Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Injection of youth has sparked the Calgary Flames’ offensive production
By Raz Devraj3 months ago
Before the beginning of the 2023-24 season, there were a couple of off-ice changes made to this Calgary Flames team. The Flames and their then-general manager Brad Trelving agreed to mutually part ways and then-head coach Darryl Sutter was fired.
This allowed for the hiring of Flames alumni (and assistant GM) Craig Conroy to be the next GM and Ryan Huska to be promoted from assistant coach to head coach.
In the past two seasons, it was very clear what kind of system Sutter was trying to force on his roster. It was a defence-first, take care of your own zone and then capitalize on the opponents’ mistakes type of style. The truth of the matter was that while they were great defensively, they had trouble finding ways to score goals.
It did not help that Sutter was not a fan of giving younger, faster, and more skilled guys opportunities to play and possibly boost the offensive capabilities of a team that was struggling to score. It seemed like no matter the case he kept his older, hard-hitting, and more gritty players in the lineup. Players like Trevor Lewis, Milan Lucic, Nick Ritchie, and Kevin Rooney who all bought into his system. While it is important to have guys like this in the lineup there needs to be a balance in the bottom six especially when your top guys are not where they need to be.
A message Conroy made clear before this season started was the importance of injecting youth into the lineup. He made sure to make it known that his younger prospects would get more of a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level and that if the work is being put in, rewards will be issued in response to that hard work. Jakob Pelletier appeared set for an NHL role, before up suffering an injury in the pre-season, and Matt Coronato made the opening night roster.
The Flames started off this season having the same problem they did last year, not being able to score goals. The supposed stars of the team in Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, and Nazem Kadri continued to be disappointing on the offensive front.
After their 4-3 win in Buffalo, there was a five-game stretch where they scored two or less goals in a game. It wasn’t until they played the Dallas Stars on Nov. 1 that they finally were able to score more than two goals. They ended up losing 4-3 but something changed in the Flames’ lineup that sparked the offence.
Connor Zary made his NHL debut that night, scoring one goal and registering six shots making an instant impact. He played alongside Kadri and Yegor Sharangovich. Kadri picked up two assists against the Stars. He only had two points before that in nine games, playing with Adam Ruzicka and Dillon Dube.
The Flames played the Seattle Kraken a few nights later and again there were changes made to the lineup. This time 23-year-old Martin Pospisil made his debut on the third line playing with Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman. Just like Zary, Pospisil scored in his NHL debut. Backlund scored twice as well and the Flames came out with a 6-3 win. Those were Backlund’s first two goals of the season after not scoring in the first 10 games of the season.
Zary has three goals and six points in seven games played and has only been held off the scoresheet twice since joining the big club. Pospisil has two goals and four points in six games played and has also only been held off the scoresheet twice.
Not only have these youngsters been able to put up individual points, but the injection of these two players has propelled the play of their linemates, and there has been an overall spark in the teams’ ability to produce offensively.
The continuation of this boasted scoring ability will be what the Flames need to get their season back on track and so far it’s all thanks to the combination of Conroy’s mission and the excellent play showcased by the two rookies.
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