Five games, two points out, a narrowing window and an ever present, but dwindling hope the Flames can pull off the miraculous. For some fans, the last five games remain a glimmer on the edge of a darkening horizon. Others, however, feel like a death row inmate waiting out the inevitable.
I discussed Tuesday how the Flames have legitimately improved recently, despite their five game downturn prior to the win over Dallas. Eric T. of Broadstreet hockey recently published his post-deadline "fenwick" rankings (that is a measure of possession including all shots at the net minus blocked shots). The Flames placed inside the top-10 and featured the biggest post-deadline turn-around in the league (+6.3).
That certainly doesn’t mean the Flames are suddenly a top-10 team. Aside from real improvement due to the return of guys like Cammalleri, Moss, Jones, etc., Calgary’s March schedule has probably been on of the most favorable in the league given the level of competition and frequency of opponents on the second night of B2B’s. Still, there has been a turn-around.
That’s the good news. That bad news is tonight’s opponent was ranked fist overall in the same standings and has been one of the very best clubs in the NHL since Darryl Sutter took over. Seriously.
Prior to Darryl’s arrival, LA was mediocre at controlling play. Their corsi (score tied) was .514 through 30 games. Decent, but certainly not great. Since that time, they’ve joined the upper ranks in the league in terms of outshooting: starting December 17, the Kings tied-corsi is .571 which is massive – a sustained 6% gain in possession is a huge jump, particularly when score effects are taken out of the equation. What’s more, the Kings have been riding above .600 since they acquired Carter in February which is the best in the league. Period. They have outshot the bad guys at even strength alone by 83 over that brief time period. The differential is bigger if we take all shots at the net into account.
Short version: the Kings are suddenly very, very good.
Cory Sarich isn’t ready to come back yet, so nothing changes for the Flames this evening.
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Comeau – Stajan – Stempniak
Jackman – Jones – Kostopolous
Bouwmeester – Butler
Hannan – Giordano
Babchuk – Wilson
The return of guys like Moss, Cammalleri, Stempniak and Jones means the Flames now have four full lines of legit NHLers, which is at least part of the reason Calgary has improved at keep the puck at the good end of the ice. Giordano suddenly looking like his old self hasn’t hurt either.
Cammalleri has been riding a hot streak recently, but his addition to the top unit has also been a boon in terms of driving the play as well. I’ve mentioned this previously, but I would have no problem if the Flames entered next season with Cammalleri penciled in as a center rather than a winger.
Finally, as much flak as Anton Babchuk has taken this year, his recent performances showcase how the big guy can be a useful piece in the line-up. Although he’ll forever be a guy you won’t want on the ice much more than 12-13 minutes at ES, he adds something north of the red line and it’s surprising Brent has been so hesitant to employ Babchuk (absent major injuries). The contract is still lousy, but the dude is an asset, albeit in limited circumstances.
Although the Kings have been outshooting opponents a lot under Sutter, their SH% still lags behind the league average – wihch was their major problem previously as well. That’s why LA is till battling with the likes of the Flames and Coyotes for a playoff spot.
Williams – Koptiar – Brown
King – Richards – Carter
Penner – Stoll – Lewis
Clifford – Fraser – Nolan
Doughty – Scuderi
Mitchell – Voynov
Greene – Martinez
Mike Richards has rebounded big time since Carter arrived and is finally starting to affect the play like he did in Philly. The erstwhile Flyers were playing with someone named Dwight King (?) a 22-year old rookie versus Los Angeles in Vancouver. I know nothing about him.
The first line is obviously the scariest from a Flames perspective. The Kings also have two pretty decent defense pairings, including rookie Slava Voynov. A stand-out for the Kings organization over the last three years in the AHL (including a 51 points season last year) it looks like Voynov has leapfrogged former 4th overall pick Thomas Hickey and is in the big league to stay.
Jon Quick will be in net tonight. His incredible year so far is one for the storybooks. A merely adequate NHL goaltender since he broke into the league in 2008-09, there was really no way of predicting he would suddenly go from a decent starter to Hart/Vezina finalist. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain this level of play beyond one season.
Both clubs are on the outside looking in and each has a lot of external prssure from their fans and backers to make the dance. The Flames have the least amount of games left amongst the hopefuls outside of Colorado, so they have less room for error.
Of course, if there’s any justice in the universe, the Kings will be rewarded for their big time improvement with the 8th spot in the West. Naturally, we know the hockey gods are mostly uninterested in justice, so we’ll see what happens.
As usual, lots of other games to be concerned about for Flames fans tonight. Dallas faces the Oilers, Colorado plays Vancouver and the Sharks see the Ducks.