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.
- Tonight at Philadelphia
- Thursday at Boston
- Friday at Detroit
- Sunday at Ottawa
- March 11 vs. Anaheim
- March 13 vs. Toronto
- March 14 at Colorado
- March 17 vs. St. Louis
- March 19 vs. Philadelphia
- March 21 vs. Columbus
- March 23 vs. Colorado
- March 25 vs. Dallas
- March 27 at Minnesota
- March 29 at Nashville
- March 30 at Dallas
- April 2 at St. Louis
- April 4 at Edmonton
- April 7 vs. Arizona
- April 9 vs. Los Angeles
- 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.
Here’s how lines were at practice yesterday in Philadelphia:
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.
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.
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.