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Can the Calgary Flames do some damage if they make the playoffs?

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
10 months ago
One of the popular narratives right now among some people in the hockey world is the idea that the Calgary Flames could be a tough out if they are able to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let’s break down this narrative and see if there is any merit to it.

Reasons why Calgary could win in the playoffs

Get in and anything can happen
2004 was the best and worst thing to happen to the Flames organization. It was the best because they went on an unforgettable run to the Stanley cup final after years of irrelevancy. It was the worst because it gave oxygen to the idea that anything can happen if you make the playoffs. Since 2004, ownership’s mandate appears to have been do everything you can to make the playoffs and worry about the consequences of your moves later.
That was worked for some teams in recant memory. It’s certainly not the best way to go about winning a Stanley Cup. But here are some recent examples of teams that go on unlikely runs in the playoffs:
  • The 2021 Montreal Canadiens who went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. They snuck into the playoffs as the fourth seed in a bad Canadian division.
  • The 2020 Dallas Stars going to the bubble Stanley Cup final in Edmonton.
  • The 2019 St Louis Blues who went from dead last in the standings in January to winning the Stanley Cup.
  • The 2018 expansion Vegas Golden Knights who went to the Stanley Cup final in their first year in the league.
  • The 2017 Ottawa Senators who took the Pittsburgh Penguins to double overtime in game 7 of the eastern conference final.
  • The 2014 Montreal Canadiens going to the Eastern Conference Final.
But the comparable that might give Flames fans some optimism is the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. They entered the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as the eight seed in the Western Conference. This was a team who had a difficult time scoring goals. They finished 29th in the NHL in goals scored in the regular season. They had 15 extra time losses (sound familiar?). Their top scorer was Anze Kopitar with 76 points in 82 games. No other player eclipsed the 60-point mark.
The similarities don’t stop there. You could make some comparisons to players from the 2012 Kings and 2023 Flames. (These aren’t perfect but they are in the neighbourhood.)
  • Elias Lindholm to Anze Kopitar.
  • Nazem Kadri to Jeff Carter.
  • Mikael Backlund to Mike Richards.
  • Tyler Toffoli to Justin Williams.
  • Jacob Markstrom (when he is on his game) to Jonathan Quick.
The obvious connection between the two teams is that they are both coached by Darryl Sutter. They play a very similar tight checking style of defence. And an offence that is based around puck possession and getting pucks on net from almost anywhere in the offensive zone.
Two key pieces that the Kings had the Flames don’t is an elite number one defenceman like Drew Doughty and someone like Dustin Brown who could score, hit, fight, and lead as he was the captain of that team.
No 3-on-3 overtime or shootouts
The Achilles heel of the Flames this season has been their play in extra time. Calgary has a combined record of 7-15 in games that go to overtime or a shootout. One of the big reasons for that is they lack the elite talent that carries teams in those situations. The Flames don’t have offensive players who can dominate in a 3-on-3 OT setting.
What they do have is a collection of good players who can play well as a unit at 5-on-5.
5-on-5 numbers are strong
The Flames underlying numbers at 5-on-5 have been very strong this season. Here is where they rank among the rest of the league in key statistical categories:
CF%xGF%GF-GASCF%HDCF&
Calgary57.15% (2nd)55.36% (3rd)177-165 (14th)54.53% (4th)53.30% (12th)
(Calgary’s underlying numbers at 5-on-5 this season according to Natural Stat Trick)
The Flames would have locked up a playoff spot had they got league average goaltending and have some better finishing luck. Their underlying numbers indicate that they are one of the better teams at 5-on-5.

Reasons they won’t do damage

Goaltending
Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar have both had disappointing seasons in the Flames crease. The Flames team save percentage is ranked 27th in the NHL this season. Markstrom in particular has struggled mightily throughout the course of this year. Among 55 goalies to play at least 1,200 minutes this season, Markstrom ranks 51st in goals saved above average, 48th in save percentage, 35th in high danger save percentage, and 31st in goals against average. Truly awful numbers from someone who has historically been a top 10 goalie in the NHL for the last few seasons.
The Flames won’t go anywhere in the playoffs if Markstrom continues that level of play.
Lack of elite talent
One thing the Flames do not possess is elite talent. Flames fans had hoped that Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Elias Lindholm could be elite players like they were in the 2021-22 season. But that has not come to fruition.
The Flames best player this season has been Tyler Toffoli. When was the last time a team won a Stanley Cup with a player of Toffoli’s calibre being the teams best player? Nothing against Toffoli. He’s having a great season. But on a true Stanley Cup calibre team , he is likely the fourth or fifth best forward.
Calgary will need the likes of Huberdeau, Kadri, Lindholm and Mangiapane to find another gear if they are to do any damage in the playoffs.
Lack of consistency
We don’t know which Flames team is going to show up on any given night. Is it going to be the one who puts in lacklustre efforts against the likes of the Blackhawks, Ducks, and Coyotes? Or is it going to be the team that puts in great efforts against the Jets, Bruins, and Kings?
Putting in consistent, high end performances is key in the Stanley Cup playoffs if you want to have success. The opposition is too good and will make you pay in the playoffs for you to have multiple off nights in a seven-game series.
Lack of puck luck
This picture says it all.
The Flames have had little to no puck luck this season. And everyone will tell you that in the playoffs you need to get lucky to win. The margin of error is slim to none in the playoffs when you’re playing in a seven-game series against high quality opponents.
The Flames are going to need to have a lot of things go their way if they are going to make the playoffs. They’ll need even more luck and bounces to go their way if they want to do some damage while they are there.
What do you think the Flames chances of success are if they make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments section! 

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