You’ve got to hand it to Calgary Flames’ head coach Darryl Sutter for always being honest, no matter how brutal it may be. His brutal honesty was on display after his team’s 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. It was a big loss, given that the Avs are now two points behind them for the final wild-card position with three games in hand. As one would imagine, the veteran bench boss wasn’t happy.
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Last season, Sutter joked, “It’s going to be a waste of eight days,” for anyone facing the Avalanche in the first round. The reigning Stanley Cup champions have his respect, and despite their struggles with injuries this season, Sutter still believes they are the league’s best team. As for his own team? Well, let’s just say he thinks there is plenty of work to be done.
Sutter Says Avs in a Different Class
Not known for being pleasant with the press, Suter was notably irritated after Wednesday’s loss. He scoffed at questions about his team’s effort, while also stating that he believed the biggest issue was that Colorado had 13 players in the lineup who won a Stanley Cup last season, while the Flames had one, Nazem Kadri.
While Sutter had several notable quotes after the game, one, in particular, caught the attention of many; when he mentioned that the Flames are nowhere near the Avs in terms of overall talent.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good idea where our team’s at,” Sutter said. “We’re in the middle of the pack, and we’re not in their class. … It’s a big difference.”
While this may be true, it is rare for a head coach to throw a shot like that at his own team, especially when many believed the Flames to be Stanley Cup contenders entering the season and sit above the Avalanche in the standings.
Sutter Shoulders Some of the Blame
Why did the Flames struggle in this contest and the season in general? There are many reasons. One is that Jonathan Huberdeau, who has just eight goals and 31 points through 43 games, hasn’t fit in the way many hoped he would. The same can be said for MacKenzie Weegar, who, despite some solid defensive play, hasn’t been able to ramp things up offensively.
There is also the issue of goaltending, as Jacob Markstrom’s numbers went from one of the best in the league a season ago to one of the worst from a starting netminder. Through 32 games, he owns a disappointing 2.82 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .895 save percentage (SV%). He needs to be better if the team expects to get back to last season’s form. However, Sutter has also played a role in the inconsistencies in his group this season.
There is also the issue of goaltending, as Jacob Markstrom’s numbers went from one of the best in the league a season ago, to one of the worst from a starting netminder. Through 32 games he owns a disappointing 2.82 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .895 save percentage (SV%). He needs to be better if the team expects to get back to last season’s form. However, Sutter has also played a role in the inconsistencies from his group this season.
Many are frustrated that Sutter continues to give the bulk of starts to Markstrom, despite that Dan Vladar has been racking up wins much more consistently, especially as of late. Not only has he won his last three starts, but he has a 7-0-3 record in his past 10 outings, yet he is still playing second fiddle to Markstrom, who owns a 13-11-5 record this season.
There is also the issue that he continues to favour veterans despite the limited results. Jakob Pelletier was again a healthy scratch against the Avalanch and has yet to see a single game since being called up on Jan. 7. Meanwhile, Milan Lucic continues to hold down a spot on the second line, playing over 15 minutes against the Avs. While the 34-year-old did heat up earlier in the month, he is pointless in four straight and has just 12 points on the season. He is no longer cut out for the top six on any NHL team but continues to be given the opportunity nonetheless.
Another interesting decision involves Adam Ruzicka, who made the most of his opportunity early in the season. Through his first 20 games, he had six goals and 17 points. Since then, however, his ice time has been cut drastically and has greatly impacted what was a great start to the season. In the last 16 games, he is goalless, with just three assists, giving him a rather mediocre stat line of six goals and 20 points through 36 outings.
Flames Need to Find Consistency
What has made this 2022-23 season so frustrating is that we just don’t know what we’ll get from the Flames on a nightly basis. By all accounts, they have the talent to be one of the better teams in the league, but some nights, they make too many mental mistakes to be successful. On the other hand, there are games when everything clicks, and we’re reminded how special they are. While no one seems to have the answers right now, Sutter needs to figure out how to get the maximum potential out of his team consistently, as their play to this point has many unsure if they will make the playoffs.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.