Missed it by that much: the Calgary Flames reflect on a frustrating season
Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
On Monday, the Calgary Flames were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. On Wednesday, they played their final regular season game. On Friday, the team conducted exit meetings and had their final chats with the local media before heading to their off-season.
The general theme from Friday: frustration with the club’s inability to overcome obstacles in close games.
“I think what sticks with me the most after this year, which is tough, is that you look at a lot of the games we lost and it came down to special situations,” said Blake Coleman. “Whether it’s 4-on-4, the 3-on-3 overtimes, the special teams within the game. Just little things that we couldn’t quite figure out.”
The Flames played in a league-leading 24 overtime games in 2022-23, winning seven and losing 17. They finished just three points out from being in the final playoff spot in the West.
“What was it, 16, 17 overtime losses?” said Coleman. “You win half of those games, everybody’s talking about a completely different thing right now.”
Factoring in empty-netters, the Flames played in 54 games that were decided by a single goal – they won 21 and lost 33. Coleman noted the difference was not getting the big goal or the big block in those situations.
The Flames went through a very prominent changeover in the 2022 off-season, losing Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau in summer transactions and adding Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar. The transitions for the three newcomers were less than seamless.
Kadri mentioned playing through some injuries and dealing with a short off-season after winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado the prior season, while Weegar and Huberdeau struggled at times adjusting to Calgary’s system and their significant life changes. Weegar said it took until after Christmas for him to fully adjust to Calgary.
“I think I just needed to find my way in Calgary,” said Weegar, on his adjustment off the ice. “It was a huge change for me, coming from Florida to here… It was a difficult change, for sure, and once I got settled I thought my game was better.”
Huberdeau experienced a massive drop in production from the prior season, following up a 115-point 2021-22 campaign that saw him set a record for most assists by a left wing with one that saw him register less than half as many points. That 60-point season-to-season drop is an NHL record.
“I completely lost my swagger this year,” said Huberdeau. “You can just tell, you have no confidence in the way you play, the way you make your plays, the way you do. It’s hard. You’re just trying to be out there and help your team to win and you can’t really do it. Really, most importantly for me is to get that back this summer, get that confidence back. I don’t think about the past, I just want to look forward to next year.”
Calgary’s goaltending also experienced a huge drop-off. After a 2021-22 campaign where Markstrom was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy and he and Dan Vladar posted a 92.5 five-on-five save percentage (fourth-best in the NHL), the same two goaltenders posted a 90.1 five-on-five save percentage (31st in the NHL).
“It’s a big summer for me and I’m up for the challenge to get back to where I want to be,” said Markstrom. I still feel like I have a ways to go and I can still improve from last year, and obviously improve from this year. I feel like it’s right there. I’ve just got to put in the work and come back and get ready.”
Big off-season personnel changes. An inability to win close games. A gigantic drop in team save and shooting percentages. Several players experiencing big scoring drops from prior seasons. A team that set a record for out-shooting opponents by hefty margins and still losing. A team that set a record for shot differential by a team that missed the playoffs. Their best defenceman getting hit by a car in Detroit. Simply put: a lot of things went wrong for the Flames in the 2022-23 season, and they still only narrowly missed the playoffs.
“In terms of on the ice, it was a bizarre season,” said Kadri. “It was something I hadn’t really seen before. It’s unfortunate, we’re all disappointed.”
Despite the frustration at their season ending when it did, several players expressed optimism at the team’s fortunes if they ran back the same group in 2023-24.
“We’re knocking on the door,” said Coleman. “We just need everybody to take that next step.”
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