Calgary Flames at Risk of Falling to Expectations
Through the first few months of the 2014-15 NHL season, the Calgary Flames have been one of the biggest surprises of the league. As of Dec. 13, they sit third in the Pacific Division, ahead of both the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, arguable Western Conference powerhouses. Calgary was a team that was supposed to be at the bottom of the standings, with a greater chance of landing phenom Connor McDavid in the draft as opposed to making the playoffs. As we approach the holiday break, the Flames are starting to taper off; they find themselves in the midst of four-game losing streak and have a record of 5-5 in their last 10 games. Perhaps the Calgary Flames’ magic is starting to run out.
One of the biggest obstacles the Flames faced early on was injuries. Forwards Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne and Mason Raymond all missed significant time. This forced general manager Brad Treliving to call up players from the Flames‘ AHL affiliate, Adirondack Flames; and the call-ups did surprisingly well. Josh Jooris, Sven Baertschi, Michael Ferland and Corban Knight are amongst a group of young players who all found time in the Flames‘ lineup. And these young players contributed, especially Jooris, who worked his way into a full-time spot with the team. Now the injured veterans are trickling into the lineup, and ever since, the Flames haven’t been the same.
NHL hockey has an extremely fast pace, so going from being injured for a month or so to getting into game shape can be a little trick — a possible reason for the recent lack of success. Another theory could be that the young call-ups played with more hunger in their game; they had to play their way into the lineup, and the better they played, the more time they would spend in the NHL. This results in a “never say die” attitude that helped the Flames time and time again in a number of third-period comebacks.
Calgary’s forward lineup fluctuated greatly for the first portion of the NHL season, and now that usual players are beginning to return, things have not gone as well as previously hoped.
The Flames‘ defense has also been another big story throughout the league this season. Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman lead a group of blue-liners who have greatly contributed to Calgary’s offensive production. When you start to excel, you naturally gain confidence in your abilities. This unfortunately may lead to the downfall of their offensive attack. Watching the Flames‘ last game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were multiple instances of neutral-zone turnovers, and some sloppy defensive play. It is possible the Flames are starting to attempt to make the fancy play, as opposed to the simple fundamental play.
It’s great that Calgary’s blue line has found so much success, but they can’t let that evolve into over-confidence.
In goal, Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have found a routine of win and you’re in. Coach Bob Hartley has made it clear that he is going to play the hot hand in net. This is the right way to do it if you want to have two options in net as the Calgary Flames do. However, in tough times (like a four-game losing streak) maybe it becomes time to let a guy have two-straight games so he has an instant shot at redemption. Both Hiller and Ramo have done their jobs very well for the most part this season. They need to remain solid in goal so they can continue to provide their team with confidence going forward.
The Flames shocked the league when the defeated teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. Calgary wasn’t supposed to be this good, but with their hardworking mentality, they found a way to get it done. Now they are in a bit of a slide, and this will be a true test as to how good they really are. If they come out on top, and go back to their winning ways, then we’ll know this team is legitimate. But there is always the possibility that they slip off to the previously expected bottom of the division.
Bob Hartley is an experienced coach who has won a Stanley Cup. If there is anyone who will know what to do in a time like this, it is him.