The Calgary Flames recently visited California, facing off against the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Anaheim Ducks, winning three out of the four games during the trip. They could have collected eight points, but an odd-man rush in overtime in Los Angeles ended their hopes for a clean sweep.
The Flames hobbled into The Golden State, riding another lengthy five-game losing streak. Defeat leaves a sour taste in the mouth; however, it is even worse when those games happen against former players and their new teams. The latest streak started when the Flames dropped a contest against Johnny Gaudreau and the Columbus Blue Jackets before losing three straight to Canadian teams. Moreover, two of these teams — the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks — are beneath them in the standings, which hurt more than the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Furthermore, they dropped an ugly contest to the St. Louis Blues before boarding the plane to head south to California.
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In a year where many believed the Flames would be contenders for the Stanley Cup, they have struggled to string together winning streaks to put themselves in a playoff position. Their recent trip through California couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Edmonton Oilers coming to town for the first game after the Christmas break.
Battle of Alberta Round Three
Fans and hockey lovers across the globe would love to see another Battle of Alberta in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last year, the series did not live up to the hype, with the Flames dismantling the Oilers in game one before rolling over in four straight.
Both franchises made moves in the offseason to keep pace in the Pacific Division. Surprisingly, the Vegas Golden Knights are the team to beat for the top spot. As a non-playoff team last season, the Golden Knights are reigning over the Western Conference, while the Flames and Oilers need help finding a spot in the wild-card standings.
Currently, the Flames and Oilers need help to keep pucks out of the net. Jacob Markstrom is not playing like a Vezina Trophy finalist, while Jack Campbell needs to play more to warrant his $5 million cap hit. Of course, there are more problems than just the goalies; however, it is one of the most important topics when discussing these teams’ struggles.
In the season’s first matchup, the Flames beat the Oilers at Rogers Place before they returned the favor at the Scotiabank Saddledome. At that point, the Flames had a 5-2 record before Connor McDavid eeked out a 3-2 win, thanks to one of the worst-angle goals of his career. After the loss, Markstrom and the Flames spiraled out of control, dropping the next six games for a season-high seven-game losing streak.
The calendar flipped to December, and the losses didn’t stop when the Flames accumulated another five-game losing streak to push them beyond the playoff cutoff with the holiday break fast approaching. The team headed for warmer weather and the opportunity to feast on the worse teams in the league, the Sharks and the Ducks.
The hockey gods couldn’t have planned it any better. Coincidentally, just when the Flames appeared to be down and out, they had four great games to build back their confidence and the swagger that had been missing for much of the season.
Flames Scorers Set Records & Build Confidence
The Flames acquired Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri to lead the team to the playoffs and, eventually, the Stanley Cup. Although it is too early to grade these transactions, the results could have been more impressive. Sadly, Kadri only has 26 points and is minus-five, while Huberdeau has 24 points with just six goals. Furthermore, star players like Elias Lindholm and Rasmus Andersson have taken a step back after career years in 2021-22, showcasing the struggles up and down the lineup.
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In San Jose, Milan Lucic joined the top line (with Huberdeau and Kadri) and scored his first goal. It was an impressive feat, considering he was recently a healthy scratch; however, his inspired play continued into the second game, where he scored again. Later in the trip, he added a few assists to his totals, meaning the big guy still has more to give. Meanwhile, Lindholm scored two goals (19 seconds apart) in the first Sharks game to reach double digits for the ninth straight season. Thanks to a team-leading 21 assists, he’s now the team’s leading scorer with 32 points.
Furthermore, one of the Flames least talked about assets, Tyler Toffoli, collected seven points during the California trip. He had five points in the two San Jose games before earning a point against his former team, the Kings, and setting up the Andersson overtime winner in Anaheim. If there has been one consistent player in the Flames lineup in the 2022-23 season, it has been Toffoli, who has the veteran experience to be a leader on and off the ice.
Post-Christmas Break Flames Playoff Drive
Head coach Darryl Sutter has been busy altering the lineup from game to game. Whether it is switching out Markstrom with Dan Vladar or splitting up his top-line forwards to generate offense, he has yet to find the same successful formula that won a Pacific Division title in 2022.
His early season goal was to have the Flames in a playoff spot at the Christmas break, and thanks to a fantastic trip through California, they currently hold down a wild card spot. However, their biggest test comes Tuesday night when the Oilers come to town for their final meet of the year. There are not enough words to describe how important this contest is for both teams, who are clawing for every point they can earn.
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When analyzing the Flames’ season, many will notice that everything took a turn for the worse with the last loss to their provincial rivals. Right now, riding a wave of momentum, the Flames have to capitalize on an Oilers team looking for an answer themselves. Star players are finally playing to their potential, which could be a significant issue for the Edmonton goalies. There has to be a winner in the Battle of Alberta, and this next game may be a defining moment in the Flames’ season, one they have been building towards over the last ten days.