Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
There are 18 games to go in the season.
Well, actually, hopefully there are more than 18 games to go. Hopefully there are at least another four after that; hopefully, even more than that. As things currently stand, the Flames are in the first wild card spot and seventh in the West in points percentage. They are firmly in playoff position.
It’s March. They’ve got a little over a month to go to make sure they stay there. Let’s break down these next 18 games.
The Flames will return to action on March 3 when they host the Detroit Red Wings. The New York Islanders will come to town on March 5, and then there will be three days without games before the Montreal Canadiens visit the Saddledome on March 9.
After that, the Flames play every other day for the rest of the season. It’s a jam-packed schedule that’s sure to keep the excitement ramped up and, perhaps better yet, features no back-to-backs. (Three of the teams they play will be coming in on the second of a back-to-back, however: Dallas, as well as Los Angeles and San Jose once each.)
A week from today kicks off the start of every-other-day Flames hockey, so hold on to your butts.
Home and away
It’ll be a busy finish at the Saddledome, as 11 of these upcoming games are home ones. The Flames have a 16-14-0 record at home (.533), compared to 18-12-4 on the road (.588).
So the Flames have just seven road games left. One is a quick little trip out to Winnipeg. Later in March, they’ll have a bit of an odd swing, jetting out to Washington and dipping into a Central trip through Nashville and St. Louis before coming back home. And then, of course, they’ll finish the season with a three-game California road trip.
It’s those final six games, all against California teams, that may make or break this season. If anything, it’s certainly set up for an exciting finish.
So, who’s left to play against?
The Flames have just seven divisional games to go: those final six California games, plus another game against the Kings for good measure.
They have just five other games against Western opponents: Winnipeg, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, and Colorado.
That leaves six games to go against the East: Detroit, the New York Islanders, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Washington. These are probably the least stressful games; three-pointers don’t matter here, because the Flames aren’t competing with these teams for playoff spots.
The Flames sit 14th in the NHL with a .563 points percentage. Half of their games will be against teams below them in that stat: Detroit, the Islanders, Winnipeg, Dallas, Los Angeles (x3), St. Louis, and Colorado. Of these teams, four – Detroit, Winnipeg, Dallas, and Colorado – are below the .500 marker.
That leaves the other half of their remaining games against teams above them in points percentage: Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose (x2), Montreal, Anaheim (x2), Nashville, and Boston. Anaheim, Nashville, and Boston are the teams just above the Flames in points percentage – below .600 – so it’s not as though they’re world beaters. Washington is the best in the NHL at .734.
How’s it going to shake out?
The Flames currently sit at 72 points. According to Sports Club Stats, they have an 82% chance of making the playoffs. The site believes that 95 points is a guarantee for them to be in, while even just hitting 92 upgrades their chances to 97.4%.
Doing this as simply as possible, the Flames should be aiming to get at least another 20 points over their remaining 18 games: a .556 clip. That’s a little under where they are right now. If all they do is keep pace, they have a pretty good shot.
Who can they beat? Nothing is a given – remember that 5-0 loss to the Coyotes – but let’s assume they take the four games they have against the bottom feeders (there’s really no excuse to lose to them). That’s eight points right there; as long as the Flames get those, they would only have to play at a .500 stretch the rest of the way.
Breaking down the East opponents, the Flames have beaten Boston and Pittsburgh (and Detroit), lost in overtime to the Islanders, and just plain lost to Montreal (a blowout) and Washington. If they repeat their performance more or less (excluding Detroit, because we’ve already covered them), that’s a .500 record right there and another five points, bringing them up to 13.
That leaves seven or 10 points to try to grab in nine games against St. Louis, Nashville, and the California teams. They have beaten and lost to all of these teams throughout the season. The Sharks are the only ones who are really out of reach; the rest are all on about the same level, with some fluctuation. These are the teams the Flames are directly battling with for spots, too, so wins basically count as doubles, while losses hurt extra hard. Still – just win half of these games, and the chances look good.
As long as the Flames win the games they’re absolutely supposed to and go .500 the rest of the way… yeah, probably.