Flames Are Running Out of Time

Two weeks. Seven games. That’s all the time left before the NHL Trade Deadline and, honestly, the Calgary Flames should forget trading for a top-six forward. They should forget adding another veteran blue-liner, for that matter. Those additions might mitigate some tangible needs on the depth chart, sure, but they won’t help the areas where the Flames really need help…their overall consistency and compete level.

The Flames have a 16-10-2 record under interim head coach Geoff Ward and are tentatively in a playoff position. Still, Ward called his players out after their poor performance during a recent three-game losing streak. While the coaching change sparked the team at first, it’s clear that something more needs to be done to jump-start this group who are teetering treacherously on the edge of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Geoff Ward Calgary Flames
Geoff Ward, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Pacific Division race is so close that a win on any given night could elevate a team to the top of the division, while a loss could put them on the outside of the playoff picture. It’s a big ‘if’, but if the Flames can turn it on at the right time, they should be a playoff team, at least on paper. Still, the fact that they are in the middle of this ‘all-or-nothing’ game of musical chairs and even with a fleeting chance to capture a second division title in a row, the question remains: where would they be if they played to their full potential?

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

The Flames are having a harder time scoring goals this season, ranked 23rd in the NHL with 155. They also have the worst goal differential of any Pacific Division playoff team, and it’s not close with a minus-16 differential. The next closest teams are the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes at plus-3.

Rasmus Andersson Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

With the deadline looming, the addition of a top-six winger has been a popular line of thinking to boost the flickering Flames offense, but it’s not just the forwards that need an Ovechkin-like shot in the arm. The blue line has been a shadow of its former self offensively this season. In terms of point production, they have not come close to repeating the group success from 2018-19 when the Flames defensemen combined for 198 points, compared to 91 points combined this season.

Giordano Injury a Good Thing?

The team hailed it as “good news” when they announced that captain Mark Giordano would not require surgery on his torn hamstring. It means his recovery time is week-to-week, rather than season-ending. Without their best offensive defenseman in the lineup, the Flames have a gaping hole in that regard.

Mark Giordano Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Giordano leads all Flames D-men with 27 points (5 goals, 22 assists) and even though the reigning Norris Trophy winner has had a drop off in production, the next closest defensemen are Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin with 15 points each. Giordano logs a lot of minutes too, which means everyone will need to step up and play a bigger role in his absence.

Sometimes, when a star player gets injured, the team rallies and uses it as motivation – just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins after Sidney Crosby got hurt. Other players tend to elevate their game and take a simplified approach, focusing on the details of their game and working as a team to weather the storm. It would be beneficial for Calgary to see what they are made of as a group. They are 1-1-0 without Giordano and are coming off an impressive 6-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Consistency Is the Key

Consistency is the most difficult part of being a professional hockey player. Providing an elite level of effort night in and night out is a tough task, but it is what winning teams do to be successful. If anything, the Flames have been consistently inconsistent this season and the trend isn’t fading out. A big win over their division rivals snapped a three-game losing streak over the weekend, but an effort like we saw on Saturday night against the Canucks is far from the team’s status quo.

Goaltending has probably been the most reliable part of the Flames’ season to this point. Both David Rittich and Cam Talbot have offered up honest goaltending more often than not, but they have started to slip a little.

Cam Talbot Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY)

Rittich is the team’s starter. The All-Star netminder carried the Flames through the first half of the season and while he was putting up decent numbers, he has had struggled since. The disparity between backup Cam Talbot’s stats (7-8-1 record), and Rittich’s (21-14-5) may be closer than it seems. Talbot has played 19 games this season, with a 2.72 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (Sv%) while Rittich has a 2.86 GAA and a .908 Sv% in 40 games.

An Important Stretch of Games

The Flames’ schedule prior to the deadline can be looked at in different ways. In their next seven games, they will only play one legitimate playoff team (Boston Bruins) while the rest of their opponents dwell in the basement of their respective divisions. However, the Flames have a three-game stretch through California which has historically been difficult and, unfortunately, they have often had trouble getting up for ‘lesser’ teams, losing games they should win, like in Ottawa against the Senators just prior to the All-Star break.

It’s crunch time and if they win five of seven games prior to the deadline, it would make it easier for management to pull the trigger on a trade and make improvements to the roster. Even with their inconsistencies, the Flames are on the list of teams worthy of the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, however, the ambiguous way they have played doesn’t instill confidence that there will be a division championship banner, let alone a Stanley Cup banner, hanging from the rafters in 2019-20. If the Flames fail to live up to their former Western Conference champion selves and skid through this next stretch of games, we might be talking about Calgary selling at the deadline, rather than buying.