Five Things That Could Cost The Flames A Playoff Berth

The Calgary Flames are a playoff* team.

Did you notice the asterisk?

The loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday
night served as a reminder to fans of the overachieving local heroes
that they can’t afford to play bad games very often. They’re a playoff
team by virtue of their current spot in the standings and their point
pace, which projects to 94 in the Western Conference standings. That
number was 96 just a couple of nights ago. Losing back-to-back games in
regulation after a three-game winning streak would drop it to 93 (and
that’s rounding up).

The conference cut-off since the 2004-05 lockout introduced the three-point games.

  • 2014 — 91
  • 2013 — 94 (pro-rated)
  • 2012 — 95
  • 2011 — 97
  • 2010 — 95
  • 2009 — 91
  • 2008 — 91
  • 2007 — 96
  • 2006 — 95
  • Average — 94

Of course, wins are worth two points so their projected finish is going
to fluctuate with every outing, shooting much higher with a win and
dipping a little with each loss. The Flames have 29 games remaining with
58 points available to add to their 61. But we know they aren’t about
to pile up 119 this year by winning out.
Putting things in perspective, if the Flames finish at .500, they will
have 90 to finish the year — no Western Conference team has qualified
with that few since the lockout.

That means they have to play a few games over that mark to feel
comfortable in the mid-90s. More would, of course, be much better. But
to qualify for the playoffs, they really just have to win all of their
seven-game segments that remain, with them ‘up’ 3-1 in their current set
following the loss to the Penguins.

“Tonight was humbling,” said Mark Giordano, who agrees the team has, for
the most part, been able to bounce back with the right mindset from
losses. “Sometimes a game like this serves as a reminder.
“We keep winning segments down the stretch, we’re going to be in a good spot, I think, at the end of the year.”

What might happen to derail this incredible and unexpected season for
the Flames? Here are five things that could spell the end of their
playoff hopes down the stretch:

Another long losing skid

The Flames were tied for third in the conference with the Nashville Predators on Dec. 5 with 36 points through 27 games. Their pace at that point was a 109-point season.

Then came the eight-game losing streak. Only one of those came in extra time.

When it was over on Dec. 21,
the Flames were out of the playoff picture altogether, tied with the
Minnesota Wild for ninth in the Western Conference with 37 points—a pace
of 86 points.

That kind of skid would be devastating if it were to happen again. If it
were to happen right now, they would have to win three-quarters of
their final 21 games (or the equivalent in one-point losses) just to
scrape together 93 or 94 points and hope that is enough.

A dip in the divisional record

One of the reasons the Flames are sitting where they are at the moment
is how well they’ve played against teams in their own Pacific Division —
a pleasant surprise if there ever was one considering the kind of
competition expected from the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los
Angeles Kings, as well as the improvement many thought we’d see from the
Vancouver Canucks.

They are 16-4-1 within the division with the only losses coming at home
to the Canucks and Sharks and on the road twice against the Ducks and
once in overtime to the Canucks.

Eight of their remaining games are against division opponents. The
Canucks, Sharks and Kings are battling for the bottom two spots in the
division seedings and one of the wild-card spots.

A goaltending slump

Last year the Flames finished with a .899 save percentage as a group, with Karri Ramo leading the way at .911 through 37 games.

This year, Jonas Hiller has helped stabilize the position. Through his
36 appearances, the Swiss backstop has a .913 save percentage. As a
backup, Ramo has improved to .905 and call-up Joni Ortio strung together
a nice stretch with a .931 save percentage through five games — four of
them wins.

As a result, they’re currently on pace to allow 209 goals against. Last
year, they finished with 238. The 30-goal difference is showing in close
games.

A scoring drought

Heading into their head-to-head contest, the Flames had scored more
goals than the Pittsburgh Penguins. If anyone thought that would be the
case at this point in the season, they’re either gifted prophets or
total liars.

It helps that defencemen Dennis Wideman (12), Mark Giordano (11) and T.J.
Brodie (8) have been chipping in almost a quarter of the production,
but youngsters Sean Monahan (17), Johnny Gaudreau (15) and Josh Jooris
(10) have really sparked the offence so far this season. Jiri Hudler
(15) is the only other forward to earn double digits.

The risk is that two of those top scorers are rookies and one is a sophomore. Hockey doesn’t get any easier in March and April.

A major injury

This team could be one injury away from total collapse.

They’ve had to deal with plenty of bumps and bruises so far this season
but so far have escaped the crushing blow of missing a leader like
Giordano or Brodie, or even Hudler, who has been one of the biggest (but
most quiet) reasons for the success of the young forwards this year.

They started the year without Mikael Backlund and he has given them
another element critical to their success since coming back but if he
were to be hurt again, his absence would be much tougher to overcome.

  • Burnward

    A refreshing 5 things piece for once, one that didn’t leave me completely hopeless, yes, like Mr. Lambert has a tendency to do. One win out of the next two games seem like a complete must. Hopefully the Flames are done gifting the Canucks sloppy seconds, the difference between last night’s Pens and the Pens we saw Friday night was from what I could see, pretty hefty. GFG!!

    • prendrefeu

      Pitt was a very different team last night against Vanc, in addition to getting their backup. Pens were not on their forecheck game & their stick checking was missing where against the Flames, every poke check they tried was successful or so it seemed. Here’s the thing. In my mind we are already playing on house money. Now this is where I will only brush past Lamberts mindset in that it sure would be a shame to waste this & come shy on playoffs & wind up with a mid pick this June. But after watching that Edmonton Toronto absolute nothing game, I’ll take the importance of the next 15 games over that garbage any day of the year as a paying customer. Problem is, we have had such a good season up until now, we will be mathematically in this to the end. We have become the MSM good feeling story in the NHL this year. A projected 30th place bottom feeding team defying the odds. So now we have the MSM shining the spotlight, the hockey panels setting the table for this years NHL story of the year. Unfortunately, our guys, like us, get so wrapped up in the excitement they think they are better than what it has taken to get here. Most of them have no idea how much more they have to notch up their level of play just not to get blown out at this time of year. They found out Friday. They are about to find out come March that the games get a little more intense, a little more dirtier & will have to fight a lot harder for every inch of ice. To have this happen at this stage of the rebuild my fellow Flame fans, is huge. I say the more kids we get in to experience this intensity, the better. We have already won & now we are trying parlay our winnings. Sure would be a shame to not get any playoff games. GFG!!!

  • Burnward

    If they win tomorrow night, I’ll breathe a lot easier.

    Bonus season though, in my opinion. If they get in, awesome. If they don’t they’ve got a pretty good idea of what they need to improve on during the off-season.

    Go Flames Go!!!

    • prendrefeu

      Exactly. It’s been an incredible season so far! If they make the playoffs, bonus time. If they don’t, at least the Flames did not ‘tankville’. The team developed a work ethic unlike any other, they tested their approach against teams – and adjusted where possible, they developed young talent and gave the veterans opportunities to adjust their game as well (ex: Diaz). Good, good, good, good.

      and yeah, if the Flames miss the playoffs by one point, no problem. Would they acquire a supposed or claimed generational forward, or go for a top-tier defender? What if they win the ‘lotto’ and Calgary can collectively moon Shelbyville to the North?

      What a ride so far, still enjoying every minute – even when Crosby goes ‘Crosby’ and the Pittburr end up too exhausted to play against the Cantpucks… still so much fun.

      Go Flames Go!

  • The Last Big Bear

    All valid points about the Flames team to date. There is no question they need 90 some points to be there at the end of the year, but it will be their performance the rest of the season which will determine the team they are becoming for the future too.

    Some of the right pieces are there, but they still need to improve in other areas. Last year was like two different seasons and I think this year will be much the same . Some of the same issues you mention could play into their stretch run, but I think some other issues will play into their results good and bad. This movie ending is still up for grabs so play the games and lets find out.

  • Burnward

    Games are now going to get very physical and goals are going to get very difficult. If Hartley takes the approach that I’m going to stick with the players that got me here then I don’t like the Flames playoff chances. Hartley needs to make some adjustments that includes bringing up Ferland and playing the Wolfman in place of the Byron’s and Stajon’s. These guys will give Johnny and Hudler etc some lanes to work with and make the Flames bigger and braver down the stretch…..

  • piscera.infada

    None of those things are Flames specific and could happen to any team either in or out of the playoff race.

    I mean, what if Devan “the allstar” “voodoo” Dubynk falls back to earth?

    What if Winnipeg has some sort of locker-room drama, that starts to effect their play?

    What if Vancouver’s scoring dries up, or what if the injury to Kevin Bieksa actually begins to hurt them?

    What if San Jose does their typical February/March limp into the playoffs?

    What if Colorado’s biggest offensive contributors continue to be the oldest players on that team (Iginla and Tanguay), and they go through what we all know here happens far too often when they’re the ones trying to drag an underachieving carcass of a team into the playoffs.

    And here’s the biggest one (and I’m sorry for even bringing this up), what if LA actually continues playing how they have all season, regardless of what knee-jerk moves they make at the deadline?

    I get it, Calgary’s success this season is unexpected, and you can say whatever you want about it being percentage fueled and I’ll listen. That fact is, the Flames are where they are, and while it’s clearly not a guarantee the Flames make the playoffs, none of the points examined in this article are inherently Flames-centric. They are merely things that happen to hockey teams.

    Sure, you can tell me that because the Flames are who they are, all of those things are somehow more “likely” to happen, but I mean Vancouver looks a lot different if the Sedin’s are out for a month with Mono after accidentally kissing the same Swedish twin at Ikea, right?

    I don’t get how that game somehow put the fear of God into everyone all of a sudden? Either you think they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs (which they do), or you’re going to give me some crap that, “well, Gio could get injured”, or “Hiller could have successive bad starts”, or “the Flames may not play well down the stretch”–all of which are definitely in the realm of possibility, but as I point out above are also possible for everyone else in the league.

    Frankly, the Flames got beat 4-0 in a game where the best hockey player in the world went completely “best player in the world”. It happens. The simple fact is that if there was a game in the two-week span between Feb. 1 and Feb. 14 that the Flames could “afford” to lose (if you believe in that kind of thing), it was that game. All I’m saying is these next three games are huge. Why don’t we all hold off on the Lambert-esque doomsday paranoia until we see where we’re at after those games?

    Personally, this is the first Flames team in a long while where I don’t get the feeling that the game against Pittsburgh was some sort of horrible harbinger, but again, I could be wrong.

    • prendrefeu

      I like your posts & we should not be so devastated by a sound thumping from an elite team. We’re in a 2nd year rebuild. & that’s my point, we could only win 1 game on this upcoming road trip & we will be far off from being mathematically eliminated, because all these other teams are stumbling as well. Look at Chicago, they have some serious issues for being such a power house team. I have Crawford in a hockey pool & he never gets shutouts, the Hawks are not that defensively smothering team this year.

      But, watching that Pitt game, I felt that is going to be a pretty good sample of what to expect from most of these very good teams we are jockeying for Wildcard & playoff spots. Playoff hockey is more hitting, dirtier plays & smothering defence. Teams are in their playoff preparation mode & players are executing better. Hate & disagree with me if you want, be we don’t have enough of the bigger, beefier(as Burke would call it) talented forwards that will play through this time of year. Refs tend to call less at this time of year. Really hoping Wolf can back in there & it might be time to get Ferlund in as well. We need some talented bigger guys in there.

      But you are right, every team is going to have to deal with these scenarios Steve has pointed out.

    • prendrefeu

      “None of those things are Flames specific and could happen to any team either in or out of the playoff race.”

      TOTALLY AGREE! 5 Things apply to every team in the race.

      When Burkie came on board he says the team needs to get bigger, and they are still too small, so he says, to compete in the Pacific Division. Have they proved Burkie wrong!!

      Now what to we need to compete against the Eastern Conference? Flames are 7-12-2 and the Oilers are 10-9-1. Guess we need better COrsi!

  • RKD

    The timing of the schedule couldn’t get any worse, we have to play the Ducks twice, Bruins twice, Blues twice, Kings twice, and don’t forget in the Rangers and Predators sprinkled in there. Mostly, it’s the 7 game road trip against the Eastern teams that I’m worried about. I think the Flames are a lot better than they are now as a team but they have to beat some of the Eastern teams to make the playoffs. The teams we are supposed to beat will all crank it up in the role of spoilers like the Leafs and Oilers. The other teams below us like Minnesota and Dallas will be difficult games if they are still in it until the end. I think now it is as murky as ever. Even though the Jets have lost 6 straight without the Kane questions now they have a chance to turn it around. Dubynk 7-1? I would never have guess that he would be playing this well. It’s going to probably come right down to the end.

    • everton fc

      If we get 8-10 points off this road trip, we’re fine. If we get 7, and no one else surges, we are okay.

      If we begin to lose on the road, we’ll have issues.

      The schedule is our biggest challenge.

  • T&A4Flames

    I agree with Burnward, we’ve already succeeded. Making the PO’s this year would just be a bonus to fantastic building season. Year 2 of a rebuild and it sure looks like we are well ahead of schedule.

    All the talk about defying the numbers only means that our youth has shown capable of playing beyond what was once expected; they’ve raised the bar. Now, knowing they can do it, they have to repeat it and in most cases with the younger crop, exceed it. We’re rebuilding and the most that could have been expected from this team over last year was to simply show improvement, something other rebuilding teams have been unable to do. Another top 10 pick for this team in this draft would not be a terrible thing.