Flames Weekly: Playoff Push on Life Support

Flames Weekly is our series on how the Calgary Flames performed the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for our take on the week that was and to find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let us know how you thought the team performed this past week or to post any other ideas or questions you have about the Flames.

RELATED: Flames Weekly: Slow Week Intensified By Trade

This was definitely an eventful week for the Flames. It kicked off with a trade that shipped the franchise’s highest-ever draft pick to sunny Florida, featured a pair of impressive wins, and finished off with a very untimely display of bad puck luck that helped snap the team’s longest winning streak of the season and may have ultimately closed the door on any realistic playoff aspirations.

Say Bye-Bye to Bennett

Sam Bennett looked to be a sure thing when Brad Treliving selected him 4th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. After a rookie season that featured career highs in both goals (18) and points (36), the polarizing forward has struggled to live up to the hype, only giving us tantalizing glimpses of the player he was projected to be.

Oscar Fantenberg, Richard Bachman, Sam Bennett
Calgary Flames’ Sam Bennett (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Now in his sixth season with the Flames, no. 93 made it abundantly clear he was not happy with his current role. In late January, his agent blindsided the team by asking for a “change of scenery”, so no one was shocked when the GM traded Bennett to the Florida Panthers on Monday for a 2022 second-round pick and Swedish prospect Emil Heineman. I think Treliving received great value for the struggling forward, who was on an expiring contract and was very unlikely to be re-signed. I wish Bennett all the best as he tries to reboot his NHL career with a fresh start.

Shake-up to Forward Lines Pays Huge Dividends

Head coach Darryl Sutter shook up his forward lines before last week’s tilt vs the Edmonton Oilers by breaking up the long-standing duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The results were instantaneous, and the good times kept on rolling in Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Facing off against a recently-traded David Rittich, the new top line of Lindholm-Tkachuk-Gaudreau combined for five points in a convincing 3-2 overtime win.

Calgary Flames' Elias Lindholm
Calgary Flames’ Elias Lindholm scored his 11th of the year Tuesday vs Toronto (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

After two solid wins in a row, the Flames look like they are finally buying into Sutter’s system and are playing some of their best hockey of the season. But have they left his surge of good play too late in the campaign to make a difference? The Athletic recently ran a very interesting simulation that shows exactly how much the Flames’ tenuous playoff hopes ride on completely sweeping the Montreal Canadiens down the stretch. (from “Is there still hope for the Flames to grab that fourth and final North Division playoff spot?” The Athletic, 16/04/2021)

Heading into a crucial two-game set against the Habs, the odds of the Flames sneaking in were practically non-existent, but with a string of wins against the Canadiens in each of their five remaining head-to-head matchups, those odds rise to a respectable 50% chance of reaching the postseason. As they dropped the puck on Wednesday’s game against Montreal, the boys in red knew losing was not an option.

Flames Split Critical Two-Game Set vs Canadiens

Led by an offensive surge by the defencemen, the Flames scored early on a great point shot from Noah Hanifin and never looked back. Now playing with Chris Tanev, Mark Giordano is finally starting the show the form that earned him the Norris trophy in his 2018-19 season. The captain was at the top of the score sheet with a goal and a helper, while his partner finished the night right behind him with two assists. Make the final a convincing 4-1 win for the good guys.

Riding high on a season-best three-game winning streak, the Flames were back at the Bell Centre to face the Canadiens on Friday night for their second tilt in three days. While the visitors kept playing Sutter’s solid, tight-checking game, they just couldn’t catch a break to find the back of the twine. During a three-minute span in the middle of the second frame, the Flames hit the post three times and were completely held off the scoreboard until the six-minute mark of the third period when Lindholm temporarily knotted the game at 1-1. A late goal by Montreal sealed a 2-1 victory, and that just might be the final nail in the coffin for Calgary’s postseason prospects.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

The Flames had a busy week, playing three games in four nights in two different cities. They also traded away a player who was pegged to be their best center since Joe Nieuwendyk and they are suddenly playing their best hockey of the season. So, there’s a lot to unpack and analyze as we look at who made the biggest impression – positive or negative.

  • I think Treliving needs to get the nod as the biggest winner of the week. Many are saying that the return the Flames got for Bennett is quite comparable to the return Buffalo got in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes – which is incredible because Hall is a former NHL MVP and Bennett is… well… Bennett.
  • Congratulations to the team’s fearless leader for marking a major milestone this past week. Giordano scored his 23rd career game-winning goal Wednesday night, passing Al MacInnis for the most among defensemen in Flames franchise history. Well done, El Capitan.
  • Rookie defenceman Juuso Välimäki has been a healthy scratch multiple times in the past couple of weeks and he’s obviously in Sutter’s doghouse. When asked why the young Finn has been watching some games from the press box, the Flames’ bench boss did not mince words: “The skating has to improve. The puck play has to improve. The seeing the game has to improve,” he said. “It’s not just one thing with the Juice. He has lots to work on to become a regular NHLer.” Um… ouch.
  • Welcome back to the land of the living Jacob Markstrom. After starting the season as the undisputed MVP of the team, the netminder’s game completely fell off a cliff. The big Swede had a terrible stretch of hockey, playing at a sub .880 save percentage (SV%) before bouncing back during the Flames’ three-game winning streak with one shutout, three goals allowed and a .957 SV%. Very nice.

The Week Ahead

The Flames are in for another crucial week as they desperately try to salvage the 2020-21 season. Tonight, they square off at home against a feisty Ottawa Senators team that has given them all kinds of trouble, all season long. Then after a three-day break, they host back-to-back contests against the team they are trying to catch, the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m already on the record stating the team should go into full tank mode, but if the Habs lose a couple of games against the Oilers this week, those two contests against Montreal on Friday and Saturday could be the most important of the year. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but go Oilers?

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