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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing Calgary’s myriad playoff possibilities

Despite not clinching a playoff spot on their first try Wednesday night, the Calgary Flames are almost certainly going to be postseason bound. Beyond that, though, is very much unknown. The Flames could realistically play one of six teams in the first round of the playoffs, with four more likely than the rest. But is there a desired round one matchup for Calgary? Well, knowing how wide open the Western Conference has been this season, that question is really difficult to answer.

When the Flames made the playoffs two seasons ago, they somehow drew the best possible matchup despite finishing eighth in the conference. The Vancouver Canucks ended up being as desirable a draw as possible as things fell nicely into place for Calgary. This time around, though, I don’t see a team like the Canucks to lock horns with. In saying that, let’s delve into the six possible playoff opponents for the Flames.

Edmonton

How: 2-3 Pacific Division OR 1st Pacific vs. 1st wildcard
Season series: 0-3-1

I know this matchup scares a lot of Flames fans based on the season series. Calgary lost all four meetings with the Oilers this season and were outscored 21-11 along the way. It has been more than two months since these teams have played a game, though, so I put together a quick recap of their four meetings, with some help from hockeystats.ca.

While losing four straight games to Edmonton was tough on the egos of many Flames fans, the season series is slightly misleading. First off, Calgary got horrid goaltending in all but one of the games. With Brian Elliott’s stellar form of late, those issues should be far less of a concern in the event of a playoff showdown.

Furthermore, it’s not like we were talking about dominant 5v5 performances from Edmonton in any of the games. Granted, score effects played a part in Calgary’s high possession and scoring chances totals, but I never felt like they were completely outmatched or out of their league in any of the four games. Even some average goaltending could have made some of the above final scores look a whole lot better.

From Calgary’s perspective, I think the Oilers are beatable. At 49.6%, their possession numbers are in the red and rank them 19th in the league. I think their blueline is susceptible despite being much improved in comparison to recent years. And Cam Talbot has played a ton of hockey! He leads the league in minutes and starts this season and should absolutely be in the Vezina Trophy conversation. I know it’s a popular and overused narrative, but how much will he have left in the tank as the postseason rolls on?

Anaheim

How: 2-3 Pacific Division OR 1st Pacific vs. 1st wildcard
Season series: 1-2-0 (in progress)

With two head-to-head games remaining, this season series is far from decided and still has a great deal of relevance. The Flames still have a chance at tracking the Ducks down for top spot in the Pacific Division, although the probability of that happening isn’t overly high. But what about facing Anaheim in a playoff series?

Two years ago, Calgary’s cinderella season came to a crashing halt as they were manhandled in five games by the Ducks in round two of the postseason. Anaheim was deeper, more experienced, had more firepower, and generally just pushed the Flames around. But, while I still think they’re a good team, I just don’t see Anaheim quite in the same light as I have in recent years.

Those 5v5 metrics above aren’t what you’d associate with a powerhouse team. They’re not bad by any stretch, either, but they show there are some vulnerabilities with this group.

I have some question marks about Anaheim’s goaltending, despite the recent run of Jonathan Bernier. With John Gibson hurt, Bernier has gone 10-1-1 in March with a 0.946 save percentage. Those numbers are great, but I don’t trust Bernier in big playoff games myself, and besides, Gibson is close to a return. His numbers this season are strong, but Gibson is still just 23 and youth like that between the pipes is always a question mark come the postseason.

The Ducks have had Calgary’s number, though, and in more ways than one. We all know about the record-setting streak of futility at the Honda Center and the Flames have had their struggles with Anaheim even on home ice. As a rule, Calgary still has had trouble going up against bigger teams like the the Ducks, but they’ve been a little bit better at it of late.

San Jose

How: 2-3 Pacific Division OR 1st Pacific vs. 1st wildcard
Season series: 2-1-0 (in progress)

Much like the Ducks, the Flames still have a pair of games left with the Sharks and those games could go a long way in playoff seeding. Calgary has had some success in two of their first three meetings with San Jose, although it has been a while since the two teams have hooked up.

I like the Sharks and I still think they’re one of the scarier Western Conference teams, specifically because they play a style conducive to postseason hockey. While San Jose doesn’t do a great job imposing offensively, they’re extremely stingy defensively and that can win a lot of playoff games.

The Sharks allow just 27.6 shots per game, which ranks them third in the league and correlates well with their fourth best goals against of 2.43 per game. On the other side, though, San Jose ranks 18th in both goals for (2.68) and shots for (30.0), which drops their overall possession rate a little bit. At 51.1%, the Sharks rank ninth across the league in terms of raw possession.

Knowing how deep they went last year, I still think San Jose is an extremely dangerous playoff opponent for whoever they end up facing. Of all the Pacific Division opponents the Flames could end up facing, I think I like the Sharks for them the least.

Chicago

How: 1st Central vs. 2nd wildcard
Season series: 1-2-0

The Blackhawks are an interesting bunch for me. First off, the Flames haven’t played a game with Chicago since November, so you can basically throw that season series right in the trash. Both teams are substantially different groups since the earlier stages of the season, so I don’t know if there’s much to take from their three meetings.

The Hawks intrigue me, though, because I’m of two minds with them. On the one hand, I know they’ve won three titles over the last seven years and have been to another conference final during that span, too. Chicago boasts talent like Toews, Panarin, Kane, Keith and more and have a well-earned pedigree you can’t ignore.

On the flip side, though, the Hawks aren’t lighting the world on fire with their underlying numbers. Chicago’s 5v5 outputs have been somewhat middle-of-the-road this season but have gotten a nice boost from a high shooting percentage, as charted below.

Even during this last torrid stretch, the Hawks have still been just meh from an underlying perspective. Chicago has gone 14-3-2 since Feb. 19, but they rank just 15th with a 50.0 CF% and are getting a nice boost from an even higher PDO at 102.1. I know Chicago is running away with the conference right now, but I don’t put them in juggernaut territory myself.

St. Louis

How: 1st Pacific vs. 1st wildcard
Season series: 2-1-0

The last two teams are less likely playoff opponents, but still realistic. For the Flames to face the Blues or Predators, they’d have to win the Pacific to draw one of these two teams in a wildcard slot. For the first time in a number of years, though, Calgary has had some decent regular season success against St. Louis.

The Blues have been a form of kryptonite for the Flames in recent seasons as their strong, heavy, possession game under Ken Hitchock was hard to deal with. This year, however, has seen Calgary deal pretty well with it, especially in their last two outings, and most specifically last weekend in St. Louis. That night saw the Flames go toe-to-toe physically with the Blues and they played a very competitive hockey game and eventually prevailed 3-2 in overtime.

The most important thing to watch in St. Louis is goaltending, because if Jake Allen has found his game they might be really scary. Allen was basically handed the keys to the number one job after Brian Elliott was dealt to the Flames last season, but he certainly didn’t hit the ground running. In fact, Allen’s season needs to be split into two for context.

Allen was horrid for so much of the first four months of the season, but the last two he’s been incredible. In fact, both Allen’s save percentage and goals against ranks number one since Feb. 1 and shows how dramatically he’s turned around his season. If he keeps rolling into the playoffs, St. Louis goes from being a good team to a pretty frightening one.

Nashville

How: 1st Pacific vs. 1st wildcard
Season series: 1-2-0

We close things out with the Predators who have looked pretty darn good in their three meetings with Calgary this season. The one win the Flames did take came in a wild affair in February that saw Nashville erase a 4-1 deficit before eventually falling in overtime. This is not a team to take lightly.

I think the Predators are a really good team. Under head coach Peter Laviolette, Nashville has been one of the league’s better possession teams three years running, with this year being no exception. At 51.4%, the Predators are the league’s sixth best team by shot-based metrics.

I think Nashville is deep up front and has truly elite talent on the back end, but my only question comes between the pipes. Pekka Rinne has been solid for the most part this year and has his save percentage sitting at 0.916 right now. Over the last couple years, though, Rinne has looked more shaky and vulnerable than at any point in his career, so I think opposing teams have the opportunity to get to him come the postseason.

  • Thumper

    Maybe they’ve gelled a little bit since the Flames last played them, but I still feel like the Oilers are a bit of a one-trick pony. If a team can contain McDavid (a big “if”) I’m not sure how much else they have going for them. Goaltending has been good, but as you said, overworked. I feel like they could crumple surprisingly easily in playoff hockey. Teams go power vs power much more than in the regular season and it’s usually the depth that wins games after the top talent nullifies each other. 97 could easily just drag the rest of the squad through the postseason himself if he can’t be shutdown. But if a team can figure out that top line there might not be much else in the Oil tank.

    • Burning Ring of Fire

      During the post season it’s easier to shut down guys when the whistles go away. You also never want to be a one trick pony. Glad the Flames scoring is spread out and we don’t have that kind of potential problem.

      • 99CupsofCoffey

        You have a point, but i was pretty impressed with the way the Oilers beat the Kings at their own game yesterday. No Way that previous Oiler teams could even come close to that, they couldn’t wait to get off the ice when the Kings came to town. So even without the whistles, I don’t think they’ll be a one-trick pony in the playoffs.

        • Cfan in Van

          Not at all what he said. And you can stop waiving your McDavid around like is ON. Most teams don’t have one, so we’re allowed to be happy about evenly distributed scoring.

    • Blackgold

      You haven’t been watching the Oilers of late. There second line of Lucic, RNH and Eberle are on track and producing. The French rejection line of Pouliot, DD, and Kassian are producing and dominating of late. That 3rd line is one of the best 3rd lines in the league right now. As for Talbot, the more he plays, the better he is. Has had maybe 3 suspect games all year. McDavid and Drais are producing more than any first line in the NHL. Don’t take the Oilers lightly.

    • Mahaloeh

      Flames really should be worried about their own goaltending, with the pressure on over the last 8 games they’ve lost 4 & won one in OT! I would love it if the Oilers & Flames met in 1st round, would be fun series for sure.

    • Not a First Tier Fan

      Keep deluding yourself Bud… even IF someone finds a way to contain McDavid and IF Lucic, Eberle, Kassian and the rest of the boys aren’t firing then you simply drop LD down to the second line and instantly change the complexion of the entire team. You jokers that keep saying Edmonton is a one line wonder are in for a world of hurt.

      But if it’s what keeps you going at night then by all means keep living in your fantasy world. Lol.

    • Ronr68

      So, which teams could win without their top line? McDavid is not the only player on that line. Draisaitl does almost as much as McDavid. You might be able to contain him for a game, but that’s it. All season he hasn’t had two games in a row without a point. I watched the Ducks/Oilers game last night and their three best players couldn’t contain him.

  • Southboy

    I have to agree with blacgold a bit on this one, i have been watching some Oiler games lately, and they really do have 3 lines rolling. I would choose Nashville over anyone.

  • Derzie

    I hope it’s not the Oilers as I made a pre-season vow to never watch McDavid play for the Oilers. I avoid unpleasant things when it comes to entertainment. Losing to the Oil in a playoff series is a low as it would get. Count me out for that. Nashville or bust!

    • Blackgold

      Not watching McDavid? Then you are missing out. Your loss. A true hockey fan appreciates talent. Crosby, Ovi, Stamkos. You don’t watch them either because they don’t play for the Flames? I suppose you also didn’t watch Gretzky play either, since he played for the Oilers.

      • Cfan in Van

        I’ll admit, he’s amazing. That said, it still makes me sick that the Oil lucked into him, and if he played for any other team (outside of the Canucks maybe), I could actually enjoy watching him. That feeling in the pit of my stomach… yep, that’s jealousy, and I’ll admit it. It does make me hate watching him though, because I truly hate the Oilers.

    • Not a First Tier Fan

      You must hug your pillow real tight at night.

      Dude even if you don’t like the team they play for, some players are just fun to watch. Have to admit sometimes I park my Oilers bias and just enjoy watching JG play.

      Now if you’re forced to watch McDavid annihilate your own squad, well, then I can understand not appreciating it totally.

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    This comment format still sucks. Is anything else going to be done or is this as good as it gets? If so, maybe an some computer tech whiz out there can drum up a new user friendly site? Good opportunity, especially if someone is underemployed but has the know how.

  • C Watson

    Based on percentages, Chicago is the Flames most likely 1st round opponent with Anaheim next. There is virtually no chance Calgary meets the Wild and slim for the Blues and Preds. Odds are a little better for the Sharks and Oilers but probably no higher than 25%. An unexpected win or loss here and there and it all changes, strange things can and do happen.

      • Armchair genius

        Maybe, they played a pretty solid 60 tonight for the win. If they can keep it up, who knows. I hope the oilers push and get first and meet the fLames for an epic BOA

      • Ronr68

        I don’t know about that. They’re getting hot at the right time. They have the best player in the world. When you can put someone like that on the ice and know he’s better than anyone, it’s a huge advantage. And the Oilers are a team built to win in the Pacific division. Also, Edmonton just seems to win when they need to in the playoffs. They always over achieve. I’m not trolling, just my observation.

  • Hemi-97

    At this rate it looks like Edmonton wins the Division going 8-1 in last 9. Getting hot for the playoffs and Connor Maroon and Draisaitl The best and hottest line in hockey right now.

  • Azim

    Is this a Nation article – what’s with the Oiler fan infestation in here? I get they’re excited about soon playing the first meaningful game since Twitter was a couple months old and Paul Martin had just vacated his PM seat, and they want to scream at the top of their lungs that they’re back like the Backstreet Boys once were, but man, this isn’t OilersNation South.

    Anyways, the Ducks still scare me the most, even more than the Blackhawks. Just in terms of matchups, and the weight of history. I feel like we could hang with the Sharks. Against the Oilers it would be a crapshoot. Could go either way. We have better depth and experience, they have the higher end first line and some decent size that could go well in the playoffs. The BoA would be extremely stressful, potentially glorious, potentially heart-wrenching. But I think, 25 years later, we’re ready for it.

  • Fan the Flames

    I think the Ducks are a poor matchup for the Flames . Carlyle chokes off the ice and there is no flow. Chicago is run and gun with a ton of playoff experience making them a very difficult matchup . Edmonton has McDavid who is very hard to contain but if you can not much else works for them I prefer not to play them until the 2nd round if both teams get there . That makes San Jose the best matchup for Calgary .