Best in the West: What the Calgary Flames Are Doing Right

The Calgary Flames are off to a stellar start in this 2018-19 National Hockey League regular season. With a commanding 19-10-2 record, the Flames currently sit atop the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. The momentum does not seem to be slowing down, either, as can be seen by the 3-1 record last week, which included a momentous 9-6 thrashing of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 4.

Elias Lindholm, Nino Niederreiter,
Calgary Flames’ Elias Lindholm (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

With how well the Flames are doing, it is worth pondering: what is the cause of all their success? Though the possible answers may be various and abundant, this analysis will attribute the club’s winning ways to three major factors – the flourishing of the Flames’ core players this season, the entry of new head coach Bill Peters, and the successful integration of several key players acquired during the offseason.

Flames’ Core Players Prove Consistency is Key

While the Flames have been making seasonal adjustments to their roster (as every smart team should), it is worth noting that their key lineups in both offence and defence remain fairly recognizable with previous years.

Star forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan continue to lead the scorching Calgary offence, with a surging Matthew Tkachuk steadily establishing himself as a powerful offensive force. Team captain Mark Giordano, along with Calgary mainstays T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, continue to deliver on the backend, maintaining the Flames’ reputation as a defensively formidable club. In all, the Flames have retained their familiar team structure, displaying a confidence in their core players that has been paying dividends so far this year.

Written off early at the season’s start, the Calgary offence has confounded its doubters in more ways than one. Among the NHL’s 31 teams, the Flames currently rank fourth in goals, third in points, and sixth in point percentage. In addition to these statistics, the recent victory over the Blue Jackets marks the fourth time this season that Calgary has scored five goals in a single period, more than the rest of the NHL combined. Add the fact that Calgary currently sits one point behind the mighty Nashville Predators in the Western Conference, and it is easy to see that the Flames are on a serious roll.

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau and Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Murray
Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau and Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ryan Murray. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

All things considered, the Flames are finding themselves in good company with the league’s elite teams, including the top-producing Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. These results have contrasted sharply with popular expectations, which during the offseason, according to The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton, did not view the Flames as a top-scoring contender by any stretch. In Clinton’s words, to the surprise of many, “the Flames’ underrated attack is taking the Pacific Division and Western Conference by force.”

The Bill Peters Effect

As substantial as the players’ contributions are, however, none of these achievements would be possible without good team management and leadership. This is where the coaching staff comes into play, and the impact of head coach Bill Peters should not be discounted in the Flames’ successes.

Hired as the Flames’ head coach in April 2018, Peters has also given his doubters little to talk about. Before taking the job in Calgary, Peters served as the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. During his time in Raleigh, Peters encountered significant difficulties, failing to qualify for the playoffs in his entire tenure. As a result of his struggles, Peters faced widespread criticism about his leadership and coaching ability. After four agonizing seasons with the Hurricanes, Peters resigned his position as Carolina’s head coach and took his talents back home to Alberta, Canada.

Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters
Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Brad Treliving, the Calgary Flames general manager, welcomed Peters with open arms. Touting Peters’ acute understanding of the modern hockey game, as well as his honest, direct, and relationship-driven coaching style, the Flames GM expressed great optimism in his hiring of Peters. The new coach himself too would share great enthusiasm for his new team. Observing his Flames club, Peters discussed the vast potential of his core players, as well as his intention to utilize a fast-paced defence to foster a powerful offence. From what the Flames have accomplished so far this season, Peters’ strategy seems to be working.

Major Impact from Lindholm and Hanifin

Alongside core player output and an effective coaching change, the Flames’ stellar performance this season should also be credited to its offseason acquisitions. Most notable of the newcomers are forward Elias Lindholm and defenceman Noah Hanifin. Both were offered six-year contracts over the summer of 2018, and both are effectively proving to be good investments by Treliving.

For his impactful performance, Lindholm has found himself skating alongside Gaudreau and Monahan on Calgary’s top offensive line. His efforts thus far have yielded 16 goals and 18 assists on the season, combining for a total of 34 points in 31 games. As of late, Lindholm’s presence can be felt in almost every contest. He found the back of the net in three of the last four games, with the one exception coming from the 1-0 shutout loss to Edmonton last Sunday night.

Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin
Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Also making sizable contributions to the Calgary club is 21-year-old Hanifin. Filling the void of recently traded Dougie Hamilton, the up-and-coming Hanifin has been garnering attention as a key component of the Calgary defence. Thus far in the season, Hanifin has notched an impressive 14 points, composing of three goals and 11 assists. Furthermore, he has been finding chemistry with his defensive linemates, the most notable being with seasoned Flame Travis Hamonic. Similar to Lindholm, the acquisition of Hanifin is showing to make a notable impact in Calgary’s success in this 2018-19 campaign.

As the midseason mark approaches, the Calgary Flames are doing many things right. In addition to important holes being filled in their roster, this season has seen the unleashing of the Flames stars’ potential, and a head coach that is finally able to utilize their talents toward the one objective that truly matters – winning.