The Flames are finding ways to win at a time when things seem like they should be falling off the rails.
They’re getting enough goals to rack up wins even while their stars are slumping. The goaltending plan seemed to get tossed out the window twice already, and they’ve been winging It ever since with no clear idea of who might be their go-to guy come the playoffs.
Injuries have spawned opportunities, with a rookie defenceman now refusing to relinquish a spot on the top pairing, and the biggest question on everybody’s minds is what the team will do when their top free-agent signing from last summer is healthy again.
Not doing anything at the trade deadline was probably the right move for the Flames, factoring in the other teams’ asks for any player who might actually come to Calgary and make a significant difference down the stretch or in the postseason.
Adding impact without taking away assets who could use the experience themselves for what could be a nice long window of Cup contention is impossible.
Adding another body for defensive depth was all they managed to do in the end. More than any other reason, the performance of their internal depth players was a massive factor in GM Brad Treliving’s decision to stick with the group that got them here.
Here (as a surreal reminder because it’s still so nearly incomprehensible to the fan base at this point of the season) is safely in first place in the Western Conference, with a healthy lead in the Pacific Division and, after their third win in four nights Wednesday in New Jersey, seven straight wins to close out the month of February.
Usually when you’re talking about a seven-game win streak, you’re mentioning the impressive performances of the team’s top line. In this case, however, it’s been the team’s most regularly scratched forward, Austin Czarnik, their best two-way centre, Mikael Backlund, fourth-liners like Derek Ryan and Andrew Mangiapane, and rookie blueliner Rasmus Andersson scoring most of the big goals during the current streak.
For perspective, superstar Johnny Gaudreau has just one goal and three assists in the last seven games — with two of those helpers coming in the last outing. His sniper centre Sean Monahan? No goals and four assists. One in the last victory as the trio (Elias Lindholm has scored with other groups and has been the best of the top three with a goal and seven points during the stretch) looked more cohesive than it has since the all-star break.
Meanwhile, Czarnik has been the recent feel-good storyline offensively for a team that has been winning low-scoring games by narrow margins. His four goals and five points in the last seven games includes three game-winning tallies.
Derek Ryan was one of the heroes in Pittsburgh to start the winning streak with three important assists. Michael Frolik, who bounces around in and out of and up and down the lineup, had key goals in Pittsburgh and against the Arizona Coyotes a couple of nights later.
If the Flames truly want to contend for the Cup with what got them here, to 89 points in 64 games so far, they can’t afford to see that secondary production slow down even when the top line’s contributions come back.
There can be no Byron Ritchie moments.
Yes, Byron Ritche. You remember him, right?
He’s the guy who stepped up heroically when Jarome Iginla — the man getting his jersey retired on Saturday night and I dare say the guy with the largest of big skates to fill — hurt his knee in the early weeks of 2007.
Scrolling through Ritchie’s game-by-game stats from that season and you’ll see the magnificent blip. A goal in the game Iginla was injured. Two more the following contest. Another in the next. One more would come while Iginla was out (a month’s worth of games) and then nothing. Not a second assist, in the games from February to April.
Ritchie punctuated his time with the Flames with one more goal in the season finale. He dressed for one game in the playoffs — a disappointing first-round exit.
This isn’t to suggest Czarnik won’t pan out, or a snipe against the Flames’ deadline non-moves or faith in their current roster.
It’s just a reminder at a time where people are high on the success of the Flames that the depth performances Treliving trusted so heavily will have to pan out consistently in order for this team to cap off its best regular season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989 with the same sort of result.
And that’s a huge ask.
So enjoy the ride, wherever it takes you. Just don’t be disappointed if as the team gathers its important experience, that it stumbles a little along the way.