Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Calgary’s postseason demise is simple to understand

Calgary’s first round loss to Colorado is one of the more disappointing finishes I can remember in this city. Sure, expectations were sky high after the best regular season in 30 years, but it goes beyond that. The Flames were a shadow of the team they were en route to nailing down the top seed in the West and it’s not hard to pinpoint why.

Major departure

Calgary won 50 games during the regular season because, well, they were legitimately one of the league’s best teams. The Flames were the league’s fifth-best possession team, allowed the league’s fewest shots per game, and limited scoring chances at an elite level. That all went out the window as soon as the puck dropped in Game 1.

Regular Season Playoffs
53.8 52.7 45.1 43.8

The Avalanche deserve a ton of credit; they were bought in, dangerous, and consistent all series long. They executed a perfect game plan and 100% deserve to be moving on. From a Calgary perspective, though, it’s hard to wrap your head around how lost they looked for the vast majority of their four straight losses. With all they accomplished on merit during the regular season, you’d think the Flames might have at least mustered a response.

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Calgary led the league averaging 28.1 shots against per game over 82 regular season games. In five playoff games, they averaged 41.0, which included a pair of consecutive 50+ debacles in Denver, which was a franchise first. Yes, Colorado deserves a great deal of credit for how they played, but the Flames were totally off-brand, which didn’t allow anything close to an answer.

Disappearing act

Johnny Gaudreau

“We just need to play our game,” might have been the most frequent seven words uttered during Calgary’s eight days in the playoffs. Well, it’s hard for a team to play “their game” when their most important players are missing in action. That’s not me using an overused cliche, either.

Bottom line, the Flames got next to nothing from the players they needed the most from. Remember midway through the season when there was a fun debate about whether Calgary or Colorado had the NHL’s most dangerous line? That seems like a million years ago after what we witnessed during five head-to-head showdowns, which included a 4-0 win for the Flames.

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Player PTS HDCF% Player PTS HDCF%
Sean Monahan 2 40.0 Mikko Rantanen 9 61.1
Elias Lindholm 2 39.3 Nathan MacKinnon 8 57.8
Johnny Gaudreau 1 35.5 Gabriel Landeskog 4 63.6

We all know the Avalanche got more from their best forwards, but when you contrast it like above it’s even more stunning. Not only did Calgary’s top trio accomplish little offensively, they hurt the team countless times with their puck management and work defensively. High danger data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Monahan’s play was frighteningly bad and I’m almost hoping we find out in the coming days he was playing through a significant injury. Gaudreau was a disaster defensively and allowed frustration to win the day; Colorado had a 20-11 edge in high danger chances at five-on-five when he was on the ice. And, while Lindholm had noticeable moments, he was nowhere near as effective as the team needed him to be.

But the top line wasn’t alone in their “Invisible Man” imitations. Mark Giordano will almost certainly be named a Norris Trophy finalist later today and deserves to be. But as much as it’s uncomfortable to point fingers at the captain, Giordano wasn’t a positive impact maker against the Avalanche. It was the opposite, in fact, as Giordano struggled defensively and had all kinds of issues with Colorado’s speed.

Regular Season Playoffs
CF% P/60 CF% P/60
57.3 1.8 45.4 0.0

Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk round out the group of top players and neither performed overly well. It’s worrying to see an entire core fall off a cliff and raises crucial offseason questions for general manager Brad Treliving. Was this a one-off? Can this disappointment turn into a positive learning experience? Do these guys have what it takes to perform in the postseason?

A missed opportunity

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you had told me Colorado would be winning this series in five prior to it starting, I would have been certain goaltending would have been a main reason why. That’s not the case at all. In fact, goaltending was the least of Calgary’s concerns thanks to Mike Smith’s heroics. It’s too bad his efforts were wasted.

Smith started all five games and gave the Flames three of the best goaltending performances they’ve gotten in a decade. Smith’s work in Games 1, 2, and 4 were reminiscent of Miikka Kiprusoff keeping an overmatched team afloat against superior opponents like Detroit, Chicago, and San Jose. In the end, Smith’s 0.917 save percentage is the fifth-best playoff performance (minimum five games) since the team moved to Calgary.

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Season Goalie GP SV%
2006-07 Mikka Kiprusoff 6 0.929
2003-04 Mikka Kiprusoff 26 0.928
2005-06 Mikka Kiprusoff 7 0.921
2014-15 Jonas Hiller 7 0.919
2018-19 Mike Smith 5 0.917

You can critique Smith for Game 3 or 5 if you want, but that seems fruitless knowing how poorly his team played in front. I thought Smith was stellar and his story is one of the few positives coming out of this playoff loss. Whether you think he earned the Game 1 start or not, he came to play once the postseason puck dropped. It might not be with the Flames, but I think Smith has done enough to earn another NHL contract.

Picking up the pieces

If Calgary had played their best and were beaten by the better team, I feel like this loss would be easier for fans to swallow. Well, they were definitely beat by the better team, but can anyone in that locker room say they’re happy with their effort? I’m not saying this comes from lack of trying or effort, but as hard as they tried, the Flames executed poorly and got their teeth kicked in.

The hope is Calgary’s top players take this feeling and use it if/when they qualify for the 2020 postseason. For the first time in a while, the Flames will enter next season in “talk to me in April” territory, which means a good regular season isn’t going to cut it for most fans. It’s easy to pinpoint why Calgary went out so quickly this year; unfortunately it’s going to take another year to determine if those issues are fixed.

      • _vntony

        You don’t have to be a first round pick to be dominant.
        What’s wrong with wanting your players to take another step in the playoffs and be absolutely dominant?
        What about a guy like Datsyuk who was dominant in his time. Drafted 171st overall, won a few cups.
        Brad Marchand drafted in the 3rd round his year. Bergeron drafted in the second round.
        The list could go on and on.

        Point is, MacKinnon was able to step up and carry his team when called upon. Why couldn’t our top guys do that?

        • Derzie

          Because they cannot. We all have 1 of 2 reactions when things get pressured: fight or flight. We have too many guys on the team in the ‘flight’ category. Management needs to adjust how they recruit character.

          • _vntony

            Right, I agree with you completely. However, I just don’t like the narrative that albertabeef is spouting. That because Monahan or Gaudreau aren’t first round picks, they should not be expected to show up to the big show?
            Come on, let’s stop giving these guys an easy way out. They’re paid the big bucks to show up when it matters the most.

          • The Beej

            Not sure I agree. This team is young. This will be a learning experience for them that:

            1. you truly have to elevate your game
            2. Nice pretty passing plays dont get the job done in the playoffs. You have to shoot more and drive the net. How many times during the regular season were you frustrated watching them overpass instead of shooting the puck. They didnt learn that lesson because it didnt cost them then and they were able to get by. Well now they have learned that lesson and it be something they can adjust in their game.
            3. Play smart. Giveaways. Giveaways killed them. They forced passes that werent there. Passed when they should have shot.

            You say this team is flight not fight. I didnt see that at all. We hit enough. But we didnt win the battles (my first point) and we gave the puck away a ton. (Points 2 and 3) we gave it way to Mackinnon how many times. It doesnt matter what line you are on you have to be aware who is on the ice against you and play a smarter game. Keep things simple.

            To dump on this team is fair but to say they are weak and not a playoff team after 5 games is a little silly. Games 2 and 4 could have gone their way very easily and we could be watching hockey tonight. These are things this team can learn from.

            That said. If moving any of the core pieces results in an upgrade Im all for it. But if you are going to make a knee jerk reaction and just get rid of players because of a silly playoff narrative that is fundamentally stupid. Thats what the oilers have done and it doesnt help. Is Monahan a true #1? Maybe not. But you dont move him unlesd you have a true #1 coming back. That said I would strongly consider Monahan + Brodie + our 1st for Malkin or Kopitar.

          • Albertabeef

            I’m not saying that should not step up when the time comes. I’m just saying please keep your man-crush with Mackinnon to yourself. There is a reason he went first overall. Guys like him aren’t even available first overall every single draft year, let alone easy to find in later picks or rounds for that matter. No Johnny and Mony are not him, everyone is different. Is it fair to ask a player to play outside of their capabilities? Are we over valuing players and asking too much more than they can give? Maybe, maybe not. Mony and Johnny have had better playoffs. Mony scored in every game last time against the Ducks. Maybe Mony will have a better year next year with a summer of training instead of summer of rehab. Maybe we will find pay dirt with one of our gritty Slovaks. Tkachuk has been mostly invisible offensively in both of his playoff years so far. He is supposed to be the noticeable one. He needs to be better going forward.

        • Albertabeef

          Ya guys like that are rare. When you find guys like that it’s mostly luck more than good management. I just don’t understand why people cry about players we don’t have. We have to do the best with what we have and what is available to us. Envy is never pretty.

  • Willi P

    Game 4 was the turning point. Clearly it was not working and Bill Peters et al were not ready to make substantial changes to the lines/line up to mix it up and get Colorado of their game.

  • MDG1600

    Pop up ad is covering the comment box with no apparent way to close it down. If Flames Nation want people to continue to frequent this site they need to do something about this. I understand the need for ads but they don’t need to be so intrusive and bloody annoying.