Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Streaky Calgary Flames are running out of runway to figure themselves out
By Ryan Pike27 days ago
If one word was needed to describe the 2023-24 edition of the Calgary Flames, through 48 games it would probably be “streaky.” The club has shown themselves to be capable of playing some very good hockey, going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best and brightest… and winning. They’ve also gone through stretches where they get in their own way, and find ways to lose games that they really should be winning.
Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was an example of the second type of game.
The Flames arrived home for their current six game home-stand with a ton of momentum, riding a three-game winning streak – punctuated by a win over Vegas, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. They found a way to win a fairly flat game against Arizona with a strong third period comeback to begin the run of home dates.
Since then: four losses. Suddenly, Saturday’s finale against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks becomes a must-win.
Dating back to Christmas, they’ve gone 7-7-0. Rather than gaining ground in the Western Conference’s wild card playoff chase, they’re running in place.
On Thursday, the culprit behind their demise – aside from failing to follow-up on a good opening period – was an anemic power play.
“Maybe the thing that bugs me the most, probably, I would say is the power play,” said head coach Ryan Huska after the game. “That stuff, it’s a couple games now it’s cost us I find and it sucked the wind right out of our sails. So, penalty kill has done a good job of trying to keep us in it, but I feel like our penalty kill’s more dangerous than our power play right now and that’s not a good thing.”
Columbus scored a power play goal on a five-minute advantage, stemming from a Jonathan Huberdeau boarding major in the third period. But by that point they were already leading, with Alexandre Texier’s shorthanded goal in the second period putting them ahead. Columbus’ special teams out-scored Calgary’s by a 2-0 margin, and that ultimately was the difference.
The Flames’ penalty kill ranks third in the National Hockey League. Their power play is 30th, third-worst. This special teams disparity has persisted all season – and is arguably a carry-over from last season’s efforts.
Asked if there are areas he’s seen a step back in recently by Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson, Huska offered a detailed response.
“I feel like, whether it’s our game is loose or whether we’re not playing with that same get up and go, I don’t feel like we have the same pressure on teams right now,” said Huska. “I feel like we’re a second late and we’re standing and watching a little bit. That’s either a sign of a tired team or a team that just isn’t as sharp as it needs to be.”
The Flames finished Thursday’s game action six points behind Nashville for the final Western Conference playoff berth. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn’s projected standings have the cutline in the West at 90 points. After capturing 47 points over their first 48 games, the Flames would need to capture 43 points over their remaining 34 games to reach that target – that’s a .632 points percentage.
In his 1978 hit album Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf declared that “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” For the Flames’ flickering playoff hopes, winning two out of every three remaining games is a necessity.
And even that may not be enough to punch their ticket to the post-season.
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