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Hovering around the .500 mark, the Calgary Flames face an uphill climb to the playoffs

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
The Calgary Flames’ home date with the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday afternoon was their 55th game of the 2023-24 regular season. The Flames lost by a 5-0 score, extending their current losing skid to three games.
The loss dropped the Flames down to a place they’re all-too-familiar with: the .500 mark. And keeps them in a position they’re also all-too-familiar with: several points below the playoff cutline.
On one hand, you have to give credit where it’s due: the Flames had a really rough start to the season, going 2-7-1 and posting a woeful .250 points percentage over their first 10 games. With a new head coach, new system and some new faces, the Flames needed to figure themselves out. They seemed to overcome the learning curve after that initial 10 games and, in part due to the addition of youngsters like Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil, they’ve managed to carve out an identity as a scrappy team.
If you throw out that first 10 games, the Flames are a team that captures points at a .556 clip – a 91.2 point pace. The Athletic projects the playoff cutline in the Western Conference at around 89-90 points. The team currently occupying the final wild card spot in the West, the St. Louis Blues, have a .556 points percentage. If you throw out the first 10 games, the Flames are a team that should be very much in the playoff mix, and it’s that standard of play that feeds optimism about the current edition.
But the Flames after 55 games are what many thought they would be. With previous editions of the Flames, they had an offensive diffence-maker or two that could help spark the team when it was flagging or that could find a way to get a key goal or two in order to steal a point here and there. Years back, they had Jarome Iginla. More recently, they had the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.
While the current team is blessed with a strong goaltender in Jacob Markstrom who has the ability to hold the Flames in games where they’re not at their best, they lack a true offensive wizard that can put together a game-defining shift or two to tilt things in their favour. The Flames don’t have any superstars; they have to win or lose as a team.
At times, they’ve won as a team – and occasionally with superb outings. The most recent example of the club playing “Flames hockey” was their recent win in Boston. The Flames didn’t have one line that stole the show, but they had four lines and three defensive pairings playing with pace and structure, and they were able to wear down the Bruins for a very impressive win.
But as the saying goes, you’re not going to be at your best every game, and the Flames play a challenging style to maintain for 60 minutes over 82 games. Because of their lack of game-stealing weapons, they face a very small margin for error in each outing. Case in point: their loss to Detroit. They weren’t bad. They out-shot Detroit 38-21. But a pair of brief lulls in the details of their game led to two flurries of offence for the Red Wings, and decided the game.
The Flames aren’t a bad hockey team. They have an interesting mix of youth and veterans. They play with pace and structure. But they lack game-breaking stars right now, and as a result they have little margin for error in how they play their game. It’s a tough style of hockey to play and, with Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev widely expected to be moved elsewhere before the March 8 trade deadline, it’ll get tougher between now and the end of the regular season.
If you throw out their first 10 games, the current edition of the Flames are probably good enough to force their way into the playoffs. But the first 10 games happened, and are acting as an anchor pulling the Flames further from the playoff cutline. And because of the looming trade deadline, the current edition of the Flames likely won’t remain intact for much longer.
The Flames have 27 games remaining in the regular season, a .500 record, and sit just over six points outside the final wild card spot (when controlling for games-in-hand). They face an uphill climb to a playoff berth, and the climb is likely to get even steeper from here.

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