Hudler, Hiller the Center of Calgary’s Struggles

With the NHL regular season on pause for All-Star weekend, many players, GMs and fans around the league have time to reflect on the unofficial first half.

For the Calgary Flames the break comes at a perfect time, as the teams struggling offence saw them limp into the mid-season pause as losers of three straight. After 48 games the Flames (21-24-3) sit sixth in the Pacific Division with 45 points and trail the Arizona Coyotes by eight points for the final divisional playoff spot.

The inconsistency that plagued the Flames over there last ten games, in which the team went 3-6-1, perfectly sums up Calgary’s season to this point. They hobbled out of the gate going 3-8-1 in October and 5-6-1 in November, before rattling off seven straight wins to start December. January saw the team drop right back into a battle for a .500 record going 4-6-1 to start 2016. Whether it be the offence, defense, goaltending, power play, or penalty kill, every facet of the Flames game has struggled with consistency.

Not only does the teams overall record scream inconsistent, but some of the Flames key players have had up-and-down years. Jonas Hiller and Jiri Hudler have been nowhere near the caliber of players that led Calgary to a surprise playoff birth last season and could be considered two of the biggest disappointments on the Flames roster this season.

(Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonas Hiller has a 5-5-1 record through 14 games with Calgary this season. (Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports)

Hiller relegated to bench warming duties

Heading into the season all signs pointed to Jonas Hiller being handed the reigns and leading the way as the Flames No.1 goaltender. Hiller took those reigns and proceeded to run the Flames right in the basement of the Pacific Division. The netminder posted two wins in his first seven starts, allowing four or more goals in five of those seven games and played his way out of the starting gig.

By late October an injury forced Hiller out of the crease and the Flames goaltending carousel starting spinning with Kari Ramo and Joni Ortio getting starts between the pipes. Eventually it was Ramo who seized the starting role and relegated Hiller to bench warming duties.

Hiller spent the majority of November and December in a backup role, and struggled to post solid starts when he was called upon. To date the 33-year-old Swiss netminder has appeared in 14 games, posting a 5-5-1 record, 3.16 GAA and .882 save percentage.

He was given a chance to take back the starters role in January getting a string of starts. A 6-0 shutout over Florida and a 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton has given management a glimmer of hope that Hiller is starting to turn it around. If he can get over the atrocious start to the season and gain some confidence back it will go a long way to the Flames second half success.

Calgary Flames Jiri Hudler Photo by Andy Martin Jr
After scoring 31 goals last season Hudler has managed just six through 41 games  this year. Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Hudler in the midst of disastrous campaign

Jiri Hudler. Has anyone seen him lately?

A season after the forward lit up the league with 31 goals, Hudler has all but disappeared only scoring twice in Calgary’s last 30 games.

After notching a goal on Oct. 30 at home in a loss to Montreal, Hudler didn’t beat a goaltender again until Dec. 4 when he whacked a puck past Tuukka Rask with two seconds left to tie the game 4-4. His heroic flash of brilliance had to last Flames fans 51 days, as he didn’t score again until Jan. 24 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

On some teams Hudler’s lack of offense might not be that big of a deal. For the Flames, a team that doesn’t have too many pure goal-scorers, Hudler is depended upon to be a key piece of the offence. The 32-year-old Czech led the Flames in scoring each of the last two seasons, and was expected to be right up among the offensive leaders again this year.

At the break Hudler sits fifth in team scoring with 24 points. David Jones, Michael Frolik and Joe Colbourne have more goals than Hudler. Heck, his six goals have him tied with defenceman Dougie Hamilton. Hudler is MIA and somebody better find him his scoring touch fast if the Flames want to have any chance at going on a second half run.

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