This is why predictions are useless.
Just a couple of weeks ago, it looked all but certain that the San Jose Sharks would win the Pacific Division, with a battle being waged between the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames for the second and third place spots.
Now, with the Sharks mired in six-game losing streak and the Ducks having won eight of their past 10, how this division will play out over the next couple of weeks is now a complete mystery.
Sure, the Flames have all but locked up a playoff spot, but where exactly Calgary will finish and who they will end up facing in the first round is impossible to predict.
If they stay put in the first wild card spot or crack the top three of the Pacific, the Flames will play one of their division rivals in the Sharks, Ducks, or (gasp) Oilers. But, after dropping two of three on their road trip this week, the team is now also looking over their shoulders. The red-hot St. Louis Blues occupy the second wild card spot and sit only two points back of the Flames, while holding a game in hand.
Falling behind the Blues would all but guarantee a first round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks. No thank you.
Dougie’s on a Roll
With nine points in 11 games this month, Dougie Hamilton is continuing to elevate his game more and more as the season wears on.
Hamilton joined this team with lofty expectations following the trade that saw him come to Calgary from the Boston Bruins in the summer of 2015. Tasked with helping to improve the team’s struggling possession numbers, and ideally become the heir-apparent to Mark Giordano as he enters the later stages of his career, there have always been high hopes for the young rearguard.
After a first season that had its share of ups and downs, Hamilton has clearly taken the next step in his second year with the club. Quietly, he’s emerged as one of the league’s better defenders this season.
With 12 goals and 48 points on the year, Hamilton sits sixth among all defenseman in scoring. Couple that with a 55.1 Corsi percentage and +6.8 Corsi relative to his teammates, and you get a sense of how Hamilton is dominating in all phases of the game.
While he might not yet be in the Norris trophy conversation, especially considering the seasons that Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are having, Hamilton is starting to push himself into the conversation of the league’s top defenders. With Giordano heading into his mid-30s, the timing couldn’t be better.
With the Colorado Avalanche coming into town on Monday, Sam Bennett now finds himself centering the fourth line between Lance Bouwma and Alex Chiasson. This is, frankly, a bit confusing.
There’s no doubt that the former third overall pick has had his struggles this season, but is moving Bennett to a pure energy line the solution to the team’s problems in the bottom six?
Bennett was drafted as a player with some bite, but he was first and foremost brought in to be an offensive, top-six forward. There was already an argument to be made that the third line was not a good fit for him and that both he and the team would have been better served with Bennett in the top six, getting more offensive opportunities. Now, centering the fourth line, it’s going to be hard to expect any resurgence of offense from him.
Unfortunately, Bennett’s play and production haven’t exactly earned him an increased opportunity, and the combination of Matthew Tkachuk’s excellent rookie campaign with the team’s dire shortage of center depth leaves Bennett stuck playing a position he likely shouldn’t be at this point in his career.
Time will tell where and how Bennett fits into this lineup long-term, but it’s almost certainly not at fourth line center. With five goals on the season, it’s not as though Matt Stajan is likely to bring any more offense to the third line, so it’s hard to imagine this is a move designed to boost the offense. If it’s a motivation tactic for Bennett, though, it sure is a curious one.
One way or another, the team needs to find a way to get Bennett unstuck. The long-term solution likely involves searching for help down the middle this summer, but the short-term fix is still a mystery.
The Week Ahead
Following a road trip that saw the Flames drop consecutive games for the first time in nearly two months, the team kicks off their last home stand of the year on Monday against the unfathomably awful Avalanche. In a tight division race, this is a game the Flames absolutely must win if they want to keep pace with the rest of the pack in the Pacific.
The Avalanche have one road win since the start of 2017 and are a full 20 points back of the second last team in the NHL. It’s not pretty in Denver, so with only a handful of games remaining, the Flames have no excuse for not showing up tonight.
— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) March 27, 2017
Should the team pick up the win against Colorado, Calgary would be able to clinch a playoff spot with a win on Wednesday against the LA Kings, before a pivotal matchup with the Sharks on Friday night.
A couple of wins this week means everyone can dust off the car flags and start concentrating on who the Flames might face in round one of the playoffs. Here’s hoping it’s not Chicago. Or Anaheim.
Calgary-based writer covering all things Flames. Follow me on Twitter @glenneberth