The good, bad and ugly of the Calgary Flames: Games 1-5
Photo credit:© Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
We are back with another season of the good, bad, and ugly of the Calgary Flames. For those of you who are new to this article or FlamesNation, every five games I do a write up on all things Calgary Flames which includes highlights, stats, analysis, and some fun.
It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to start the season from the perspective of Flames supporters. This is a team that lost the trust of it’s fan base last season through inconsistent efforts, bad goaltending, losing key games to bad teams, and a lack of fun and entertainment. The 2023-24 Flames, made up of essentially the same core as last season, are going to have to earn back the trust of the fans.
We are starting to see that happen a little bit through the first five games of the season. The team is clearly playing hard and with more speed and tempo than we saw last season, thanks in large part to removing Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and the Ritchie brothers from the lineup in exchange for younger, better, more talented players.
But there is still work to be done. We still need to see the highest paid players start performing up to the level we expect them to based off the size of their pay cheques. There has also been an inability to score goals despite creating enough high danger chances to put some more pucks in the back of the net.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the good, bad, and ugly!
This category perfectly describes Jacob Markstrom to start this season. He’s been good. He hasn’t stolen any games and been one of the best goalies in the NHL. But he is giving the Flames an opportunity to win hockey games.
Markstrom was the reason why they beat the Jets on opening night. He made 34 saves, which included multiple game savers. The Flames could have got blown out in Pittsburgh last Saturday if it wasn’t for their netminder. Markstrom made a bunch of saves on the Penguins top players on the penalty kill. He was also their best player last night in Columbus.
One difference we’re seeing this year compared to last is Markstrom making big, timely saves to keep the Flames in games. Last season Markstrom had a tendency to give up back breaking goals at inopportune times. We haven’t seen that yet this season.
It’s been a solid start. Hopefully Markstrom will continue his strong play as the season progresses.
The Fourth Line
The Flames have found something with their current fourth line of AJ Greer, Yegor Sharangovich and Walker Duehr. This is a trio that is fast, physical, and tenacious on the puck. They also have a little bit of skill to go along with those intangibles.
This is a nice change of pace from what we were used to under Brad Treliving and Darryl Sutter era. Gone are the days of old, slow, veteran 4th lines that consist of the likes of Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, Brett Ritchie, and Nick Ritchie.
Their 5-on-5 numbers as a line have been outstanding. They’ve only played together for 33:21, but it’s still a decent sample size over a five game stretch.
|18-17-71||63.64% (42-24)||65.38% (17-9)||62.50% (10-6)||62.30%|
It’s night and day when you compare those number to the fourth line from last season. It’s a massive upgrade.
Smart moves by Craig Conroy
The new general manager hasn’t had much time to put his stamp on the Calgary Flames. But I am encouraged from what I’ve seen so far. Especially with three recent decisions.
First was the acquisition of AJ Greer from the waiver wire. The Flames were missing some size and functional toughness on the 4th line. Conroy brought in Greer who is exactly what they were looking for. One criticism of Brad Treliving was that he was careless when trading draft picks. Treliving would have traded a late round pick for a guy like Greer. But Conroy made the prudent decision to claim Greer off waivers for essentially nothing.
Second move was the Mikael Backlund contract extension. The fact he was able to keep the AAV under $5M and keep the term at two years was a win. It is a manageable contract for the Flames, and it allowed the team to make Backlund the 21st captain in Flames history and put that storyline to bed heading into the regular season.
The final move was the moves he didn’t make. Which was not signing or trading for veteran help in the forward group. The previous regime loved the bringing in veterans on PTO’s and signing them to one-year contracts to fill out the bottom end of the roster. Conroy said he was going to leave those spots open for young players. And it’s paid off so far with decent starts from the likes of Adam Ruzicka and Matt Coronato.
Lack of Finish
Flames fans should brace themselves for another season of one goal, tight checking games because this team is going to struggle to score goals.
We’ve seen it already through the first five games. Just take a look at some of these opportunities that the Flames have not been able to finish.
Hopefully this trend will start to change as the season progresses. Maybe another month or two of practising Marc Savard’s power play or getting used to new systems will lead to more offence. But I’m not holding my breath. The Flames lack elite, game breaking talent. And that’s going to negatively affect their ability to easily score goals.
I have a feeling that almost every game is going to be a grind, similar to last season.
I don’t like to pick on a single player when we are this early in the year. But Nazem Kadri has been the worst Calgary Flame in their first five games. We’ve seen a whole lot of nothing from the Flames seven-million-dollar man. There seems to be a lack of execution and engagement (up until Friday night when he fought 20-year-old Cole Sillinger). At 5-on-5, Kadri has hurt the Flames more than he’s helped them.
|Kadri||46.62% (17th)||40.50% (18th)||42.19% (18th)||40.74% (18th)||2-5|
(Kadri’s 5-on-5 stats among 18 Flames players who have played at least 15 minutes)
Even on the power play we haven’t seen much from Kadri. He has fanned on a number of quality scoring chances and hasn’t moved the puck particularly well.
It’s a tough start for the veteran forward. He is more than capable of being a high-end player in the NHL when he wants to be. We saw it in the first three months of last season. Hopefully this is just a blip on the radar and he comes back and proves everyone wrong. But if he doesn’t, the Flames will be in trouble.
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