After a bit of a slump in play recently, the Calgary Flames appear to be back on track, winning two of their past three games against some of the league’s top teams in the Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues.
With last night’s 7-1 defeat over the Blues, the Flames have climbed back into a playoff position. It is clear to most watching them that, despite some recent struggles, they are an improved team from just a season prior and seem primed to end up in the playoffs this spring. While there are several reasons as to why they have been better in 2021-22, these three players have played the biggest part in their turnaround.
Not only has Johnny Gaudreau been the Flames’ best player this season, but he has also been one of the best in the entire league. After two so-so seasons in a row by his lofty standards, he has gotten off to the best start of his career with 48 points in 37 games and is on track to hit the 100-point barrier for the first time.
Gaudreau’s 48 points are good enough for ninth in league scoring, and he has several games in hand on three players currently ranked above him. In Monday’s massive win over the Blues, the 28-year-old had one of the best games of his career, registering a goal and four points. It should bode well for his confidence moving forward, and he should continue to put up points at an elite pace for the remainder of 2021-22.
Last season led to many questions surrounding Matthew Tkachuk. Some believed he lacked maturity, and there were even reports that he was the center of a divide in the Flames’ dressing room. On top of all that, he had a subpar season with 43 points in 56 games.
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The 24-year-old is quickly proving that last season was an anomaly, as his 18 goals are tied with Andrew Mangiapane for the team lead, while his 42 points trail only Gaudreau. His current 93-point pace would smash his previous career-high 77 set back in 2018-19. Not only has his offensive game elevated, but he is still doing a great job at getting under the opposing team’s skin. He deserves a ton of credit for his team’s play this season.
Though plenty of blame last season fell on the Flames’ top offensive stars, Jacob Markstrom deserved his fair share as well. After signing a six-year, $36 million deal during the 2020 offseason, the Swedish goaltender posted a disappointing 2.68 goals-against average (GAA) and a .904 save percentage (SV%). Prior to the 2021-22 campaign, he vowed to be better, and he’s certainly lived up to his promise.
Despite a recent dip in play, Markstrom’s 2.21 GAA ranks fifth amongst goalies that have played in at least 10 games, while his .924 SV% is eighth. Though he likely wouldn’t currently be considered a Vezina Trophy finalist like he was talked about earlier in the season, he still has a league-leading five shutouts and has more than lived up to his contract. He is arguably this team’s most important player and will need to continue to be great down the stretch of the season in order to get into the playoffs.
Flames’ Top Players Giving Their All
It doesn’t come as a surprise that these three are playing the biggest role in the Flames’ turnaround this season. They are all paid handsomely to be game-changers and have lived up to that to the midway point of 2021-22. However, they will need more help over the second half in order to climb the standings.
After a red hot start to the season, Mangiapane has just three goals and five points in his past 17 games. Meanwhile, another player they count on offensively in Sean Monahan has just 19 points on the season, though he has shown some signs of life recently. If those two are able to get back into a groove, and some others start helping more with secondary scoring, this team could be a very successful one down the stretch.