Five key Calgary Flames storylines to track down the stretch
Photo credit:Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
With 65 games in the books and 17 to go, the Calgary Flames are well into the final quarter of the season. Calgary is in the driver’s seat to clinch the Pacific Division and will enter the 2022 postseason with higher expectations than they’ve had in years. While there’s no doubt about the Flames clinching a playoff spot, there are still a number of stories needing to sort themselves out down the stretch.
When do they clinch?
It’s a matter of when, not if, Calgary clinches a playoff spot, so you can take that to the bank. The only thing to be determined is if the Flames clinch their second Pacific Division title in four years, which also feels like inevitable. We’ll use Calgary’s current magic numbers to paint the picture.
|Magic number (as of results ending March 27th, 2022)|
|Clinch playoff spot (VGK/WPG)||8.5|
|Clinch division (LAK)||12.0|
To put things into perspective, the Flames have to go 8-8-1 in their final 17 to guarantee a playoff spot, regardless of what the Jets or Golden Knights do. Similarly, a 12-5-0 clip down the stretch would seal the Pacific even if the Kings were to win all 15 of their final games. To say the Flames control their own destiny would be a massive understatement.
The line combinations
I appreciate head coach Darryl Sutter experimenting with different forward trios over the last few weeks. It’s important to evaluate different looks, because a team isn’t able to go on a long playoff run without tweaks and adjustments along the way. However, it’s pretty clear, at least in my opinion, Calgary is structured best with their top line together.
At 767:55, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Johnny Gaudreau have spent more time together at five-on-five than any other line in the league…and it’s not close. The next most frequent trio has been Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson in Dallas at 574:23. The top line has been elite all season and they set things up nicely down the depth chart. It’s just a matter of how the next three lines should be constructed.
What has also become clear is how dominant the trio of Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman, and Andrew Mangiapane can be. In 329:28 together, that line leads the league with a 63.0% possession rate and sits second with a 64.4% share of expected goals. There’s still time to evaluate and play around, but I sure like this top nine:
All that leaves is the right fit for the fourth line with a number of different options and one important storyline to resolve…
Sean Monahan’s role
A healthy scratch the last two games, it’s clear Monahan is in a battle for a depth role. Along with Monahan, the Flames have Trevor Lewis, Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, and Ryan Carpenter in the mix for fourth line duty. Three of those players (Monahan, Carpenter, Lewis) have the ability to play down the middle. Can Monahan prove he’s the best option as Calgary’s 4C?
I think he will, and should be, given the opportunity to state his case. Monahan won’t be a healthy scratch for the rest of the season, so when he gets in, he needs to make the most of it. On paper, Carpenter seems like the best fit for the role and the Flames have to give that room to be proven right or wrong. But the door is still very much open for Monahan to play a role down the stretch and in the postseason.
If/when Calgary clinches the division, I’m curious to see how Sutter manages his roster. The head coach will have the opportunity to strategically rest players, which is a nice luxury to have, but he also needs to strike a balance of keeping the team playing at a high level. Fortunately, Sutter knows what he’s doing… he’s managed plenty of home and cooled teams down the stretch and knows what has worked and what hasn’t. It’s hard not to think the Flames are in good hands in that regard.
When talking about strategically sitting players, there are two that come to mind first and foremost: Lindholm and Chris Tanev. Following Calgary’s 2019 first round loss to Colorado, Lindholm admitted he was tired down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Flames can’t afford that to be the case with their most important forward come May. As for Tanev, the belief is he’s already playing through a few things, so calculated maintenance makes a lot of sense.
Let’s start with Jacob Markstrom, who is putting together one of the finest seasons in franchise history, chasing a few franchise marks.
|Player (season)||No.||Player (season)||No.||Player (season)||No.|
|Kiprusoff (05-06)||10||Kiprusoff (03-04)||0.933||Kiprusoff (03-04)||1.70|
|Markstrom (21-22)||9||Markstrom (21-22)||0.925||Kiprusoff (05-06)||2.07|
|Kiprusoff (06-07)||7||Kiprusoff (05-06)||0.923||Markstrom (21-22)||2.16|
It’s important to note Kiprusoff only appeared in 38 games during the 2003-04 season, whereas he was up to 74 in 2005-06, which has to be considered THE best ever season for a Flames goaltender. Well, this Markstrom campaign is going to end up right there with it when all is said and done. I don’t think there’s any coincidence Sutter was the team’s head coach both years.
Furthermore, Calgary has already tied the franchise mark of 11 team shutouts in a season, first set in 2003-04 by Kiprusoff, Roman Turek, and Jamie McLennan. One more from either Markstrom or Dan Vladar sets a new club record.
On the skater side, both Gaudreau and Lindholm sit +49, which has them chasing down Joe Mullen’s franchise record of +51 set during the 1988-89 season. Regardless of what you think about +/- as a stat, having two players with even strength goal differentials like that is impressive.
Finally, let’s take a look at Gaudreau’s season and where it might finish amongst the greatest in franchise history. He’s currently on pace for roughly 113 points and 75 assists, which would place him second all-time in each category.
|Player (season)||Points||Player (season)||Assists|
|Nilsson (1980-81)||131||Nilsson (1980-81)||82|
|Mullen (1988-89)||110||MacInnis (1990-91)||75|
|MacMillan (1978-79)||108||MacMillan (1978-79)||71|
|Chouinard (1978-79)||107||Suter (1987-88)||70|
|Loob (1987-88)||106||Gilmour (1989-90)||67|
What Johnny is doing this season is crazy, especially considering the differences era to era. Regardless where he finishes on the above lists, Gaudreau is putting together one of the greatest seasons this franchise has ever seen.
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