses in the nation’s capital this week.
Flames Offence Dries Up at the Worst Possible Time
After getting shutout 2-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, the Flames were really hoping a change of scenery would cure what ailed their flailing offence. And who better to face than a rookie goalie making his NHL debut, backed up by a young, inexperienced team that is last in the league at stopping goals? Instead of feasting on the Senators on Monday, the boys in red couldn’t solve young Filip Gustavsson until late in the third period, when Johnny Gaudreau finally broke the team’s 75-minute scoreless streak with a beautiful breakaway goal.
That briefly tied things up at 1-1, but a late defensive breakdown cost the Flames a chance to secure at least the single point, and they lost the game 2-1. To make matters worse, Rasmus Andersson showed very poor judgement and a complete lack of sportsmanship when he tried to steal the game puck before the Senators could give it to their rookie goaltender on the night of his first NHL win. That made yesterday’s rematch even more important to try and save face and salvage at least two points in the crucial two-game set.
You would think the Flames would play desperation-style hockey with their entire season on the line, but instead, the team struggled mightily to get many high danger chances. Once again, they could only muster a single goal, and once again, late defensive letdowns allowed the Senators to secure a 3-1 victory in regulation. They’re now 2-4-1 in seven games vs. the Sens this season, posting a 1-4-0 record at the Canadian Tire Centre while being outscored 19-10. Calgary has now lost three straight, finishing their four-game road trip 1-3-0. I truly think this latest setback was the final nail in the coffin in a very frustrating 2020-21 season.
Where do the Flames Go From Here?
When Darryl Sutter took over the team, he was tasked with lighting a fire under an underperforming group, saving the season and preparing this squad for a playoff run. After an impressive 3-0 start in the Sutter 2.0 era, the team has definitely regressed. Calgary was one game under .500 when the rancher from Viking, Alberta, took over the Flames, and after eight games under the new head coach, they are right back where they started – one game under .500.
Let’s dive into the numbers. After 34 regular-season games, the Flames sit at a very mediocre 15-16-3, four points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot, with the Habs enjoying three games at hand. Many NHL pundits agree that it will take a minimum of 65 points to make the postseason, and with only 22 games left in Calgary’s schedule, that is a very tall order. The Flames would need to go 16-6 the rest of the way, posting a .727 winning percentage. For an incredibly inconsistent team struggling to stay near .500, I’m just going to come out and say it – they won’t do it.
Don’t Expect Big Changes Before the Trade Deadline
With many teams reluctant to make trades with numerous COVID-19 restrictions in place, it doesn’t make sense for the Flames to try and make a big splash before the April 12 trade deadline. It would be prudent to simply ride out the rest of the year with the current roster and wait until the summer to start wheeling and dealing. Once the July 21 Seattle Expansion Draft is over and done with, look for general manager Brad Treliving to make some bold moves at the NHL draft on July 23-24. Right after that, free agency opens up on July 28, and we could see even more big signings.
While the Flames’ players, coaches and management will all publicly tell us they haven’t given up on the current season, I feel they have to see the writing on the wall. If the current slide continues, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of prospects promoted from the AHL Stockton Heat in the coming weeks. Having the likes of Matthew Philips and Adam Ruzicka audition with the big club would certainly give the Flames more clarity as they devise a plan for a major roster shakeup before the 2021-22 season.
Listen, if I’m wrong about this and the Flames suddenly wake up and go on an epic run to make the playoffs, I’ll happily eat all of the crows in the world. But I don’t think I’m wrong.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and Facebook.