Flames Fanning Out at the Wrong Time
By Patrick Hoffman
At this time of the season in the National Hockey League, it would be in every team's best interest to play their best hockey.
With the Stanley Cup playoffs right around the corner, many teams are gearing up for the stretch run and playing well enough to either keep their playoff spot secure or doing everything they can to remain in the hunt. This is the way things should be.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Calgary Flames did not get the memo. The team is playing losing hockey and is in a heap of trouble.
As of this writing (March 20, 2018), the Flames find themselves six points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference (Have 80 points as of March 20, 2018). In order to gain any kind of traction, they will need to start passion extremely competitive teams in the St. Louis Blues, and Dallas Stars as they are three points behind the Blues and four points behind the Stars.
The Flames are going downhill fast for a few reasons. For starters, the return of Mike Smith between the pipes after being injured has not gone as smoothly as originally expected.
In his last five starts, Smith has gone 1-4 and has allowed a total of 17 goals. While the blame should not all fall on his shoulders, he has not been as good as he needs to be in order to keep this team in the hunt.
Speaking of keeping the puck out of the net, the team's defense as a whole has not been very good. The team is currently (As of March 20, 2018) 20th in the league in goals allowed and when it comes to getting into the playoffs, this is something that will need to improve in a big way and quickly.
Part of the problem is that the Flames are turning over the puck a lot, are missing assignments in their own zones and are having a bit of trouble of getting timely saves from Smith. When you put all of these things together, it leads to more goals being scored against you.
Another problem the team is having is converting on the power play. For a team that has the likes of Johnny Gaudreau (23 goals and 59 assists for 82 points), Sean Monahan (31 goals and 33 assists for 64 points), Matthew Tkachuk (24 goals and 25 assists for 49 points), and Dougie Hamilton (16 goals and 27 assists for 43 points), and Mikael Backlund (13 goals and 28 assists for 41 points), 26th in the league in that category is simply not good enough.
This team has several offensive standouts, especially in Gaudreau and Monahan. The fact that the team only has a 17 percent conversion rate with the man advantage will not only not help them get into the playoffs, but will hurt them should they find a way to clinch a spot.
What's also worrisome for the Flames is that they are in a somewhat tight division. The teams in front of them include the Anaheim Ducks (84 points), Los Angeles Kings (86 points), and San Jose Sharks (89 points) and those clubs should all be able get in.
The road to the playoffs is now an uphill battle for the Flames. They place several tough teams over the next two weeks against the Ducks (March 21), Sharks (March 24), Kings (March 26), Columbus Blue Jackets (March 29), Winnipeg Jets (April 5) and Vegas Golden Knights (April 7).
More than likely, the flame will burn out and it will be a year without the playoffs in Calgary.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.