The Calgary Flames opened their 2022-23 season with a 5-3 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche. The game marked the first time since 2009 that the team walked away from a season opener with a victory. For many years, the Flames had the unwanted distinction of owning the longest losing streak when it came to season openers. After Thursday night, they passed the torch to the Arizona Coyotes, who recently extended their losing streak to six seasons after a 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Flames have been building toward another Stanley Cup run for several seasons, hoping to claim their second championship. Yet, when it’s time for the team to line up for the first time, they stumble out of the gate. Even though it is only one game and two points, these opening nights can create bad habits and destroy any momentum gained during the preseason. The commentators pointed out the Flames ended a 12-season losing streak with a victory, but research will show that this trend goes further back than just 2009.
A Step Back (In Time) Into Flames History
When the Flames made their home in Atlanta for eight seasons, 1972-1980, they started a franchise-defining trend by winning only two of their first eight season openers. The team bookended their time in the south by winning their first game in 1972 (New York Islanders) and their last season opener in 1979 (Quebec Nordiques). Between those season-opening games, the team was streaky, earning ties in 1973 and 1974, followed by back-to-back losses in 1975 and 1976, before two more ties in 1977 and 1978. The Flames finished their tenure in the Georgia capital with just a 25 percent winning percentage on opening nights.
After the team settled in southern Alberta, the streaky trend continued. The Calgary Flames ended their first game in a 5-5 tie against the Nordiques in 1980 before a 1-1 tie against the Vancouver Canucks in 1981. They lost to the Edmonton Oilers in 1982 (7-5) before finally earning their first season opener victory in 1983 against the Canucks (5-3). At this point in franchise history, the team had played 11 season openers and only earned three victories.
The St. Louis Blues beat them to open the 1984-85 season, but after that loss, the Flames put together their first winning streak. Victories over the Winnipeg Jets (1985), Boston Bruins (1986), and Detroit Red Wings (1987) provided the team with much-needed momentum as they embarked on some of the best seasons in club history. Furthermore, they became the best team in the league in 1986 and lost in the Stanley Cup Final that season, but those moments were just the beginning.
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After a tie with the Islanders to open the 1988 season, the Flames had their best season opener by outdueling the Red Wings in a 10-7 shootout in 1989. They also earned their second Presidents’ Trophy and their only championship that year. Moreover, the streaky habits returned with wins over the Canucks in 1990 and the Oilers in 1991 before a loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 1992.
Flames’ Historically Bad Record on Opening Night
The Flames beat the Islanders 2-1 in 1993, which turned out to be their final season opener win of the 1990s. Losses and ties to expansion teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning (October 1995) and San Jose Sharks (1998, 1999), as well as rivals like the Jets (January 1995), Canucks (1996), and Red Wings (1997, 2000) plagued the team who struggled to qualify for the playoffs from 1996 to 2003.
To open the 2001-02 season, the Flames beat their provincial rivals, the Oilers, 1-0, putting to bed a winless streak that extended seven seasons. However, the moment was short-lived as the team dropped the following six season openers to the Canucks (2002, 2003, 2008), Minnesota Wild (2005), Oilers (2006), and Philadelphia Flyers (2007), challenging their team record for consecutive losses on opening night.
On Oct. 1st, 2009, the Flames hosted the Canucks to start the new NHL season. Thanks to goals from Mark Giordano, Rene Bourque, Adam Pardy, Brandon Prust, and Dion Phaneuf, they outlasted their rivals and earned just their 10th season-opening win in 29 years since relocation. The win was just their second in the new century and their fifth since being crowned Stanley Cup champions in 1989.
Since that October night in 2009, the Flames have shattered all their records by dropping 12 consecutive season openers from 2010 to 2022. There were a few close games amongst the bunch and a handful of shutouts and blowouts. During this time, the Flames dropped contests against the Oilers (2010, 2016, 2017, 2021), Pittsburgh Penguins (2011), Sharks (2012), Washington Capitals (2013), Canucks (2014, 2015, 2018), Avalanche (2019), and Jets (January 2021). The Oilers collected two shutouts in 2010 and 2017, while the Canucks earned a 5-1 victory in 2015, the worst goal differential of the losing streak. Meanwhile, in 2013, the Flames and Capitals went to a shootout; however, two failed attempts cost them the game and extended the streak.
Final Analysis of Flames’ Season Openers
The Flames organization turns 50 this season. Throughout their eight seasons in Atlanta and 42 in Calgary, the team has won just 13 of their season openers (outscored 183-154), equalling a 26 percent win percentage on a night meant for celebration. These openers serve as a clean slate, a chance for new beginnings. Moreover, opening night should be a great time for the fans and the organization, whether it’s new players, a new coaching staff, or a new facility. However, given their history with these moments, the Flames never seem to turn the page, building upon their reputation as one of the worst teams to start a regular season.
As a team on the verge of success, perceptions may have changed last night with a win over the Avalanche. The core, centered around Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, and Jacob Markstrom, is poised to shake off the club’s history in these moments and rewrite the streaks in their favor. Three years from now, we could be talking about a four-game winning streak on opening night, which would be a new club record and a moment that many players would be happy to share.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.