If it wasn’t clear before their last two games, the Calgary Flames are good. After their 10-game winning streak was snapped by the Vancouver Canucks last Thursday, they had two tough games, both against the Minnesota Wild.
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The Wild are considered one of the better teams in the Western Conference and for good reason. With talents up-front like Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, they won’t be an easy out for any team come the postseason. With that being said, the Flames rolled over them with relative ease, outscoring the Wild 12-4 in their mini two-game series. With these statement wins after a notable winning streak, many are asking if the Flames are a Stanley Cup contender?
Flames Need Improvements
Before we get into the good (of which there is plenty), we need to address the one concern. Their play against divisional opponents hasn’t been great. Through 14 games against Pacific Division teams, they have a subpar 7-6-1 record. The best are the Edmonton Oilers, who in 16 games versus teams in their division have a 13-3-0 record.
This is something that should change as the season goes on and the Flames continue to prove they are a great team. Nonetheless, they will need to get through their division if they hope to go on a lengthy playoff run. With that being said, there are plenty of positives to take away from this group right now.
Top Contender in the Pacific
According to preseason projections, most had the Flames as a bubble playoff team in what was expected to be a weak division. In fairness, the Pacific has been the weakest of the four though the Flames have been far from a bubble team. Not only do their 70 points lead the Pacific, but teams that were expected to be at the top, like the Vegas Golden Knights and Oilers, trail them by six and seven points, respectively, while having played two more games each.
Though the Oilers are in a fight for the final wild-card position, they should make the playoffs simply based on the fact that they have two of the game’s greatest talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Regardless of whether or not that happens, however, it appears many were wrong in thinking they were a better team than the Flames.
Like the Oilers, the Golden Knights are also likely to make the postseason, though they haven’t come close to running away with the division like many expected. Even with Jack Eichel returning to their lineup, they have struggled with consistency and are not as good as the Flames are right now.
Flames Among the Best in the West
It could be argued that besides the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary is the best team in the Western Conference. They are tied for second in the conference with the St. Louis Blues, with an identical 32-14-6 record.
Some questioned whether hiring Darryl Sutter would hurt the team offensively, but that has been far from the case. They have scored 182 goals this season, ranked fourth in the West, trailing only the Avalanche, Wild and Blues. Where they have really excelled, however, and in big part due to Sutter, is their defensive play. Their 125 goals against leads the NHL. Thanks to the great defensive systems as well as the play of potential Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom, the Flames have a goal differential of plus-57, which is second to only the Avalanche in the West.
The Flames also have some of the best talents in the West. Johnny Gaudreau, who is having the best season of his career, ranks fourth in the conference with 67 points, trailing only McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nazem Kadri. Markstrom on the other hand ranks second in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.927) amongst netminders in the West, trailing only Ville Husso of the Blues.
There is also the emergence of Andrew Mangiapane, which has helped the Flames improve this season. His 28 goals rank sixth amongst players in the West, while Matthew Tkachuk’s 27 tallies are tied with several others for seventh.
Calgary Finally a Complete Team
In the past, we have seen the Flames put together a solid regular season only to see them choke come playoff time. Sure, that could happen again, but it feels much less likely with this group – the most complete roster they have had in some time.
Some may point to the 2018-19 roster – when the Flames led the West with 107 points – as being their best team in recent memory. While they clicked that season, they were lacking a number one goaltender. With Markstrom, they have not just a number one, but one of the NHL’s elite. That alone makes them a better team than in 2018-19 when they were relying on a tandem of Mike Smith and David Rittich.
They also have Sutter behind the bench, whose roster has fully bought into his systems, and he is a better coach than they had in 2018-19 with Bill Peters. There are other players, such as Tyler Toffoli and Blake Coleman, who add certain elements the team has been lacking in the past. With these changes, paired with the way their top players are performing, the Flames are a true contender with a legitimate shot at a run to the Stanley Cup Final.