Well, that was underwhelming.
Heading into what was their biggest week of the year, it looked like the team was moving in the right direction as the Calgary Flames laid a 5-2 drubbing on the Florida Panthers. But when faced with two critical home games against the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers, the Flames laid two eggs in decisive losses.
After starting the month comfortably in a playoff spot, Calgary remains in a wild card spot simply because they’ve played more games than the teams around them. The Vancouver Canucks are only one point back for the final playoff spot with a game in hand, and while the LA Kings are three points behind the Flames, they also hold three games in hand.
As of January 1st, the Flames were only four points back of the Oilers in the Pacific Division, with the easiest portion of the team’s schedule still ahead. Now, having been swept in the season series by Edmonton for the first time in a decade, and posting a 2-4-1 record over the past two weeks, the Flames sit nine points back of the Oilers with no games in hand.
There was plenty of blame to go around in those losses, and some clear changes must be made for the team to find its winning ways again. Yet, somehow, much of the chatter this week has been about the Flames moving a player who barely even saw the ice this week.
A Very, Very Bad Idea
Amid the disastrous season the St. Louis Blues have had in goal and the early struggles Brian Elliott faced, there has been a lot of speculation that the Blues might try to re-acquire the Flames’ netminder.
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) January 18, 2017
Elliott struggled early, posting a 3-9-1 record along with an .885 save percentage and a 3.31 goals against average over the first two months of the season. However, his recovery since the start of December has flown under the radar.
While not exactly Vezina-worthy numbers, Elliott has a 5-2-1 record with a .908 SV% and 2.19 GAA since December 1st – all superior to his counterpart Chad Johnson’s numbers over that time.
By no means does this suggest that Elliott has redeemed himself, or that he is deserving of the number one spot. It is worth keeping in mind though, that between the Flames’ two keepers, Elliott is more proven, and has been the better goalie recently. Meanwhile, Chad Johnson – who has given up seven goals on his past 25 shots – has started more than 30 games just once in his career.
For a team in a tight playoff race, with neither goalie ready take the reins as the starter, it would be foolish for GM Brad Treliving to consider trading either one of their veteran netminders right now.
The way in which the Flames came out flat, spotting 4-0 and 5-0 leads in the last two games, is inexcusable for a team hanging onto a playoff spot. Playing at home – and catching the Oilers on the second leg of a back-to-back – Calgary needed to assert some early pressure on home ice and came up woefully short in both games.
This season, the Flames have started off slow at home too often, which is dumbfounding for a franchise that traditionally prides itself on being tough to beat at home. Only once in the past 10 years has Calgary finished at or below .500 on home ice – something they’re on pace to do this year. At 13-13, the Flames hold the 12th best home record in the Western Conference, and 25th in the NHL in terms of point percentage.
The Flames now head out on a three game eastern road trip before the All-Star weekend begins. Following the break, only four of the team’s February games are at home. With 11 of their next 15 contests coming on the road, head coach Glen Gulutzan had better hope the team can put together a stronger effort away from the Dome than they have at home over recent weeks.
The Week Ahead
This week’s schedule starts with back-to-back games beginning tonight in Toronto against the surging Maple Leafs, followed by a visit to the Bell Centre on Tuesday night to face the Atlantic-leading Montreal Canadiens. While the Habs have been average recently with a rash of injuries and shockingly human play from Carey Price, the team is starting to get healthy again and picking up two points at the Bell Centre on the second leg of a back-to-back will be a tough task for Calgary.
The Flames then finish out their week against the red-hot Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. Having won three of their past four, and scoring 17 goals over that span, the Senators have surged to second place in the Atlantic Division.
With the All-Star break coming this weekend, the Flames will have five days off after their Eastern Canadian swing. Anything less than winning two of three games will mean the Flames go into February on the outside of the playoff picture, and trying to chase down some hot teams in front of them. That’s not where you want to find your team at this time of year.
Calgary-based writer covering all things Flames. Follow me on Twitter @glenneberth