THE STATS LINE
34-26-14 record [18th overall (in points percentage)]
2.43 goals-for per game [26th overall]
2.61 goals-against per game [13th overall]
17.2% power-play success rate [15th overall]
83.6% penalty-kill success rate [9th overall]
45.8% in the face-off circle [30th overall]
2 points out of 8th spot in the Western Conference
8 games left in the regular season
23.6% chance of making the playoffs (as per SportsClubStats.com)
THE WEEK THAT WAS
- March 15: In a playoff style game, Sven Baertschi scored 17 seconds into the game. The Flames led the rest of the way and beat Phoenix by a 4-1 score. Fans chanted “Baertschi” after the rookie nearly scored on a 2-on-1 break with Tom Kostopoulos.
- March 16: 24 hours after one of the better games of the season, the Flames followed up with one of their worst. They dropped a 3-1 decision in Edmonton to the Oilers. Leland Irving started in net and tried his hardest to give the team a chance to win, but he was ultimately hung out to dry by a flat-footed Flames club.
- March 18: Looking to bounce back from their previous effort, the Flames battled tooth and nail with Columbus but just could not beat Steve Mason. Despite 31 shots on goal in regulation and 4 in the shootout, the Flames only scored once and dropped the game by a 2-1 score.
- March 20: In the first game of a crucial three-game road trip, the Flames lost 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche in overtime. The game was not a defensive masterpiece, with both teams playing rather poorly without the puck and each team getting over 30 shots on net. Miikka Kiprusoff and Semyon Varlamov were very good. Matt Stajan scored for the Flames.
INJURIES FORCE FLAMES TO FIND HIDDEN DEPTH
It’s no secret that this season has been a challenging one for the Calgary Flames in many respects. While the team hasn’t had to do without the services of their three best players (Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff), the club has gone without almost everybody else at one time or another.
The result has been a season that has challenged the club’s depth and its head coach’s ability to juggle lines in an ever-changing line-up. As a result, Brent Sutter has had to put players in positions they may not have ever played at a high level before.
“I know I have learned more as a coach this year than I ever have,” said Sutter. “You got to certainly be prepared and willing to change on the fly because of what’s happened and you gotta always think what gives the team the best chance to succeed that night. Can guys handle certain positions that maybe they haven’t played before. Can guys handle minutes they haven’t played before? Can guys handle roles they haven’t played before?”
While the Flames have been very active with bringing players into their line-up from their American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, and recently borrowing junior prospect Sven Baertschi from Portland, healthy roster players have also been called upon to play many different roles. For example, speedy winger Mike Cammalleri was moved to the center-ice position due to injuries to Blair Jones and Mikael Backlund. On his wing was Tom Kostopoulos, formerly of the team’s fourth line. The veteran noted that he’s been asked to play many different roles this season depending on circumstance.
“I think my role has changed a lot throughout the year,” said Kostopoulos. “Depending on which guys you’re playing with, what ice time you’re getting and what line you’re on, it depends whether you’re going to try and chip pucks deep and go after them fore-checking or try and get the puck to the players who can make plays with it.”
Kostopoulos noted that the depth of both the big club and the organization as a whole have been revealed with the bevvy of injuries this season. He had good things to say about the many, many young players who have stepped into the Flames line-up. Of note, 2008 first round pick Greg Nemisz has played both wing and center with the Flames, while call-ups Lance Bouma and T.J. Brodie (both currently injured) have arguably cemented roster spots with the big club for next season.
“Everyone who’s come up has done a great job for us from Abbotsford,”said Kostopoulos. “Personally, although injuries, you never want to see that, it’s been fun to play in different situations, playing in offensive and defensive situations. You just need to know the score of the game and the time of the game and what’s called for each shift you go out there and who you’re playing with. It’s been fun.”
Sutter noted that injuries happen and it’s up to him to coach the players that are healthy enough to play. While he downplayed that this season has been like coaching two different teams – the Flames have used 39 different players in their line-up – but he noted that it’s kept him on his toes.
“Whatever team you have that night, that’s the best team you have,” said Sutter. “You have to manage and coach that team the right way and that’s what you do. It’s changed a lot on a game-to-game basis and a night-to-night basis, so you have to adapt and you have to change quickly with it, with the one mindset always is what gives your team the best chance to win that night.”
FLAMES SIGN COLLEGE FORWARD
On Tuesday, the Flames announced the signing of former St. Cloud State winger David Eddy to a two-year, two-way contract. Eddy completed his college season on Friday and is forgoing his senior year by turning pro. Eddy has also agreed to a professional try-out contract with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat and will join the club this weekend.
Eddy was named to the USHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2008-09, but failed to emerge as an offensive powerhouse in the NCAA, racking up 65 points in 92 games with St. Cloud State. His signing is largely a depth move for the Heat, but Eddy has shown some offensive up-side. He’s a project, but he’s only 22 and has time to grow.
INJURY AND ROSTER UPDATES
359-man games lost (up to the March 20 game with Colorado): David Moss (48), Mikael Backlund (32), Brett Carson (30), Henrik Karlsson (25), Anton Babchuk (24), Derek Smith (22), Mark Giordano (21), Lee Stempniak (21), Blair Jones (19), Alex Tanguay (16), Matt Stajan (15), Curtis Glencross (15), Brendan Morrison (14), Chris Butler (13), Lance Bouma (9), Mike Cammalleri (8), T.J. Brodie (6), Tim Jackman (6), Raitis Ivanans (5), Scott Hannan (4), Blake Comeau (4), Rene Bourque (1) and Krys Kolanos (1).
Lee Stempniak returned from injury for the March 18 game against Columbus. Tim Jackman returned for the March 20 game against Colorado. To make room on the roster, Sven Baertschi was returned to Portland (of the WHL) and Greg Nemisz was sent back to Abbotsford (of the AHL). Roger Millions of Sportsnet reported on his Twitter that Blair Jones, Chris Butler and Lance Bouma all accompanied the Flames on their road-trip and are expected to play sometime in the next week. Mikael Backlund, Mike Cammalleri and T.J. Brodie remain out.
The Flames also burnt off one of their two remaining non-emergency call-ups this week, recalling goaltender Leland Irving for the weekend to play against Edmonton, then returning him to AHL Abbotsford. The team has one remaining non-emergency recall at their disposal.
DISPATCHES FROM THE FARM
- AHL: With the Flames getting healthy, the Abbotsford Heat have been getting some much-needed relief. And it comes at a great time, too, as the Heat battle for a playoff spot. The Heat went 2-0-1 this week, with the shootout loss coming in a goaltending duel between Danny Taylor and Houston goalie Joe Fallon. Ryan Howse has picked a great time to show off his skills; he’s got three goals in Abbotsford’s last three games. The Heat sit sixth in the Western Conference but the teams chasing them have games in hand, so they have to rely on the hockey gods to hopefully keep their opponents at bay.
- WHL: The regular season is now over and almost all of Calgary’s junior prospects are in the playoffs. The Edmonton Oil Kings (G Laurent Brossoit) will face the Kootenay Ice (F Max Reinhart and D Joey Leach). The Brandon Wheat Kings (F Michael Ferland) face the Calgary Hitmen. And the Portland Winterhawks (F Sven Baertschi and D Tyler Wotherspoon) will take on the Kelowna Rockets. Red Deer missed the playoffs and it is expected that F Turner Elson will eventually find his way to Abbotsford to join the Flames farm-team for their stretch drive.
- NCAA: Freshman Johnny Gaudreau and the Boston College Eagles capped off a very good season with an excellent finish. The club beat Providence on Friday and Maine on Saturday to capture their third straight Hockey East conference championship. Gaudreau was excellent, scoring the game-winning goal in both games (and four points on the weekend) and was named the playoff MVP. The Eagles gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I National Championship tournament, starting this coming weekend. They’ll face Air Force on Saturday, with the winner to advance to Sunday’s regional final.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.