The Calgary Flames will need outstanding performances from their entire supporting cast of players if they want to upset the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs. Late in the season, head coach Glen Gulutzan found some good chemistry on a third line composed of Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett, and Alex Chiasson, which was an encouraging development.
However, the Flames will need to find even more answers on their depth chart to address some key questions as the postseason begins, especially if they want to win at the Honda Center.
What’s Wrong With Troy Brouwer?
Brouwer may have 98 career playoff games on his resume, but he has underperformed in a massive way since joining the Flames at the beginning of the season. Every Flames fan would love to see the best of his playoff expertise, but right now he looks like a player who may have lost his nerve. He doesn’t seem willing to initiate contact and create space for his teammates in the way that he did even just last season. His 25-point total is also the lowest of his career to go along with the second-lowest plus-minus rating of his 10-year career at minus-11.
On most nights this season, Brouwer has consistently been one or two strides away from where he needs to be and has not lived up to the reputation he earned as a warrior and hard-nosed winger who can be the difference between a win and a loss for his team. It’s a baffling situation because Brouwer has been given every opportunity this season to succeed.
Still, given his big contract and significant playoff experience, it’s unlikely the Flames will send Brouwer to the press box anytime soon. Let’s just hope he finds a way to produce on the ice soon.
Can Curtis Lazar Force His Way Into the Lineup?
It took a long time for Curtis Lazar to find his way into the Flames lineup after being traded to Calgary from the Ottawa Senators at the NHL Trade Deadline. His much-anticipated debut has been met with a lot of hope that Lazar can be an offensive dark horse for the team, and after ringing up three points in his first four games as a Flame, he has definitely gotten the conversation started.
Since the trade deadline: Troy Brouwer has 4 points in 18 games, Curtis Lazar has 3 points in 4 games.
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) April 9, 2017
However, let’s not forget that Lazar is a very young player who only had one point in 33 games with the Ottawa Senators before he was traded. Lazar hasn’t played in big games for the Flames, let alone in the NHL playoffs, so it’s a good bet that he might need a little more time to prepare for the opportunity.
Still, even though he might not replace Brouwer and his extensive playoff experience, it would be wise for Lance Bouma to step up his game if he wants to keep Lazar from taking his roster spot on the fourth line, especially if the Flames find they need more scoring capability in a playoff matchup.
Do the Flames Have Enough Depth on Defense?
Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski were exactly what the Flames needed to solidify their defense down the stretch. Those two acquisitions are probably the biggest single reason that the Flames made the playoffs. However, an injury to anyone on defense could mess things up in a hurry for the Flames because they really don’t have any good options for the role of the seventh defenseman.
Veteran Dennis Wideman finds himself in that role at the moment, and even though he has performed slightly better for the Flames in spot duty since Stone was acquired, it’s not easy to forget that his poor defensive coverage and awful foot speed were the primary reasons that T.J. Brodie held one of the worst plus-minus ratings in the NHL for most of the season. Yet, when Stone was acquired he fit in immediately, which allowed Brodie to play his free-wheeling style of hockey, and the pair flourished together.
The third defense pairing of Deryk Engelland and Bartkowski has also been fairly effective since the trade deadline. Bartkowski is a good skater and Engelland is a steady defenseman who plays with an edge while adding some intimidation to a Flames lineup that sometimes can lack it. However, late in the season, Bartkowski got caught out of position a couple of times while trying to contribute offensively, and the end result has often been a goal against like the one below. He will need to eliminate those mental errors against the Ducks.
The Flames face a huge task in the opening round. It’s true that they recently were one of the hottest teams in the NHL and that they were one of only two clubs to win 10 straight games this season. At times the Flames have looked like an unstoppable juggernaut but they don’t have solid defensive depth and they will struggle to match the scoring capability and fit that the Ducks can put on the ice.
This combined with the almost unfathomable losing streak that they have going at the Honda Center in Anaheim makes them a hard team to bet on in this series. Yet, the Flames have also proven they are nothing if not completely unpredictable, so maybe they will find a way to keep surprising people.