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Reasons for optimism in the Calgary Flames’ final 18 games

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Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
1 year ago
There haven’t been a lot of reasons for optimism this season for Calgary Flames fans. It’s been one of those years where it doesn’t seem like anything is going the Flames’ way. But what’s happened is in the past and there is nothing we can do about it. Let’s not dwell in the past. Let’s take a look at the future and some reasons for optimism heading down the stretch drive as the Flames make a push to the playoffs.

Strength of schedule

The Flames have one of, if not the easiest schedule to finish out the regular season. After their game tonight against the Minnesota Wild, Calgary will play 11 of their final 18 games against non playoff teams and 10 of their remaining 18 games will be played at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you want to look at it. You’d think it would be a good thing because the Flames are playing lesser competition. But unfortunately, the Flames have a 9-7-6 record against the bottom 11 teams in the NHL. You would think that’s an anomaly and they will start winning those games. But who knows with this team?
All we know is that in theory, their strength of schedule should be a positive thing in their final 18 games.

Defensive numbers

One thing aspect that may surprise casual fans is how good the Flames are defensively. At 5-on-5 Calgary ranks second in the NHL in CA/60 (shot attempts against), fourth in xGA/60 expected goals against), SCA/60 (scoring chances against) and sixth in HDCA/60 (high danger chances against). Almost all defensive metrics prove that the Flames are one of the top teams in the NHL at suppressing scoring chances and shots. Unfortunately, their goaltending has been a major reason why their goals against is much higher compared to their expected goals against. (All stats cited here via Natural Stat Trick.)
The Flames will win a lot of games if they can get the Jacob Markstrom of old to show up in their final 18 games of the season.

Five-on-five scoring

The Flames are a solid offensive team when it comes to their play at 5-on-5. They do a great job of possessing the puck and generating shots on opposing goalies. The Flames rank second in CF/60, fifth in SCF/60, seventh in xGF/60, and tenth in GF/60. Those numbers have translated into goals as the Flames currently rank ninth the NHL in goals scored at 5-on-5. They are scoring enough at 5-on-5 to finish in a playoff spot.
One small change they could consider to make them a more lethal team at 5-on-5 is to scratch Milan Lucic. The Flames have been outscored 35-23 at 5-on-5 with Milan Lucic on the ice. That means the Flames only score 39% of the goals at 5-on-5 when he is on the ice. A fourth line of Ritchie-Lewis-Duehr for example would be a lot more efficient and probably save the Flames some goals against moving forward.

Keys to making a run at a playoff spot

1. Goaltending. We all know that the most important player on the Flames right now is Jacob Markstrom. He is going to be playing in the majority of games down the stretch drive. He needs to turn his game around if the Flames want to stay in the playoff race. Since Monday’s game against the Bruins, Markstrom has a .904% save percentage and has saved 1.46 goals above expected. Those numbers are trending in the right direction.
2. The power play. The power play is another area that has to improve. They are currently 23rd in the NHL in power play percentage at 19.3%. They need their best players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Elias Lindholm to step up and start scoring more goals on the man advantage.
3. Puck Luck. Calgary needs to get some puck luck. They need shots to go off the post and in. They need puck to bounce of opposing players and in. They need their opposition to miss grade A scoring chances. How many times have we walked away from Flames games this season thinking that Calgary was the better team but couldn’t catch a break? You hope the hockey gods can give the team some well deserved bounces in their final 18 games.
The Flames have all the ingredients to make the playoffs. They score enough goals at 5-on-5. They do a great job suppressing shots. Their system is not the problem. It’s clear that works.
They need their top players like Markstrom and Huberdeau to step up and will this team into the playoffs. If they don’t step up, the Flames can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

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