Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames in the thick of Pacific Division standings

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.

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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.

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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.

  • Alberta Ice

    Starts tonight versus the Canucks. If the defense plays like it has the last two games, they should beat this Pacific Division rival. (That said, the Canucks have exceeded expectations so far this year and now are coping with two fairly significant injury losses with Horvat and Dorsett. That’s got to hurt.)

  • EhPierre

    We could have easily been in first place in the division if we had a better coach. Hopefully GG learns to replicate last season’s second half run and this team goes on with a .623% winning rate.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I don’t think that is as much a need for a better coach as it is a function of better player usage. I believe we would be in first if we started the season with the AHL call ups and the were given opportunities. GG has some good qualities but he has this God complex instead of still being a student of the game. If he shows some humility he would be a better coach.

      In my opinion GG and the team hit a low point in the game against the Oilers but they have made improvements in the last few games and appear to be peaking. Much like the team GG has shown a better feel in the last few games.

      I hate to say it but Vegas is for real, they gave up a late goal against the preds in Nashville last night, pulled the goalie and tied the game only to win in a shootout on the back of Malcolm Subban’s perfect goal keeping.

      • EhPierre

        It’s not necessarily his player usage because it’s not like he’s playing Brouwer for 20 mins of the game, although the 4th line is playing too many minutes for my liking. Its the system itself and how it doesn’t complement to the players playing style. It’s also GG’s passiveness and lack of being able to coach on the fly. That’s probably due to his inexperience as opposed to incompetence so I’m hoping as the season progresses, GG learns and adapts. Hopefully the games from the Leafs and the Habs like you mentioned, are steps in the right direction.

        Vegas is real. They’ve been doing extremely well given that their #1 goalie is still injured and that team does not have any real superstars. They remind me of the Flames with Hartley as coach in the sense that Hartley got the most he can with the roster he had. Unlike Hartley though, Vegas’ style of play is actually sustainable.

        • Lucky 13

          Eh Pierre, I think you’re right in some ways about GG. His inexperience is probably showing. He really should be using timeouts at critical times of the game, however he hasn’t been using it much at all.

          I can’t seem to get this out of my head, but Brouwer said some really interesting things a few days ago.

          He remarked that GG’s system only allows for one error in their possession game. If there’s more than one in any sequence of the play, things go awry quickly. There’s no outlet for additional errors.

          Maybe his game is too structured or complicated and removes the natural instincts from players who are less accustomed to this type of game. I know they’ve already had a full season with him, but Jagr and Hamonic haven’t.
          Same with Smith, but I doubt that affects him as much.

          Perhaps he’s trying to shoe- horn a very mobile team into a accountability -zone one and it’s stifling creativity? Or having players overthinking their responsibilities?

          I thought he did a great job in managing the last two games. He had our first line out when the Leafs weaker lines were out due to icing. He definitely didn’t get out-coached in that one.

          It’s true, he’s adapting, however I would feel a heck of a lot more comfortable with a coach that doesn’t need to learn at the teams expense.

    • HOCKEY83

      You can blame the coach all you want but he doesn’t play the games. The entire D corps has underachieved both defensively and offensively and the only 2 forwards worth talking about offensively are Johnny and Monny. The rest of the team has been horrible offensively all season. The coach can’t control that no matter who he is.

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    Part of me says the two points should be easily do’able. But then again, the Knucklheads are right there in the thick of things. I tip my hat to Travis Green. He’s doing something right. We need to come out breathing fire and get on top right away and stay on top. It all starts with our boys playing smart defense.

  • Skylardog

    With Horvat out this should be a team ripe for the picking.

    Flames still way behind in regulation wins at 9-12, -3, only 6th in the division. Not saying much when you are only ahead of Edmonton and Arizona.

    Ducks at -2, Vegas at +2, Van and SJ at +3, and LA +6.

    If not for JG and Mony in OT, where would we be. They are saving our bacon this season. We are 6-2 in OT and SO, 4-1 in OT. Thanks JG and SM.

    Not a very good team in regulation, you know, the first 60 minutes of a game.

  • Just.Visiting

    I’d added this very late on the four years of progress article, so thought I’d add it here as well.

    What continues to frustrate me with GG is the stubborn approach to player usage. The PP is the prime example.

    There are no circumstances in which Brouwer should be out there instead of Ferland for the in front of the net role.

    Dougie and Gio should be on the point on the first unit.

    Put Stone out there with Brodie on the second unit with an instruction to bomb the net.

    Perimeter passing should be reduced. Trying to carry the puck across the blue line as often has become too predictable.

    GG and Cameron can’t see these things, and they are going to be the brains steering us for what should be a multi-year contention window?

    • oilcanboyd

      I am just as frustrated with player usage and special teams coaching, but GG will be here till year end. I am convinced he is NOT the coach to take this team to the next level.

      Todd MacLellan will be fired before GG though. Too many “you guys played like crap, were not ready to play, etc” after games this year – that wears thin. Peter Chic says. “I gave you some outstanding players – why are they not performing to expectations with you as coach.” Of course, we in FN know that last season was an abberation and will not be repeated for another 10 years!

      • Kevin R

        Agree. I don’t see anything happening with our coach during the season & like you do not have the confidence this coach will make the obvious adjustments to bring this team to consistently win. But there are higher expectations on everyone in the organization from the minute the deal was done to acquire Hamonic. If Flames don’t get in playoffs, that will undoubtably seal the coaches fate. Even if we squeak in & lose in first round, that coaching position is going to be seriously looked at.

  • WillyWonka

    why do the Flames suck so bad when playing on home ice?
    My theory is that Ken King and Gary Bettman have made such a mess of the arena thing with their failed attempt at blackmail negotiations that the team is distracted when at home.
    the league and owners have created a huge toxic distraction.
    the owners negotiation style reminds me of mafia “protection” fees… ”
    “don’t worry Calgary… we will take care of you… just sign the cheque and we will fill in the amount later when we have decided how much you’ll pay”

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      My guess to “why do the Flames suck so bad when playing on home ice?” could be that GG gets Last line change and the match ups he wants? Secondly there is the possibility that the guys over play the game trying to do to much in front of the home fans.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Willy, I honestly believe that a PART of the reason is the actual condition of the ice at the Saddledome. People fall, the puck won’t settle down and the boards are completely unpredictable. It’s at the point now where it’s pretty much unnaceptable, in my view.

      Is the Corral still open?

    • Kevin R

      Sorry, I go to the games & the last thing on my mind is all the arena bs. I think you are definitely off on this statement. But I do agree, I don’t have much confidence in getting the two points either.

      • WillyWonka

        well, something is bothering the team at home…
        it doesn’t bother you, but maybe it does bother players to hear bettman and kings string of negative comments for months now, and hear reports about the owners negative and noncommittal stance, and watch the ownership and management sit back and say “there are no negotiations now and we have left negotiations and have no further plans to negotiate”
        I respect your opinion, but believe this negativity from management and the league trickle down in very discernible ways. if you were an up and coming player would you buy a house in calgary with all the negative rhetoric?
        i fully believe there is a toxic cloud over the team, the arena staff, the coaching, etc

        • Southboy

          Maybe the players that live and do unreal amounts of charitable work in the City they play in, feel the City does not have their teams future best interests in mind. I mean they pay city taxes too.

        • Kevin R

          No Willy. The arena garbage does bother me but when I go to a game I go expecting a well played game & hopefully my favourite team wins. I am sure the players have their own opinion on this garbage too but they are paid a lot of money to play professional hockey. The politics off ice really has no impact on how they play on the ice in my humble opinion.

    • Alberta Ice

      We will find out tonight if these past two games were the exception or the new rule to a more consistent Flames defensive team. Got to really like Jano, Hathaway, Kulak, and Rittich playing on this team. They are only getting better as time goes on. It’s encouraging to see our Stockton team call ups fitting in so well now. I am still hoping Mangiapane gets a shot sometime soon.

  • Lucky 13

    The good news, Byng is back.
    If we win we will be .500 at home. We need to be much better in front of our home crowd.

    Though, It was embarrassing that the loudest fans in the Dome came from Leaf contingency our last game at home. If I would have been at that game, there’s no way I wouldn’t rouse the crowd to drown them out. I’ve done it before.
    Get off your phones and cheer!
    Are we fans or librarians?

    Cmon, we’re better than that!

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Take a page out of Nashville’s Bridgestone arena book…..the fans are not as knowledgeable, but they are not on their phones, won’t sit at the end of close games, in OT or SO. But the cherry on top is the relentless serenading the fans give the opposing goalie…..” It’s all your fault….you let down the team”….classic.

  • Flamesfever

    I don’t understand why the coach still put Brouwer on the pp1. Should put Bennett on pp1, and put Jankowski on pp2. Brouwer is only good on penalty killing.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I have been keeping an eye on Philips’s game with Victoria. He came out of back to back games last week without registering a point. He then received confirmation that he was not invited to the WJC training camp. Tough week for the kid. In the interview he took the high road and said that if he didn’t get invited then he still has some work to do to improve his game…. Pretty mature outlook.

    Last night his Victoria team trounced Kootenay 10-3 and Phillips only registered an assist. However, he was dominant enough in his performance to be awarded the 3rd star. Now would be a good time to sign him to an ELC since he clearly embodies the character the Flames desire.

    • Lucky 13

      I couldn’t agree more. I think we have a great character in Phillips!

      It’s also interesting to note that we have a few members that are able to get a first hand look at him. I love watching him play and although he’s not as hot as he was in the beginning of the season, he does most things the right way -all the time.

      Treliving needs to sign him, like right now!

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I hope they don’t dick him around. If team Canada struggles to find scoring and leaves a player like Phillips off the roster they deserve their fate. I know that Phillips is smaller than Johnny but coaches need to take a leap of faith. To not get invited to the training camp after a great summer camp and start to the season is disappointing.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Title is true but what kind of angst will this board suffer if the Canucks score a regulation win over the good guys? All the goodwill the club has built from that two-game roadie will be flushed down the pooper as calls for Gully’s gelled head will predominate this forum. Must win game for Cal.