3 things that need to happen for the Calgary Flames to have a successful season
Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Raz Devraj1 month ago
After a disappointing 2022-23 campaign filled with multiple issues on and off the ice the Calgary Flames are going to be looking at making their way back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. There are three very important factors that will go into making the possibility of a return to the post-season a reality for this Flames group.
A bounce-back season from Jacob Markstrom
Jacob Markstrom (33) was drafted 31st overall in 2008 by the Florida Panthers. Based on his draft position anyone would assume that he would be projected to be pretty good. For the most part during his career, he has been pretty good, having played 439 games while averaging a .909 SV% as well as a 2.73 GAA.
Markstrom’s first non-pandemic season with the Flames was the 2021-22 season. He posted a .922 SV% (the highest in his career as a starting goaltender) and a 2.22 GAA (his lowest in his career) handling most of the workload playing 63 games. Markstrom also recorded 9 shutouts that year.
The Flames that season went on to finish sixth overall in the NHL as well as finish atop the Pacific Division, collecting their seventh division title. The Flames were also able to win a playoff round that year defeating the Dallas Stars in seven games. Their run came to an end when they were met by the Edmonton Oilers in Round 2, a team that Markstrom has statistically played the worst against. Overall, a pretty successful year for the Flames.
The next season it seemed as if Markstrom was a completely different goalie. He struggled. Whether it was letting in an early goal and allowing other teams to set the tone or not being able to make that crucial save in close games, it was clear that this was not the Markstrom the Flames had in the pipes when they finished first in the Pacific Division. Markstrom finished the 2022-23 season with a .892 SV% and a 2.92 GAA. The Flames did not make the playoffs.
Throughout the first three games played this season there have already been some ups and downs when looking at how Markstrom has performed. Against Winnipeg, it was clear he was locked in as he pretty much stole a game the Flames had no business winning. Against Pittsburgh, aside from a couple of goals he would have liked to have back, he was solid.
Tuesday’s game against Washington is a prime example of what can’t happen. The Flames were up 2-1 before Markstrom gave up a fairly weak goal off a shot from Connor McMichael. That was an opportunity Markstrom should have been able to handle and will need to be able to shut down moving forward. It was an exact carbon copy of the Flames we saw last season: heavily out-shooting their opponents and losing in overtime/shootout.
It’s important for any team wanting to compete for a playoff spot to be able to have faith in their starting goaltender and rely on him to make that crucial save. The way Markstrom decides to play this year will either make or break the Flames’ chances at reaching the postseason.
Finding ways to score more goals
Aside from some questionable goaltending and all of the issues involving Darryl Sutter and the locker room last season, another big issue was goal-scoring. The Flames had trouble finding ways to put the puck in the net. Only three teams that scored fewer goals than the Flames last season made the playoffs. Those three teams were the New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild.
When a team is scoring fewer goals than half of the league but is still making the playoffs it’s clear that they have something else going for them that is winning them games. What do all three of those teams have in common that the Flames did not? A very good starting goaltender in Ilya Sorokin, Connor Hellebuyck, and Filip Gustavsson, respectively, all three of whom were the reason their teams made the playoffs.
The Flames only had one 30+ goal scorer last season. That one player was Tyler Toffoli who is not even a member of the Calgary Flames anymore. Toffoli led the team in goals finishing with 34 and led the team in points finishing with 73. Nazem Kadri had the second most goals, only tallying 24.
A real shock was Jonathan Huberdeau’s performance last season. Coming off a 30-goal and 115-point year in Florida, it was disappointing to say the least, that he was only able to produce half of that in his first season with the Flames. A big part of the Flames’ offence will have to be driven by Huberdeau, and the Flames are hoping that he is able to bounce back and be that elite forward they traded for.
A couple of other players in need of bounce-back years to help propel the offence are Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane. Both players had a career-high in goals and points during the 2021-22 season and both players’ stats dropped a fair amount the following year. In 2021-22 Lindholm managed to put up 42 goals and 82 points (granted he was playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk), and last season he finished with 22 goals and 64 points. Mangiapane tucked 35 goals during the 2021-22 season and finished with 55 points but was only able to pot 17 goals and 43 points the following year.
Matt Coronato, drafted 13th overall by the Flames in 2021, has found a spot in the lineup and should be able to add to the goal-scoring depth once he gets more comfortable and has a few more games under his belt. He has a great shot and it’s only a matter of time before he starts showing off just how good it is.
If the Flames are able to get more production from Huberdeau, Lindholm, and Mangiapane, it’s going to make it a lot easier for this team to be able to move away from a lot of those low-scoring one-goal games they experienced last season.
Finding ways to close out games (in regulation and overtime)
The Flames last season found themselves on the wrong side of 30 one-goal games. That is almost half a season’s worth of games. In seven of those games, the Flames had the lead going into the third period. The Flames also had 24 games last season that needed extra time. They ended up losing 17 of those 24 games (the most in the league). The Sharks had the second-most overtime losses with 16 and they finished last in the Pacific Division.
That is 17 potential points the Flames missed out on. The inability to get the job done in overtime is what kept this team out of the playoffs. There is no excuse to be losing about 70% of those games. The Flames finished the season only three points out of the second wild-card spot. All it would have taken was a couple more wins in overtime to reach the post-season, and we all know what Sutter has been able to accomplish with an eighth-seeded team in the past.
If the Flames hope to have a shot at the playoffs this season they are going to have to get significantly better at closing out games in the third period and finding ways to win more overtime games than they lose. They cannot afford to lose 17 overtime games again (or be anywhere close to that number).
What do you think is the most important factor in the Flames returning to the playoffs in 2023-24? Let us know in the comments!
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