The Stretch Drive: A Preview

The trade deadline has passed. Mark Giordano is out for the remainder of the season and Curtis Glencross and Sven Baertschi have left the Calgary Flames organization via trades.

Tonight is the first of the final 20 games of the 2014-15 season. Against all odds, the Calgary Flames enter this final stretch in a playoff spot.

Here’s what the Flames have left between now and Game 82 on April 11 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

THE SCHEDULE

  1. Tonight at Philadelphia
  2. Thursday at Boston
  3. Friday at Detroit
  4. Sunday at Ottawa
  5. March 11 vs. Anaheim
  6. March 13 vs. Toronto
  7. March 14 at Colorado
  8. March 17 vs. St. Louis
  9. March 19 vs. Philadelphia
  10. March 21 vs. Columbus
  11. March 23 vs. Colorado
  12. March 25 vs. Dallas
  13. March 27 at Minnesota
  14. March 29 at Nashville
  15. March 30 at Dallas
  16. April 2 at St. Louis
  17. April 4 at Edmonton
  18. April 7 vs. Arizona
  19. April 9 vs. Los Angeles
  20. April 11 at Winnipeg

That’s 13 games versus the West, 7 against the East. That’s 9 games at home, 11 on the road. That’s 8 games against teams above them in the standings, 12 games against teams equal to or below them. That’s three remaining pairs of back-to-backs, all involving some travel.

The schedule isn’t too onerous. A playoff spot probably requires 95 points and it’s doable, but it’ll require winning all the games against the teams at or below them in the standings and stealing one or two here or there. We’ll get an idea of what this group is capable of tonight, so treat it as a dry run. If they’re decent, .500 hockey may not be a pipe dream and a playoff spot may be possible. If they’re bad, let’s hope they don’t do worse than the 5-11-2 run they went on the last time Giordano went down. And bear in mind, they’re 0-1-0 already without him this season.

THE LINE-UP

Here’s how lines were at practice yesterday in Philadelphia:

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.27.38 AM

The forward ranks will probably also get an injection of Drew Shore in due course, as well as the pending return of Matt Stajan. The forward ranks are what they are, and there’s a decent mix of size and skill across them. I’d probably rather see someone more…functional than Bollig in the line-up more often than not (Michael Ferland?), as that’d allow the team to roll four lines more readily, but the Bollig bunch doesn’t get too much time as is, so it’s not a massive problem to have.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.27.52 AM

The defensive group is kind of a mess. Russell and Wideman were fine against the Islanders, but putting Engelland with Brodie really hand-cuffs him – partially because Brodie’s so used to playing on the right side. I gotta figure that the plan is to eventually put the left-handed David Schlemko on the left side of Brodie and use them as a second pairing, and to bump Engelland back down with Diaz. That said, even if that works perfect, the challenge will be to give them opportunities to succeed; Brodie, along with Sean Monahan, are probably the two best Flames in terms of on-ice “quarterbacking,” in the sense that they can control the pace of the game and coordinate their teammates better than everybody else on the team.

It’s probably not a shock to learn that the best guy at that attribute was Mark Giordano.

The penalty kill is reliant on systems, and while Giordano did eat up a bunch of PK time, the plan in that realm is an active forecheck led by the two forwards along with hits and shot-blocking. That won’t significantly change. The power play is a different story, as Giordano’s quarterbacking allows him to maneuver players, enter the zone and create lanes. That said, the Flames have been dreadful at entering the zone cleanly on the PP this season, so perhaps losing their big gun is the thing they need to rejig the whole operation.

THE OUTLOOK

I’m curious how Mason Raymond does returning to his usual wing after a spell on the right side with Glencross in the line-up. I’m curious if Johnny Gaudreau can find another gear after seemingly losing steam of late. I’m curious if Lance Bouma can continue his elevated play – and if he or Mikael Backlund wear the remaining alternate captain’s A until Matt Stajan returns.

Lastly, I’m curious how the group reacts. This entire season, the Calgary Flames have exhibited an “us against the world” mentality. Literally nobody, this site included, thought that they would be anywhere near a playoff spot. Heck, our pre-season panel collective thought they’d get around 70 points. They’ve done that with 20 games to go.

Now, everyone is writing the team off all over again. The team’s two most-tenured players – Giordano and Glencross – are gone, and they’re not coming back (this season). The group can either wilt and accept their fate, or they can get fired up. There’s 20 games to go and, much like the beginning of the season, nobody is giving the Calgary Flames a chance to make the playoffs. And like the beginning of the season, there is a locker room full of 25 guys facing absolutely no pressure and no burden of expectations whatsoever.

They’re heading into the final 20 games of this season without their best player and their leader. I’m not prepared to completely write them off, but this is going to be an absolutely fascinating final stretch of games – win or lose.

  • It may be slim, but there’s always a chance! Lets hope some of the players can step up and make it a great run. I’ll be happy as long as the hockey is still fun to watch (thats what its all about, right?)!

  • If we were to lose every game the rest of the way the best we could finish is about seventh place, still gonna be better than Toronto/Edmonton/Carolina/Columbus/Arizona/Buffalo.

    So **** it, let’s just go for the best damn finish we can get. Playoffs would be a miracle but if anyone can take on that role, it might be Johnny.

  • beloch

    Schlemko has only played 2 AHL games and 25 NHL games this season, the most recent being on Jan 31st. I’m not surprised he’s sitting out. Hartley will probably need a few practices to get him ready to jump into the playoff-race.

    I’m starting to wonder what’s going on with Smid though. He’d be nice to have back on the third pair instead of Potter. He’s still on the IR and listed as having an upper body injury. While it’s probably not the best combination, a pairing of Smid and Schlemko would be a lot of fun for the announcers.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Our playoff fate will come down to the games against the other Western Conference bubble teams.

    There’s every chance that it comes right down to the last game of the season.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Gotta hope LA starts feeling like they’ve been missing out on some early season golf these last few years. Seems our best chance to make the playoffs is hold off the Kings & Sharks for the 3rd Pacific spot. The points for those wildcard spots is getting too high and will be tough to crack.

    Aren’t the Kings tired yet of all that winning and deep playoff runs?

  • PrairieStew

    I think they should move Russell up to play with Brodie and ride them for 30 minutes.

    If Schlemko can take a regular turn with Wideman then that leaves the third pair where they need to be.

    • DoubleDIon

      I’d play with it for a game or two. I just strongly feel those two are our only guys left that can play top competition. If we have them together the other 10 minutes top 6 forwards play against us could be scary. I have no confidence in Wideman or Engelland defensively. Wideman is great offensively, but he’s pretty bad in his own end.

      • The Last Big Bear

        Just going to point out that Widensn has the highest penalty kill efficiency on the Flames, and one of the highest (possibly the highest, I haven’t checked) in the entire NHL.

        I think the “Dennis Wideman sucks in his own zone” thing is largely overblown.

        He gets caught in the offensive zone more than some people would like, and doesn’t have the foot speed to cover for it, but that is a coaching and style-of-play issue. Hartley has all of the defenders doing that, Wideman just gets burned a little more often than Gio/Brodie/Russel. If he’s facing tough minutes, he just needs to reel it in a little so he doesn’t get caught deep, and i think thats a relatively easy adjustment to make. But in his own end, I don’t think he’s actually a problem.

        • DoubleDIon

          You’re right. To clarify my position, I don’t mean specifically in the defensive zone. Poor wording on my part. I just mean his defensive game is lacking.

          Like you said, Brodie, Russell and Giordano have the footspeed to make up for mistakes when they make a high risk play. Wideman doesn’t.

          His gap control on the rush is also extremely bad. He covers the cycle and guys in front decently.

        • beloch

          To be fair, the Flames have a smaller PK sample than most teams and Wideman has played just half as much short-handed as Brodie or Giordano. His PK efficiency will fall if Hartley is forced to play him on PK’s more, especially if he has to be matched against the oppositions top PP unit, which has Hartley tried very hard to keep Brodano out for as much as possible.

  • Greg

    Question: what’s the fewest games played by a Norris trophy nominee?

    I’m assuming the actual award is out of Gio’s grasp now, but would be nice to see him get a nomination anyway. I wonder if the team falters badly down the stretch, would that help his cause (look at what happened without him) or hurt him (voters forget all about flames)?

  • Greg

    I look at this schedule and I am hopeful that they can win 13 games. For this to happen goaltending must be good(Ramo has done that or better the last 3 games) Scoring by committee must return and somehow team defense must be good. I have not given up hope for this season. Even if the worst case scenario occurs this has been an excellent season for year 2 of a rebuild.

  • everton fc

    I love the third line. I’d like to see Poirier w/Gaudreau. Who wouldn’t prefer Ferland over Bollig? At least you get potential scoring with Ferland, something we desperately lack, of late.

    Giving Gaudreau new linemates and a demotion, if it’s that, to the 2nd line. Good. Get him going. Jooris is an energy guy. That might work. Raymond with Monahan and Hudler, Raymond at this natural LW… I like this, as well. We need scoring. Hartley and the staff are obviously juggling lines for maximum effect.

    “On paper”, Schlemko does indeed appear to be the logical choice to pair with Brodie. I think this is what will happen, with Potter back in the press box.

  • everton fc

    Ideally you’d keep Wideman/Russell and Engelland/Diaz together for least impact. Schlemko played top 4 minutes in Phoenix; once he’s ready to go, you deploy him with Brodie. Seems the most prudent, potentially profitable, or at least the less likely to cause gaping holes in the backend.

    I have a really good vibe about Schlemko for some reason. Perhaps naïve fan commitment to the team?!

  • mattyc

    Ryan, not sure where you get that Gaudreau has been “seemingly losing steam”.

    By my eye he’s played well. He’s had 12 shots in 5 games since the Boston game, and has been playing a ton (which probably indicates Hartley also disagrees with you). Gaudreau played 23(!) minutes vs. the Islanders on Friday.

    Here’s some WOWY possession data for Wideman for our top 2 centers:


    ------------------------Monahan Backlund
    With Wideman : ________CF% 42.8%, 42.6%

    Wideman w/out : _______CF% 42.8%, 42.8%
    Player w/out Wideman:__CF% 47.5%, 50.3%

    Part of that is they most likely play with Brodie and Gio w/out Wideman, but that also means they’re playing top competition more too.

  • flamesfan98

    I hope the flames make the playoffs but I won’t be disappointed if they don’t. They have come a long way from here and are making good progress in the rebuild of things.all we can do is wait and see how it all ends up

  • prendrefeu

    Literally nobody, this site included, thought that they would be anywhere near a playoff spot

    Hyperbole, much?
    There have been number of supporters on this site alone which thought, from the beginning, they would do well and be competitive – yes, even near a playoff spot. Just because you and other FN writers saw it one way does not mean you speak for other people who comment here nor other analysts/commentators in the media. You have an opinion, and it is respected by some, other people have opinions which should also be acknowledged – even if you disagree with them.