When the Flames take on the Canucks tonight, they’ll be playing their eighth divisional matchup of the season. They’ll still have another 21 to go, a series of contests that could prove crucial to how much longer the Flames’ season lasts after 82 games – if it lasts longer than that at all.
In their seven divisional matchups this season to date, the Flames are 4-3. They’ve defeated the Ducks, Kings, Canucks, Coyotes, and have lost to the Oilers twice and the Canucks once. They’ve scored 22 goals . and have given up 20, so overall, things are checking out for a good – if tight – set against their own division.
The Flames enter the game fifth in their divisional standings, but just barely. They have the same number of points as the Canucks, and one more win, but it’s their shootout wins that have the Canucks winning the tiebreaker as things stand. Though currently out of the playoffs, the Flames are right on the verge of putting themselves back in; a win could see themselves back in the top three divisional standings, other teams’ performances permitting.
The Kings lead the pack right now with 41 points in 30 games; the Golden Knights aren’t too far behind, with 37 in 28. Both teams have a 5v5 CF over 50%, so they may not be paper tigers; corsi is a predictive stat that can hint when a team that looks threatening isn’t actually. (The Golden Knights fit in this category not too long ago, but have since improved their numbers. They’re no guarantee to fall out of the race.)
Once you get past those two – and recall that all it takes is a little losing skid to make them look a whole lot less threatening all of a sudden – you’ve got a mishmash of teams in the Pacific fighting for that third spot.
The Sharks, like the Canucks and Flames, have 32 points, but in only 27 games for them. The Ducks have 31 in 30. A team being over .500 means very little when you’ve got six out of eight divisional teams in that position.
What this also signals is that it’s still anyone’s division. If you want to take possession predictions into account, then the Sharks and Flames are the best threats to round out the top three – they’re both well over 50%, and above the Kings and Golden Knights – while the Canucks and Ducks, both below 50%, are perhaps less threatening. (The Ducks actually have the worst corsi in the league right now, which is quite the change of pace, and I guess a thing that happens when like half your team is on the injured reserve.)
There is the pesky matter of goal differential to adhere to – the Flames still sit at -8, which is the fifth worst differential in the Pacific; only the Kings, Golden Knights, and Sharks have positive numbers – but the important thing now, when looking at it from a “better make the postseason or else” perspective, is that they’re still picking up the points necessary to be a threat in the race.
In 10 games left this month, the Flames face a divisional opponent five times: the Canucks twice, the Sharks twice, and the Ducks once. That’ll be it for all of their games against the Canucks this season.
Then, in 2018, they’ll have 17 divisional matchups to worry about. That’s when we might really start seeing some separation in the Pacific.
Hopefully they’ll be ready by then. Because while the 2014-15 season was an anomaly, a big part of the reason why the Flames made it in was a stellar record against their own division: 26-8-1. And something similar this year could be the key to not just a playoff spot, but home ice advantage.