Divisional games are important – just ask the 2014-15 Flames, who completely dominated their own division en route to a playoff spot.
The Flames are coming off of a three-game stretch against Pacific opponents, in which they went 1-2, with the one win coming in the shootout: as in, still allowing a point to a divisional opponent. Following hosting duties against the Minnesota Wild, they’ll have another three divisional games left on the docket before the trade deadline.
Now’s as good a time as any to revisit how they’re faring against their closest competition: particularly as we’re in the midst of a stretch that could officially determine the approach the Flames take the rest of the season.
Then and now
The Pacific is hardly a bastion of hockey superiority – the Central is far scarier – but when you’re defeating your very direct competition for a playoff spot to the tune of a 26-8-1 record, and only one team has a winning record against you, good things are going to happen.
That’s how the Flames performed in 2014-15 against the Pacific. Of the 97 points they earned, 53 of them came against Pacific opponents: more than half. They outscored their divisional opponents 114-79: an impressive +35 differential.
In contrast, so far this season, the Flames have a 6-10-2 record against the Pacific. Of their 53 points thus far earned, just 14 of them have come against their divisional opponents, while 24 have been handed to them. They’ve been outscored 63-48: a goal differential of -15.
It’s a far cry from the divisional dominance they exhibited just a year ago. We’re actually at the point that the Flames are closer to clinching a playoff spot via the wild card – they’re currently nine points back, with some games in hand – than by being one of the top teams in the Pacific, where they’re 12 points back.
One of the Flames’ hopes despite of their poor start to the season? They’d barely played against their own division. That’s no longer the case, though: and with just 11 divisional games left, including the three upcoming, time is fast running out. Especially when they have losing records against four of six teams thus far.
In 2014-15, the Ducks were the one Pacific team that got the best of the Flames. Calgary got just four points from them out of five games; Anaheim, on the other hand, got seven, and outscored the Flames 21-18. (There was also that little factor of falling to them 4-1 in the playoffs, but most could kind of figure out that was going to happen, regardless.)
So far this season, the Flames are 0-3 against the Ducks, with two games still to go: both in Anaheim, where the Flames haven’t won since Craig Conroy was an offensive contributor. They’ve been outscored 12-7; the one time Calgary was able to keep Anaheim’s offence in check – and this is a team that, with 136 goals, is literally one of the worst at scoring in the NHL this season – they lost 1-0.
It was bleak last season, and that was when the Flames were doing well; this season, it’s basically impossible.
In 2014-15, the Flames crushed the Coyotes, and it wasn’t even close. They swept the divisional series, winning 5-0: 10 points to Calgary throughout every game, and zero to the Coyotes. Arizona was outscored 20-8. It was never even a contest.
It’s been a total role reversal this season. The Flames are 0-2-1 against the Coyotes, with Arizona handing them the very rare overtime loss (the only time the Flames have lost at 3-on-3 this season, in fact). That’s six points to the Coyotes, and just one for the Flames; throw in the fact they’ve been outscored 8-3 and, well.
The Coyotes were projected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, and even though they’re defying those expectations, only scoring three goals against them in three games is extremely bad. There are still another two games against them to go, but going off of this season’s editions, it looks like an impossible hill to climb.
Calgary sports have had a recent history of laughing hysterically when facing off against Edmonton. In 2014-15, the Flames swept the season series, just as they did with the Coyotes: earning 10 points, and giving just one to the Oilers where something went wrong and they actually had to go to overtime once. They outscored them 21-8 though, so that one overtime game was clearly an anomaly.
The playing field has been levelling this season, though. The Flames are currently 2-1-1 against the Oilers, one of two teams they actually have a winning record against thus far. That’s five points Calgary has earned, and just four for Edmonton, a shootout loss being the one difference. They’ve been outscored 14-13, though, so it’s been a tight season series this year.
There’s still one game against the Oilers left, to be played in April when, in all likelihood, both teams will be jockeying for lottery position. Or pride. The last time the Flames lost a season series to the Oilers, it was 2008-09, with a shootout win getting Edmonton an extra point being the lone difference.
vs Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Kings had a bizarre 2014-15 season, and a great deal of that was thanks to the Flames. One of the better teams in the NHL – as they are once again proving this year – the Kings missed the playoffs, and the Flames going 4-1 against them played a huge hand in it. The Flames got eight points out of their season series; the Kings, four. Calgary outscored them 14-11. They clinched a playoff spot with a win over them. It was like an alternate universe.
We’re back to our reality this season, though. The Flames have only seen the Kings once so far, and they promptly lost 4-1. There are still another three games against them to go, so the season series is far from lost, but we’re also talking about a divisional opponent with a 16-point lead, and with a goal differential of +20 to Calgary’s -18, not to mention L.A. being a 56.4% CF team while the Flames sit at 47.3%.
So yeah, they’re probably not winning much this time.
vs San Jose
The Sharks were another team the Flames closely battled against for a playoff spot in 2014-15, but ultimately unexpectedly triumphed over, with a 4-1 seasonal record. The Flames got eight points off of the Sharks, while San Jose managed a mere three; they were outscored 15-8.
This season, the Sharks are one of the teams they’re actually doing better against. The Flames have a 2-2 record with just one game to go, though they’ve only picked up four points off of San Jose in comparison to the five the Sharks have picked up, thanks to a shootout loss. That’s nearly identical to their record against Edmonton: throw in the -1 goal differential from being outscored 17-16, and it’s pretty much the same thing.
There’s still one game to go to determine the winner of the season series. San Jose looks playoff-bound, though, while Calgary decidedly does not.
The Canucks gave the Flames more of a fight in 2014-15, as the Flames just narrowly won the season series with a 2-1-1 record, taking five points off of Vancouver, while Vancouver walked away with four. (There’s an overtime loss to thank for that.) Vancouver outscored Calgary 9-8, and ultimately ended up the second divisional seed and had home ice in the playoffs, but we saw how well that worked out for them.
This season, the Canucks are right down in the muck with the Flames when it comes to terrible hockey. Calgary has the 2-1 season series lead thus far, though, picking up four points to the Canucks’ three (an overtime loss). Goals are even at 8-8 apiece, so Vancouver may actually be the most ideal matchup for the Flames this season: and there are still two games against one another to go.
Where Vancouver once dominated the rinks of western Canada, it appears to be a totally level playing field now, though nobody’s doing particularly well.
When all is said and done
The most striking difference to me is the Flames’ records against Arizona from a year ago to today. The Coyotes, like the Flames, are a rebuilding team: not particularly good, even with their fifth-best league shooting percentage.
Their record against the Ducks isn’t surprising, nor is their record against the Kings: these are teams the Flames, in their current incarnation, should be losing to. Western Canada has become a cesspool, but the Flames’ continuing relative success against the Sharks is a pleasant surprise.
Last year, though, the Coyotes were easy pickings. They’re a team that should still be beatable, but this year, they simply aren’t. Consider how the Flames got 20 of their 97 points in 2014-15 – that’s 21% – from just the Coyotes and Oilers. If the Flames were en route towards sweeping them again this season, they’d have an extra eight points in the bank: enough to put them fourth in the division, and in a very real conversation for a wild card spot.
But there haven’t been any real dominating moments for Calgary this year, so they’re going to have to continue building to keep up with everyone around them.