So the Flames lost their season opener for the ninth time in a row. That’s not a great record, but it’s also not losing-streak-in-Anaheim bad, so maybe there’s hope yet?
It hasn’t been since the 2009-10 season – a long ago time that only Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund would remember as Flames – that the team won its first game of the season, getting off to an above .500 start. For all the good that did them, as it was also the first time they failed to make the playoffs since the 2004 run.
Picking up points helps, but just as failing to start the year with two doesn’t guarantee you to miss the playoffs, getting two right off the bat doesn’t mean you’re in, either. There are still 81 games to go.
Eighty-one games that were played out in the prior eight seasons in which the Flames started off with a loss. Let’s take a glance at how things turned out for them then.
|Season||First loss||Next game||First 10 games record||First 10 goal differential||Season record||Season goal differential||Playoffs?|
|2010-11||0-4 @ EDM||3-1 vs LAK||6-4-0||+4||41-29-12||+11||No|
|2011-12||3-5 vs PIT||2-5 @ STL||4-5-1||-5||37-29-16||-18||No|
|2013||1-4 vs SJS||4-5 vs ANA||3-4-3||-9||19-25-4||-29||No|
|2013-14||4-5 (SO) @ WSH||4-3 @ CBJ||4-4-2||-8||35-40-7||-36||No|
|2014-15||2-4 vs VAN||5-2 @ EDM||5-4-1||+4||45-30-7||+24||2nd round|
|2015-16||1-5 vs VAN||3-2 (OT) @ VAN||2-7-1||-20||35-40-7||-28||No|
|2016-17||4-7 @ EDM||3-5 vs EDM||4-5-1||-4||45-33-4||+3||1st round|
|2017-18||0-3 @ EDM||6-3 vs WPG||5-5-0||-5||37-35-10||-27||No|
The Flames have really only ended up having a handful of decent seasons following losing their first game – just three seasons with 40+ wins, including two 45-win seasons, which were the only years they were able to make the playoffs – but that comes with having a team that just wasn’t up for it, whether they were prolonging their rebuild, finally rebuilding, or crawling out of their rebuild.
Half of their first game losses were at home; the other half were on the road. Five times out of eight they were able to win their next game: one of those five they made the playoffs, while back-to-back losses to start the season still saw them make the playoffs the other time, anyway.
What really jumps out, though, is their record over their first 10 games: 2015-16 aside (a year so bad it saw them picking sixth overall), they’ve mostly hovered around the .500 mark, and haven’t been over since 2010-11 and 2014-15, barely. That might be the first indication of what sort of season we’re headed for: will this supposedly improved roster, with a new and supposedly better head coach, be able to pull itself up from the troughs of mediocrity? If yes, we may be in for a good year; if not, then starting to panic might be more justified.
Another possible indication: in only two of the past eight seasons have the Flames had a positive goal differential 10 games into their year. Teams with positive goal differentials tend to make the postseason; while one year with a positive differential saw them outside the playoffs, a positive goal differential early saw them carry that through the entire year and make it in, in 2014-15. In 2016-17, they were able to pull themselves up from a mediocre start and get in, albeit just barely, and it took a 10-game winning streak to do it.
This year, the Flames will play their 10th game of the season when they host the Penguins on Oct. 25; it’ll be their fourth home game of the season, and they’ll already have gone through a three-game Central swing and a two-game road trip out east. They’ll face projected good teams and bad alike; it isn’t an easy schedule, but it isn’t a nightmare, either.
It isn’t just how they respond in their next game that we’ll be looking for, but how they respond over most of October. While a good start is no guarantee, it certainly puts them in a better position down the line – and maybe indicates they’ll have what it takes to make the dance.
Most of the time, they haven’t been able to do that. The goal this year is for that to change. A winning record with a positive goal differential 10 games in would be out of their norm – and a good first sign.