It has been about as bad a start to the season as anyone could have imagined for the Calgary Flames. They’ve fallen to six games below .500, the percentage pendulum has swung all the way to the other side, and the entire group is frustrated. It’s tough to find a lot of things to feel optimistic about right now, but I’ve come up with three things that would point to things getting (a little) better.
The thing is, I can’t see the Flames being this bad for the rest of the season. While last year might have been rife with good fortune, Calgary is still capable of better than what we’ve seen through the first 11 games. The problem is, it might be too late when they do finally get things back on track. Here are three reasons why things should get slightly more positive in the coming week.
1. Brodie is back
I don’t think TJ Brodie’s return to the lineup can be understated. Having him back in the lineup is good for a couple distinct reasons.
First, Brodie’s return means the Flames can have something they didn’t have prior: a true top pairing. That’s what Brodie and Giordano are, and having them back together should prove to extremely important. Last year that top pairing played among the toughest minutes in the NHL and were very effective in doing so. Being hammered with defensive zone starts against the best opposition almost every single shift is a difficult job, but these guys do it and do it well.
Having Giordano and Brodie reunited as a pair trickles down the lineup, too, which leads to the second reason the latter’s return is so crucial. By having a top pairing capable of playing so many tough minutes, it positively affects the minutes the other two pairings are playing. Knowing how some of those defencemen have struggled to this point, they can use the help.
Kris Russell’s struggles to start the season have been well documented, and for good reason. Brodie’s return won’t be the only thing that helps him right his own ship, but if should reduce the amount of difficult minutes he has to play. That goes for Dennis Wideman, Dougie Hamilton, and Deryk Engelland as well.
2. The goaltending can’t remain this bad
Calgary has had among the worst goaltending in the league through the first 11 games of the season. While that has played a big part in the early struggles for the team, it also can’t remain this bad for the rest of the season. The trio of Hiller, Ramo, and Ortio haven’t been good to start this season, but remember, they combined to give the Flames middle-of-the-road NHL goaltending last year.
All three of these guys haven’t permanently forgotten how to play the position. While none of them look to be number one options right now, I can’t see it being this bad for the rest of the season. Statistically speaking, the odds are very good that one, if not all of them, will return to a level worthy of being in the NHL. While I’m confident in that happening eventually, I have next to no idea how long that is going to take.
Let’s say I’m wrong, though, and not one of Ramo, Hiller, or Ortio can give the team NHL quality goaltending. Even still I can’t see the position remaining as porous as it’s been. The team will do something, whether it’s a big move for a potential future number one or, more likely, a smaller one that helps stem the tide temporarily. Regardless, it would be a massive shock if the goaltending continues to be this bad for the rest of the season.
3. The percentages should even out
We were saying this last year, too, but on the other side of things! Through 11 games, the Flames have an on-ice shooting percentage of 6.0% which ranks them 25th in the league. That’s in stark contrast to last year where they had the league’s second highest shooting percentage at 8.9% over 82 games. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
I think many of us expected things to even out a little in this category, but personally, I thought we’d see Calgary’s shooting percentage fall to, you know, around average. Instead they’ve gone from one of the league’s most efficient teams to one of the league’s worst. A 2.9% drop is significant, especially over a full season. The good news is, if the league median is somewhere around 7.0% or 7.5%, there’s room for improvement here.
The bad news is, however, that this stuff is fickle. Just like none of us could predict when the percentages were going to drop off last year, none of us can forecast when things will normalize in a positive fashion this season. The odds suggest that it’ll happen eventually. Whether it’ll be in time for it to make a difference in their playoff hopes is another story altogether.
Hey, look, this has been an absolute nightmare start to the season. In a lot of ways, the Flames truly have earned their 2-8-1 beginning. If you heard me on Overtime on Friday night, you’d know it’s been a stretch for me to say anything positive about this group. I’m baffled and completely lost for answers, but I figured I’d touch on the three things above just to help balance out all the bad. Tell me if it works.