Streaky Flames Find Consistency Late In Season

The 2013-14 season was the beginning of the long-awaited rebuild for the Calgary Flames.

It was the first season at the helm for newly-minted captain Mark Giordano following the departure of long-time leader Jarome Iginla, and the challenge set before the club was to establish the foundation for lasting on-ice success in the Stampede City.

While the club got out of the gates quickly, the team stumbled on their first major road trip and lost Giordano to a broken ankle – an injury that sideline him for 18 games and essentially derailed the season. The Flames eventually got back on track when Giordano returned in early December and the foundation of good habits laid by the club’s coaches and leaders – a philosophy of responsible 200-foot play and a dogged five-man forecheck, dubbed “playing the right way” by head coach Bob Hartley – kicked off a stretch from late January onward that saw the Flames win two-thirds of their games.

When the team reconvened the following season, they had their systems and fundamentals in place and combined with a chip on their collective shoulder from being labelled one of the NHL’s worst clubs prior to the season, the team out-worked their opposition on a majority of nights. The 2014-15 Flames were extremely fortunate with bounces, comebacks and injuries – aside from losing Giordano for the final quarter of the season and the playoffs – but it was their consistency that defined them.

To the disappointment of many, the 2015-16 Flames have been instead defined by their lack of consistency.

The 2014-15 Flames had the following streaks:

  • Eight three-plus game winning streaks, the longest being four games
  • Three three-plus game losing streaks, the longest being eight games

The 2015-16 edition, through 70 games, boast the following stretches of play:

  • Two three-game winning streaks, the longest being seven games
  • Six three-game losing streaks, the longest being seven games

Last season’s Flames were fortunate in many regards, but their most important attribute was their ability to reel things in when games, or stretches of games, began to get off the rails. Aside from the memorable eight-game skid they went on in December, they never really let themselves go ice-cold – even during that losing streak, they played fundamentally sound hockey and were tremendously unlucky not to have scored more goals.

This season’s Flames were unfortunate in almost as many ways as the preceding team was fortunate. T.J. Brodie went down with a hand injury in the pre-season and so the defensive pairings – and defensive zone play – were thrown into chaos for the first month of the season. The penalty killing units were also chaotic for most of the season with frequent injuries to bottom-six stalwart Lance Bouma. Both in concert with the frequent changes in assignments, and likely also due to them, Calgary’s goaltending was wildly inconsistent throughout the season – and carrying three netminders for the first month also did nothing to breed consistency into the group.

The towel was finally thrown in on the 2015-16 season at the trade deadline when the Flames traded away Jiri Hudler, Kris Russell, David Jones and Markus Granlund. The team lost twice immediately after the deadline, but also began a stretch with their most consistent 200-foot play of the season. They won their first seven-game segment since January, and earned points in five of six games (with a 3-1-2 record) during their final major homestand of the season. The team’s penalty killing has also taken a big leap forward, bolstered by the high-tempo forechecking and killer instinct of Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik; the penalty kill has generated five short-handed goals since the trade deadline after scoring just two through the rest of the season.

It’s been a disappointing season for the Flames, and on a certain level all stringing together a series of wins this late achieves is earn them a worse spot in June’s NHL Draft. But for a hockey club that has struggled with defensive play and consistent 60-minute efforts since the first puck dropped in October, the on-ice results since the trade deadline give the team’s players, management and fans hope that when the reset button is pressed in the fall that the Flames can rebound from a sub-par year. Hopefully, their strong play since the trade deadline provides a foundation to build upon when the team regroups for training camp in September.