The Calgary Flames began the NHL regular season with a 5-1-0 record, but in the 17 games since, they’ve been unable to win more than two games in a row and won only five games in total (5-9-3).
They’ve also dropped four of their past five games, including a 2-1 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens Thursday night.
Needless to say, Flames fans who had big expectations for them after they finished first in the Pacific Division last season are asking questions about what this team is truly made of.
The most troubling part is, at the moment, there’s not much they are doing right.
To wit: Calgary’s offense has stalled of late, as they’ve managed only four goals in their past four losses. Their power play is the ninth-worst in the league at 18.9 percent efficiency. None of their skaters are producing points at a pace of 0.78 or better.
In 23 games, only one of their bottom-nine forwards have more than 10 points. They don’t have a single player in double-digits in goals scored. No opponent is fearing what the Flames can do with the puck.
That might be acceptable if their defense was elite, but the opposite is true. In their 10 losses, Calgary has been outscored 42-23. In six of those losses, they’ve surrendered four goals or more. Their penalty kill hasn’t been abysmal, but at 79.5 percent – 13th-best in the league – it also hasn’t been anything to take pride in. At both ends of the rink, the Flames have been pedestrian at best.
And topping things off, star goalie Jacob Markstrom, who stormed out of the gate last season with four shutouts in his first nine games and didn’t look back (at least, until the second round of the playoffs began), has been shockingly subpar.
His 2.97 goals-against average this year can be partially blamed on the defense in front of him, but his .889 save percentage – tying him for 43rd among NHL netminders with at least eight games played – is his and his alone.
Backup Dan Vladar (2.70 GAA, .913 SP) has been better, but the Flames aren’t paying Markstrom $6 million this season to be their understudy between the pipes.
You also can’t pin Calgary’s current slide on injuries. They’ve been one of the more fortunate teams on the health front. Only star winger Jonathan Huberdeau (who has missed only three games) and third-liner Adam Ruzicka have not played at least 20 games.
Coach Darryl Sutter – the NHL’s reigning coach of the year – has had more or less the entire roster at his disposal, and virtually everyone has underachieved.
For those of us who believed Calgary could be a top-shelf squad this season – this writer included – the Flames have been an all-around letdown.
GM Brad Treliving did his best to restock the upper part of the team after the off-season departures of star forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. But he doesn’t have much in the way of salary cap space now (as per Cap Friendly, Calgary has $1.25 million in space), and he may have to wait until the trade deadline, when they’re projected to have $5.5 million in space, to make a move of consequence.
Unfortunately, if they have to wait that long, they may be in a brutal fight for one of the final post-season berths in the Pacific. The lowly Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are, respectively, just two and three standings points behind them. The Pacific-leading Vegas Golden Knights have 12 more points, and the second-place Seattle Kraken have 10 more points. Home-ice advantage in the playoffs is going to be a long shot for them now.
Does this mean Treliving should be tearing down the roster and looking to next season already? No.
The Flames are three points behind fourth-place Edmonton, and they have a game in hand on the Oilers. There’s still time to right the ship. But more than one-quarter of the season has flown by, and Calgary seems to be no closer to figuring out their problems than they were at the start of this terrible stretch.
Before you know it, we’ll be past the All-Star Game, and the pressure will be ratcheted up in a major way.
To be sure, the Flames are on the clock now. They squandered their strong start, and have to turn things around sooner than later. If they don’t, Calgary fans will be sour, and they’ll be completely justified in feeling that way.
This team should be better than the sum of its parts, and at the moment, the sum of their parts isn’t great at all.