THE STATS LINE
37-29-16 record [17th overall (in points percentage)]
2.43 goals-for per game [24th overall]
2.65 goals-against per game [14th overall]
17.7% power-play success rate [13th overall]
84.3% penalty-kill success rate [9th overall]
46.2% in the face-off circle [30th overall]
Finished 5 points out of 8th spot in the Western Conference
THE WEEK THAT WAS
- April 5: Finally officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Flames began the audition process for next season with a game against the Vancouver Canucks. In a surprisingly spirited affair, the Flames got up to a 3-1 lead and held on for a 3-2 victory. Mike Cammalleri scored twice and Curtis Glencross had the other goal. Rookie Akim Aliu, fresh from a call-up from AHL Abbotsford, had an assist.
- April 7: In their final game of the season, the Flames beat the visiting Anaheim Ducks soundly 5-2. The Ducks came out flat and the Flames made them pay. Akim Aliu was the difference-maker, drawing a whole bunch of penalties with his crash-and-bang play and scoring twice, albeit with very weird goals that either bounced off of the opposition defenders or his hockey pants. Either way, they all count the same.
FLAMES FINISH STRONG, WORSEN DRAFT POSITION
The final three days of the 2011-12 season was filled with highs and lows for the Calgary Flames.
The bad news was that the oft-injured Flames could not catch a break and decided to shut down forwards David Moss and Alex Tanguay due to some injuries. However, their injuries allowed Lance Bouma and AHL call-up Akim Aliu to slot into the line-up. The inclusion of the duo, particularly the truculent Aliu – a native of Nigeria – added a particular grit to the line-up.
The good news is that the added grit worked. The Flames won their final two games, beating their hated rivals from Vancouver 3-2 and the lowly Anaheim Ducks 5-2. Akim Aliu’s inclusion on the second line alongside Mike Cammalleri and Matt Stajan worked wonders; Aliu and Cammalleri each had three points over the two games, which was enough to push the club over the top. Not bad for Aliu, a pending restricted free agent essentially auditioning for a future contract.
The bad news? The four points earned from the final two games pushed the Flames into the 17th position overall in the NHL. Y’know, the highest non-playoff spot. The Flames hold the dubious distinction of being better than all of the non-playoff clubs, but worse than all of the playoff teams. As such, Calgary is likely to draft 14th overall. Had they gained zero points this week, they would have been drafting 11th overall, so their success gained them very little and cost them three draft positions.
The week cemented the team’s reputation as being the most average team in hockey. They aren’t very good at being good, and they aren’t really good at being bad. As such, they are stuck in what THW’s Chris Ralph described as “purgatory” – a frustrating world in-between the NHL’s elite and terrible. And for the third straight season, the Flames are stuck trying to figure their way out of this prison they’ve found themselves in.
But more on that in the weeks to come.
CALL-UPS COME THROUGH ALL SEASON LONG
While the Flames NHL club is done for the year, their American Hockey League affiliate officially qualified for the playoffs with a pair of wins over the weekend over the Charlotte Checkers.
Headed by coach Troy Ward, the Abbotsford Heat set a franchise record with 40 wins and has been besieged with even more roster turn-over than the Flames have. While Calgary has juggled 40 bodies during the season, the Heat have used 49 different players due to injuries and call-ups. Moreover, due to the AHL’s development rule, Ward and his coaching staff have had to cycle veterans in and out of the line-up frequently, all while usually missing a handful of regular players.
That said, not only has Ward’s team made the playoffs, the preparation they received in the AHL allowed them to slot into Calgary’s line-up and stay in the playoff hunt until the very end of the NHL season.
How did the Heat’s hired guns fare in the big league? Here’s a short snapshot.
- Starting netminder Leland Irving jumped in when Henrik Karlsson blew out his knee in December. He went 1-3-3 in sporadic duty behind Miikka Kiprusoff, playing all-but-one of his starts after the Flames had played the night before in a different city.
- Sent down from Calgary the year before for not having amazing defensive-zone awareness, T.J. Brodie returned to the big club after Anton Babchuk was injured and never returned to the AHL. Brodie played well enough that he’s almost a lock for the NHL roster next season.
- Signed in the off-season in a depth move, Clay Wilson came up while the Flames were rather injury-riddled and played well in a bottom-pairing role. He returned to the AHL and was named to the league’s season-ending Second All-Star Team. He’s on a one-way contract next season and his short audition should give the club confidence in his abilities.
- Acquired in the off-season from the New York Rangers, 20-year-old Roman Horak started out with Calgary and bounced between the bigs and the AHL, ultimately spending two-thirds of the year with the Flames. He proved to be a very competent bottom-six presence and has been counted upon in multiple roles for the Heat down the stretch.
- Much like Brodie, forward Lance Bouma built upon a brief NHL stint in 2010-11 with a very effective showing this season. An agitating checker, Bouma made life miserable for opposition players alongside Tim Jackman, Tom Kostopoulos and others. He’ll likely factor into the big club’s roster long-term.
- A tad undersized, the speedy Paul Byron turned heads with his dangling skills. His penalty shot goal on Valentine’s Day against the Toronto Maple Leafs may have made brass fall in love with him.
FINAL INJURY SUMMARY
On the whole, the Flames suffered 391 man-games lost (for an average of 4.7 players on the sidelines per game).
David Moss (50), Mikael Backlund (40), Brett Carson (30), Derek Smith (29), Henrik Karlsson (25), Anton Babchuk (24), Mark Giordano (21), Lee Stempniak (21), Blair Jones (19), Alex Tanguay (18), Matt Stajan (15), Curtis Glencross (15), T.J. Brodie (14), Brendan Morrison (14), Chris Butler (13), Lance Bouma (9), Mike Cammalleri (9), Tim Jackman (6), Raitis Ivanans (5), Scott Hannan (4), Blake Comeau (4), Cory Sarich (4), Rene Bourque (1) and Krys Kolanos (1).
Being without Moss and Backlund for basically the entire season may have factored into one of the reasons why the Flames lost: they were on their heels for much of their games. Moss and Backlund were, according to FlamesNation’s Kent Wilson, two of the best players in driving play (measured by shot differential while they’re on the ice). Take them out and it’s down to fourth-liner Tim Jackman to get things done.
Based on this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Backlund re-signed for next season. Playing against some stiff competition, he was still able to out-shoot the opposition.
DISPATCHES FROM THE FARM
- AHL: Abbotsford clinched a playoff spot! They have won five straight games, despite missing starting goalie Leland Irving, whose wife had a baby on Thursday. The Heat will close out the regular season next weekend and try to clinch home ice when they play the Toronto Marlies in Abbotsford. Krys Kolanos continues to be excellent, scoring 10 points over the last three games.
- WHL: Coming out of the weekend, it’s good and bad for Flames prospects. Edmonton leads Brandon 2 games to none, bolstered by the strong goaltending of Laurent Brossoit (6-0, 1.83 goals against average). Brandon’s Michael Ferland has five points in six games. Meanwhile, Portland leads Kamloops 2 games to none. Sven Baertschi still has his scoring touch, totalling an amazing 17 points over a mere six playoff games.
- NCAA: Boston College won the NCAA Championship! The Eagles beat Minnesota 6-1 on Thursday and Ferris State 4-1 on Saturday night. Johnny Gaudreau had three points over the two games, while Bill Arnold had two assists. Gaudreau capped off the national championship game with a very, very nice goal.
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.