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
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
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
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
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.