1. Roadtrippin’ ain’t easy
So the Flames enter today 1-3-0 on their current roadtrip, and 2-3-1 away from the Saddledome overall. In those six games, they’ve given up (get this) 22 goals, which is obviously way too many. Frankly, in the three games in which they’ve gotten their five road points, they’ve been lucky to escape; that Washington game was a disaster, the Columbus game flat-out bizarre, and the win over the Kings muddled by a slew of late penalties.
This is, one suspects, kind of the Flames everyone thought they’d be getting when the year began. They have seemingly little in the way of an ability to put together a complete game, particularly away from home, and that’s kind of the hallmark of deeply flawed NHL teams these days. They’ll occasionally do things well, even more rarely they’ll do them really well, but there’s always a deficiency of some kind: defensive letdown, offensive sputtering, goaltending gaffes (and man, the team’s save percentage to this point in the season is a robust .894), special teams trauma. These have all plagued the team at one point or another on the road. Fortunately, the road run comes to an end tonight with what will probably be a loss to Dallas (statistically speaking).
The Flames schedule, in looking at it, is weird, isn’t it? Three-game homestands abound in the early going, though two are merely broken up by a one-game swing out to Winnipeg and back in mid-November. Maybe the team builds up its confidence again starting on Saturday, but the stretch at the end of this coming home run is brutal. Hosting Detroit, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at St. Louis, at Colorado, hosting San Jose. Woof. Really good chance they might come out of that with zero points.
2. Monahan’s increased responsibility
By the time you read this the Flames will have already announced their in-no-way-shocking decision to keep Sean Monahan with the big club despite the fact that it’s a terrible idea, and in the run-up to that announcement they’ve done all they can to justify it.
He jumped from 15:10 at San Jose, where he was eaten alive at even strength, to 21:11 at Los Angeles, where he was eaten alive. That was then scaled back, somewhat, to 19:26 in Phoenix, where he actually did pretty well (something in the 48 percent corsi-for range). Of course, in those three games he also had two goals and an assist, the latter of which was actually at 5-on-5, so all the evidence mounted perfectly for Hartley and Feaster to make this wrong decision.
No crying when he stops getting literally every bounce to go his way a month from now.
3. Everyone coming back
What has been remarkable about the Flames’ ability to continually be at least in some ways competitive during this early-season stretch is that there are still so many important players hurt. The run-up to the Phoenix game saw Calgary bring David Jones back into the lineup, and Matt Stajan was along for the ride as a kind of prelude to their likely returns tonight in Dallas. Of course, then Mark Giorgado got injured in warmups (something I’ll address in a minute) and now the whole thing is on its ear again.
The good news is that all these players slotting back into the lineup for the first time in weeks puts the team in a position to start sitting Brian McGrattan for once, and that’s always going to be viewed by all sane people as a good decision,
4. The Giordano injury
Boy does this put the Flames in a bad position. Chris Breen drew in Tuesday night as a result, which was nice for him since it was his first-ever NHL game, but that is a gaping hole in the defense to leave. The Flames’ bottom-3 or 4 defensemen are, of course, uniformly garbage. The odds, I think, are probably good that Chris Butler is reinstated back into the lineup even though it’s a terrible idea, just because you don’t know how Breen holds up over a long period. (As I write this, I should note that there’s been no word whatsoever on his status or how much time he’ll miss.)
At some point, you’d almost rather just have TJ Brodie push Wideman-like minutes every night just to make up some of the difference so the goalies don’t get shelled. Not that it matters, really, since that’s already happening, but this has to be a major point of concern.
5. Something that just occurred to me
The Flames’ third loss in four games the other night kind of reminded me that I hadn’t checked where they were in the standings for a minute, and also served to re-inform me that oh yeah Phoenix is a division game now. I was legitimately shocked, therefore, to see the Flames, who have only lost three games out of their first nine, sitting sixth in the division.
Granted, they have a game in hand on a few teams ahead of them, but nonetheless, they already appear to be on the outside looking in. What was that stat Elliotte Friedman had the other day about being four-plus points out of the playoffs on Nov. 1 being really in tough to make it? Well, the Flames are currently four back of Phoenix for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Pacific, and that could be a major problem going forward.
That’s interesting, though. We could more or less know the Flames’ chances of making the playoffs a week from now. Never too early to start the fire sale, I guess.