Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Is there reason for concern about the lack of competition down the stretch?

There are two ways to look at the Calgary Flames’ strength of schedule the rest of the way.

That should read: lack of strength.

Ahead of the Friday/Saturday back-to-back set, the Flames’ remaining games were ranked by the NHL as tops in terms of paths of least resistance down the stretch.

And while that may be a reassuring thought for some given that their final 10 games offer just three matchups against teams currently holding a playoff position, others might worry that a lack of competitive push could actually do the Flames a disservice.

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Those who like the relative ease of what lies ahead enjoy it because it increases their chances of finishing as the top seed in the Western Conference and with the Pacific Division title, avoiding a first-round matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And yes, that does seem a prudent path considering the Flames have yet to win in Vegas through two seasons, and if they were to meet in a second-round situation, the Flames would hold home-ice advantage. So there’s that.

But is there a bit of a danger — especially now that the Flames have already clinched a playoff spot thanks to the Minnesota Wild’s overtime loss on Sunday night — that the Flames will reach the postseason schedule and have to flip a switch from cruise control to battle mode?

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That, against a wild card team that had to scratch and claw its way to the playoffs.

It’s something the captain, Mark Giordano, brought up recently when cautioning reporters on trying to pick and choose your opponents.

“The team that gets in as the wild card is going to be playing really well and playing really hard,” Giordano said.

“I’ve never been a fan of trying to pick and choose who you want to (face in the) playoffs because the league’s so tight. The team that’s usually in the wild card is feeling good and playing well. And if you want to go all the way, you’re going to have to go through a lot of great teams.”

The San Jose Sharks and/or Knights among them.

The Sharks are one of the few teams on the schedule who pose a heavy challenge — at least on paper. How the Flames perform in that one on March 31 might be the best indication of how capable they may be at matching a mightier opponent’s intensity come the end of the regular season.

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But that might also be dependent on what’s really on the line at that point, and whether a loss could actually mean a lower seeding.

Following Saturday’s stifling loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the showdown with the Sharks might be the only true test of character left for a team enjoying or on pace for career seasons from seven players this season — Johnny Gaudreau (goals, assists, points); Elias Lindholm (goals, assists, points); Sean Monahan (goals, assists, points); Matthew Tkachuk (goals, assists, points); Mark Giordano (assists, points); Noah Hanifin (assists, points); Mark Jankowski (assists, points).

Only the Sharks (.653), Dallas Stars (.556) and Columbus Blue Jackets (.583) have points percentages over .500.

The rest are among the league’s worst this season, in competition for lottery spots as opposed to the playoffs.

After hosting the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, they welcome the abysmal Ottawa Senators (.389) on Thursday, then visit the Vancouver Canucks (.486). They’re home against the Los Angeles Kings (.408), Stars and Anaheim Ducks (.466) before hitting the road to see the Sharks, Kings and Ducks.

The regular-season finale is at home to the Oilers (.493).

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There’s always hope for a rivalry factor against the likes of the Oilers and Canucks. And perhaps the Tkachuk factor will come into play against the Kings, too, given his history of ticking off Drew Doughty.

If not, Flames fans will have to hope the potential confidence boost from some lopsided decisions down the stretch and a top billing for the playoffs outweighs any negative from any the possible lack of competitive fire they’ll face on the ice as they make their way there.

  • kirby

    If that “lack of competition” helps us lock down the #1 seed and face Arizona/Minnesota in the 1st rd instead of Vegas, then there is absolutely ZERO way you will make me believe a softer 10 game stretch run to close the season is anything but fantastic.

    The less we can empty from the tank, the more “easy” points we can pile in the standings, the further away we can get from Vegas in the 1st round, i don’t see anything bad about it whatsoever. Let’s do this

  • withachance

    I really dont think BP is going to be in cruise control… the team’s main focus hasnt been to clinch playoffs for the past couple months, its been to clinch the western conference, and thats been a TIGHT race.

    And I’m pretty sure the team isnt really looking down on any teams right now, not after being down 3-1 to the NJD… We got shut out by ARI literally last week, so really dont think “lack of competition” is a problem

  • C-of-Dread

    The lighter load in the competition department heading down the stretch should not be view as anything but a blessing for the Flames.

    It provides the Flames with the best opportunity to win the Pacific division.

    It give Peters a better chance to cycle defensemen in and out of the line-up; Those who need to get games in due to inactivity, Stone, Prout, and Kylington. Valimaki, who’s been in Stockton playing top minutes, but also needs a game or two with the big club prior to the play-offs to get back up to speed with the NHL game. Those who need a game or two of rest so they can head into the play-offs in the best condition possible, Giordano, Hamonic, Brodie, Andersson.

    It allows the internal competition for playing time amongst the forward ranks, Neal, Mangiapane, Czarnik, and Hathaway.
    It allows for the chance to work in a couple others who may need a game or two to skate in a couple NHL games to catch up to the speed. Lazar, Dubé, Quine.

    The weaker schedule also gives the goalies a chance to get a run going to build confidence and feel good heading into the post regular season.

    It also give Peters the opportunity to drive home the message of being prepared, regardless of the competition, and ready to go at the Game’s opening face-off.

    I don’t view the weaker schedule as a stumbling block, but rather a road map of opportunity.

    Also, Vegas has a much more difficult schedule than Arizona moving forward. Though it’s not probable, it’s certainly possible that Arizona makes up the 5 points Veags has on them and it’s the Knights and not the Coyotes the Pacific division champs get to face in round one.

    Additionally, calling the loss to Winnipeg “stifling” may be a bit dramatic. That was a good game between two similarly talented teams, which both goalies played quite well, and the difference was negligible between them and it could have gone either way.

  • Garry T

    Virtually every game except LA is going to be a tough game. Dallas, Anaheim are playing real well. We always have trouble with Vancouver
    And Edmonton. Plus we have SanJose. Do not want to sound negative but there are going to be a few toughies ahead. With 10 to go, I would not ridicule a single team we have left to play. We are going to have to keep that hurry hard mentality from here on in if you want the conference flag and trophy.

  • redwhiteblack

    It is still a solid test. We have dominated any of those teams. NJD were up 2 on us. On any given night any team can win especially if your tending is sub par. They want to win the division. Until they do (or don’t) every game is meaningful.

  • The Beej

    Silly question Mcfarlane.

    Nope. Not really a concern. More big games might be nice but there is so much parity in the league nowadays anyway. Any team can win on any given night… and sometimes the toughest outs are the teams that are left playing only for pride. They wont be gripping their sticks as tight and will usually be dressing young players who are trying to earn a spot and are highly motivated.

    Second. I would way rather have an easier schedule if it means we avoid San Jose Vegas in the first round.

    I think a first place seeding will play a bigger role in playoff success than a more difficult schedule down the stretch.

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    About 2/3 of the schedule are against pacific division opponents. All of which would enjoy a win against the top seeded Flames. I have no concerns about the lack of competitiveness, mine are more towards having a healthy roster come April.

  • Albertabeef

    Anyone who thinks our schedule is easy, is a complete and utter moron. Points wise sure, but every one of those teams hates us and brings a little extra when we play. Ducks, Kings, Oilers, and Canucks might be out of the playoffs but they will be some of the toughest games to win. Division rivalries go like that, plus it’s “play for pride” time of year. There are no easy games for us.

    • Beer League Coach

      One of our games against the Ducks is in Anaheim. Need I remind people of our record on the duck pond? We need to bring our A game every time out, regardless of the opposition.

  • buts

    Always be leery of the team that is eliminated from the playoffs with some players fighting for jobs, other players that are determined to impress and others that are secure and relaxed. We have seen past flames teams eliminated that have spoiled and beat top teams at the end of s

    • Albertabeef

      A depleted Flames took out the Vegas Knights something like 7-1 last game last season. For me losing your last game going into the playoffs is a bad omen. Well at lest a bad way to go into the playoffs. But 2 or 3 losses in a row before playoffs is even worse.