Flames’ Strength of Schedule Will Make Playoff Race Very Close

The 2022-23 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Calgary Flames who had hoped to be fighting for the division and conference lead. Instead, they have lacked in many areas of their game this season and are fighting for their playoff lives from outside of the playoff picture. The team sits four points back of the final wildcard spot, but has only three wins in the past 10 games. There is still hope for them yet as they have the easiest remaining strength of schedule among any team in the NHL.

The Flames just suffered a bad loss to the 29th ranked Anaheim Ducks 3-1, but still only have six more matchups against playoff teams in their remaining 16 games. There’s a hope that the easiest remaining schedule can translate to wins, but things have not been great this season. After their defeat to the Ducks, they set an NHL record for most losses in a season when outshooting their opponent by 10 or more shots (19). Dominating their opponents, especially weak ones, and not being able to convert their chances, means nothing if they can’t get the two points.

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Lucky for the Flames, the Winnipeg Jets’ horrible stretch has given them the opportunity to keep pace with a playoff team. The Jets only have two wins in the last 11 games and don’t have as easy of a schedule with seven playoff teams remaining on their schedule, fewer bottom-feeders, and elite opponents like the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, and New Jersey Devils (from ‘Paul Friesen: Pressure mounts as Jets’ tailspin continues,’ Winnipeg Sun 03/07/23). There’s still hope for the Flames in a season that seemed like it could be written off. Let’s dive into the remaining opponents the Flames must win and how they can turn their fortune.

Who the Flames Face & How They Match Up

The Flames have 16 games remaining in the 2022-23 season and all should be considered must-wins. They don’t have the advantage in points or games played heading down the stretch. But what they do have is easier opponents than anyone else. They play six games against bottom-five opponents, which equals their games against teams in a playoff spot at the moment. The remaining four games are against mediocre teams below them in the standings.

The six games against playoff teams are as follows:

  • Vegas Golden Knights (2)
  • Los Angeles Kings (2)
  • Dallas Stars
  • Winnipeg Jets
Calgary Flames Celebrate
Calgary Flames Celebrate a Goal (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though the games against their divisional opponents in playoff positioning are key, the Flames are also too far back to catch the Golden Knights or Kings at this point. As for the Jets, that is the most must-win game of their season coming in the fourth-last game of the season. The Flames have a record of 5-1-2 against these four opponents thus far this season, which is very hopeful.

Now, let’s look at the bottom-feeders the Flames have the pleasure of playing down the stretch:

  • Anaheim Ducks (2)
  • San Jose Sharks (2)
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Chicago Blackhawks

In terms of the record against these bottom-five teams, the Flames are 5-2-1, which is still pretty good. The Flames will have to forget their last loss to the Ducks and win the final two. All of these teams sold at the deadline and are worse than the previous matchups. On paper, the Flames should have no problem handling them and squeezing lots of points out of these ideal matchups.

Flames Must Start Converting Chances to Goals & Wins

I brought up the NHL record the Flames set that isn’t one they necessarily wanted to land on this season. They have shown the ability to get pucks on net and get chances, so at least they aren’t being too cute and waiting for the perfect opportunity to shoot. At a certain point, their conversion rate has to come back to the mean and more goals will start going in. There isn’t a lot of time left for that to start happening, but it’s not nearly too late just yet.

The struggles of their own goalies aside, the lack of offence has been a very clear issue all season. Brad Treliving didn’t really address that at the trade deadline, and arguably for a good reason. The Flames haven’t shown him that they can turn things around down the stretch in the most meaningful games of the season and push into the playoffs. The Flames acquired Nick Ritchie as the scoring help while there were many more great scorers on the market this season. He has just 10 goals and 22 points in 61 games.

Jonathan Huberdeau Calgary Flames
Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking past the underwhelming trade deadline for the Flames, they have no point-per-game players after rostering three last season. Two left in the offseason, while Elias Lindholm was left out to dry with Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and Andrew Mangiapane all regressing quite a bit. Tyler Toffoli leads the team with 26 goals and 55 points in 66 games. Last season the Flames had three 40-goal scorers and two 100-point scorers. The Flames’ two big forward additions, Huberdeau and Kadri, have combined for 113 fewer points than they did last season with 16 games remaining on the schedule. Though it’s a little late for them to both become point-per-game players again, they can start producing like their former selves for the remainder of the season.

Chemistry has been an obvious issue all season and Darryl Sutter’s influence in the room has seemed to run its course. Though all hope isn’t lost just yet, it may be time for a new voice behind the bench next season and a team reset.

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