Well then, chalk that road trip down as a success.
One week ago today, the Calgary Flames were clinging onto a playoff spot, and just hoping to come out of a four-game southern U.S. road trip still in the same spot.
Now, after going 4-0-0 this week, the team woke up this morning finding themselves sitting pretty in the Western Conference playoff race. In fact, the Flames are now closer to second place in the Pacific Division than they are to being out of the playoffs.
Sure, the LA Kings and St. Louis Blues both have two games in hand on Calgary, but the Flames took care of their own business on this road trip, and head into a critical Tuesday night game against those Kings firing on all cylinders.
Gaudreau Returning to Form?
One of those cylinders that hadn’t been firing for the Flames for some time now was their offensive leader, Johnny Gaudreau. Having not scored in a month, Gaudreau had clearly been squeezing the stick more and more each game, and it had begun to result not only in his dried up offense, but costly turnovers and a whole lot of whiffs on the puck.
Thankfully, he threw the gorilla off his back on Sunday night with a two goal, one assist performance in a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. And boy did he look relieved to do it.
Gaudreau's first goal in a month, but it was a nice one.
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) February 26, 2017
Gaudreau needs to be scoring, it’s that simple. When Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund go through cold streaks offensively, it’s usually tolerable because they contribute in so many other ways to the team as 200-foot centers.
With Johnny Gaudreau, however, he frankly does one thing extremely well, but isn’t exactly known to stand out in too many other ways. So if he’s unable to score, it’s a major blow to the team, and everyone notices.
It was absolutely crucial for him to find his offensive touch again, and – if Sunday night is any indication – he may just be primed to go on a run at just the right time.
The Top-Six Solution
Beyond the team’s biggest weapon returning to form, the Flames saw a flicker of hope this week from an area the team has been sorely lacking in for most of the year – secondary scoring.
With the 3M line clicking all season, the search has been on all year for another top-six forward alongside Gaudreau and Monahan.
Troy Brouwer has received the lion’s share of the chances with that line, and has frankly not lived up to expectations (or his salary). Alex Chiasson has been another mainstay in that group, but – surely to everyone’s surprise – the career fourth-liner has ended up to looking like, well, a fourth-liner.
But, thankfully, an answer may have arrived in Michael Ferland. While it’s certainly not his first kick at the can in a top six role, he’s now scored three goals in his past four games and is clearly looking comfortable alongside Monahan and Gaudreau.
It might not be a coincidence that Gaudreau has begun to bust out of his slump with Ferland joining his line. If he can keep up the pace, and Troy Brouwer can do more with easier minutes in the bottom six, the secondary scoring issues that have plagued this team could get a shot in the arm.
The Week Ahead
After returning from a successful road trip, the Flames will spend this week at home as they begin a stretch where they play eight of their next nine contests on Saddledome ice.
Tuesday night’s clash with the LA Kings headlines a week that will also see Calgary host the Detroit Red Wings on Friday before the New York Islanders come to town for a Sunday matinee.
A victory against the Kings tomorrow night would give the Flames an eight-point cushion in the playoff race, and make for a tough road ahead for LA and their new goaltender, Ben Bishop.
— NHL (@NHL) February 27, 2017
The success of the past week has also somewhat overshadowed the fact that the trade deadline is coming this Wednesday. Having already acquired Michael Stone last week, the Flames aren’t expected to be too active over the next couple of days, but we could see them bring in another forward to boost their offense down the stretch.
We’ll have to wait and see if this team looks any different come Wednesday, but first thing’s first: getting ready for LA’s best tomorrow night.
Calgary-based writer covering all things Flames. Follow me on Twitter @glenneberth