The Calgary Flames begin their 2017 Stanley Cup playoff journey on Thursday night in Anaheim. They face a team they’ve never beaten in the postseason and a team that’s had their number this year.
I’m typically an optimist, but here are five reasons why the Flames will lose this series.
1. The Flames cannot win in Anaheim
We’ve written quite a bit about the Honda Center Curse, but the Flames have won a playoff game in Anaheim – it was back on April 25, 2006, Game 3 of the first round series that the Flames lost in seven games.
Since their last victory, the Flames have lost 27 consecutive visits to Orange County (22 regular season and five playoff games). They’ve found ways to lose basically every way a game can be lost. They’ve lost in regulation. They’ve lost in overtime. They’ve lost in the shootouts. They’ve lost games where they’ve held big leads. They’ve lost a lot.
Until they get the monkey off their backs, there’s no way it isn’t in their heads a bit.
2. Special teams
The Flames’ general strategy for much of the season, and the strategy they’ve adopted in their games against Anaheim, seems to be playing for a tie during even strength situations. Their hope is that they can use their speed to generate penalties and power plays, and then make hay with their special teams play.
Through five games against the Ducks this season, the results have been mixed. They’ve given the Ducks more power plays than they’ve generated (by a 20-17 margin) and the Ducks have scored more power play goals on the Flames than the other way around (by a 6-4 margin). The series is likely to be very tight-checking and Calgary’s special teams need to be better.
3. Anaheim’s top nine
We’ve delved into the Ducks’ depth a bit, but we’ll do this again. Man, these guys are stacked. Scary-good players include Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry (who all play on different lines). They’re surrounded by complementary players like Andrew Cogliano, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Nick Ritchie. Ondrej Kase is a damn good hockey player and he’s their 13th forward normally.
The Ducks have done a damn fine job of drafting and developing young players and it’s really helping them these days. Their depth makes them tough to stop.
4. Strong goaltending
The Ducks are backstopped by John Gibson, a youngster who’s developed very well over the last few years and is one of the better netminders in the NHL when he’s healthy. He had some injury problems this year, so Jonathan Bernier had to step in. Bernier has been superb this season and the Ducks had to suffer from a “drop-off” from a .928 goalie to a .923 goalie. Twenty-nine other teams are envious of Anaheim’s goaltending situation and the Flames are one of them.
5. Ryan Kesler
It seems like all the best playoff teams have a player on their roster that simultaneously makes the opposing fanbase scream “What a prick!” and “Man, I wish he was on our team.” Kesler is an absolute pain in the backside for every team he plays against. He’s a really important part of the Ducks’ game plan and arguably the piece that makes the whole machine work.