If it was a bit of a bumpy road and the Flames are still something of an unfinished product, but they’re back in the postseason nonetheless. Even though Calgary struggled out of the gate, Glen Gulutzan’s version of the club took a much-needed step forward over the Hartley iterations.
This year isn’t a repeat of 2014-15, where Calgary rode a confluence of improbable breaks to the dance. All of the club’s underlying numbers have improved this season, from possession to expected goals, meaning the Flames are a more deserving Stanley Cup participant this time around.
That doesn’t mean they are contenders yet, of course. This season merely represents a solid step forward towards that goal. Whatever happens in the first round, Flames nation should be satisfied with the returns of 2016-17 and excited about the future.
In the mailbag today we look some of the key considerations heading into the first round, including goaltending, depth players, and whether the Flames can hang with the rough stuff or not.
— Darcy Hume (@realdarcyhume) April 7, 2017
I have faith in Monahan. He has the hair of a Hollywood teen heartthrob and the voice and cadence of a grizzled 40-year old. Surely he can muster a beard.
Other alternative: Monahan takes a few inches off the top and Gaudreau glues the strands to his face.
— Gus Katsaros🏒 (@KatsHockey) April 7, 2017
Goaltending is the least of my worries for the Flames. Both Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott had a few rough patches this season, but we have years of evidence that shows they are quality NHL netminders. Plus Elliott was one of the hottest goalies in the league for the final couple months of the year.
Calgary also has a couple of decent AHL netminders to lean on if Johnson can’t go for the first round in David Rittich and Jon Gillies.
— Nick Adams (@T0Y_L0VE) April 7, 2017
“Not disappearing” is up to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, not their winger, whoever that might be. Remember, though, that Gaudreau was probably the Flames’ most dangerous player against the Ducks in the second round a couple of years ago.
If GG can manage his bench properly, I think the Flames’ top offensive line will get its chances.
— Dougie Dirwin (@DougieDiggles) April 7, 2017
I suppose, but the chances of that making a big difference are slim. Garnet Hathaway can be more of a “disruptive presence” than Lance Bouma, so maybe he could help draw more penalties or get the Ducks off their game a bit. In terms of the nuts and bolts (shooting, scoring, passing, possession, etc.) Hathaway probably isn’t an upgrade.
— Jon (@jonathanwhudson) April 7, 2017
— Ron (@ronipedia) April 7, 2017
Calgary’s third pairing is an issue that will need to be carefully managed in round one, regardless of the opponent. The Ducks have heavy hitters who can exploit the Flames’ weak bottom end, so it will be up to the coaching staff to dictate matchups accordingly.
We’ll have more on this topic this week.
— Ali-Faizan Virji (@AliVirji) April 7, 2017
No chance, really, unless Matt Bartkowski has a terrible first couple of games. The club has shown a strong preference for Bart since he arrived over the kids, so he likely gets the benefit of the doubt unless something goes terribly wrong.
My preference would be for Brett Kulak personally, but for now, the veteran is the incumbent. As for Tyler Wotherspoon, I’m not sure the team considers him a prospect anymore.
— Corsi Jones (@vowswithinhb) April 7, 2017
The Flames have had a hard time riding the line between “standing up for themselves” and actually playing sound hockey. Twice in the last couple weeks, Calgary was dragged into an alley fight by the Kings and Ducks. They lost both games.
While the team will want to avoid being run out of the rink, they also can’t allow the rough stuff to take precedence over their game plan and execution. I have no doubt the coaching staff has stressed the same thing in the wake of those two defeats.
Whether they can actually manage that or not remains to be seen.
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