The good, the bad and the in-between of the Calgary Flames’ 2023 pre-season
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
It’s been said that the National Hockey League pre-season is something to be endured rather than enjoyed, but the Calgary Flames made it through eight exhibition outings with some good, some bad, and some in-between outcomes to show for it.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we saw during the pre-season.
We’re not sure how familiar Flames fans were with Oesterle when he signed, but he was really strong in exhibition play. He played with Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov and used in different situations, and he was generally really good. He looked fast, smart, poised and showed some offensive flourishes, too. He played six games and had a goal and three assists.
If he’s a team’s sixth defender, that means they’ve got some good depth going on.
The Flames probably hoped Coronato would show some chemistry with some of their existing top nine forwards, especially considering they just lost a right-shot sniper in Tyler Toffoli. Can Coronato replace Toffoli’s offence? It’s too early to tell. Did he look dangerous in pre-season? Heck yes.
Caveat: all of his seven points came during two games, but he played in six games, played pretty consistently with the Flames’ established offensive players, and held up his end of the bargain. He’s 20 and in his first-ever NHL camp, so we don’t know much more could have been asked of him.
To a lot of people, Solovyov was the revelation of main camp. He wasn’t as flashy perhaps as Oesterle or Coronato, but he was just consistently rock-solid. Solovyov had a breakout season in 2022-23 with the Wranglers, and really came into his own as a shutdown defender on a pairing with Nick DeSimone. He played in pre-season with a mixture of partners and looked really smooth, relaxed, and poised on the whole.
He quietly forced his way perhaps to the front of the line for blueline call-ups with a really nice camp.
It’s difficult to really conclude that any of the Flames’ netminders had a strong camp. Via Natural Stat Trick, 56 goaltenders played 60+ five-on-five minutes during the pre-season. Of those, Dan Vladar (.918) ranked 29th in save percentage, Jacob Markstrom (.885) was 45th and Dustin Wolf (.864) was 53rd. Vladar had a really great game in Seattle during the road half of the split-squad set, but otherwise no Flames netminder had a dominant “statement” game during the exhibition calendar.
We concede that the Flames were adapting to a new defence style, and in several of the games the defensive group was a mix of odds and ends. For what it’s worth, Vladar was perfect (1.000) in 44:52 of five-on-five played on home ice, playing primarily with NHL blueliners against less-experienced opponents. (Markstrom was .897 in 73:31, though.)
We’re not prepared to declare anybody in net had a “bad” camp, but after how dicey goaltending was last season, the prevailing hope was likely that somebody would have an excellent showing to right the ship. Unfortunately, nobody did.
Everybody had Jakob Pelletier pencilled into the NHL roster – and with good reason, he looked quite good early and had some nice energy. Unfortunately, he suffered a tough shoulder injury against Seattle.
Kevin Rooney seemed like a contender to be the team’s fourth-line centre and quietly had a really effective camp. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury of his own during practice.
The Flames were extremely fortunate during the 2022-23 campaign to avoid untimely injuries. That luck appeared not to have followed them into 2023-24.
The first-rounders, as a group
We will concede that Coronato had a good camp. But between Pelletier’s tough injury and fairly quiet camps from Samuel Honzek and Connor Zary, there weren’t any pushes from the team’s most promising youngsters like some had hoped to have seen. It would’ve been interesting to see what Honzek or Zary could have done with more NHL-established linemates, as Coronato and Pelletier saw in their early outings – though it would have been tough to give quality linemates to everybody, and leaning on Coronato and Pelletier made a lot of sense given their previous NHL experiences.
The system transition
By now, you’ve probably heard enough about the Flames’ transition from man-on-man defensive coverage to zone. The Flames had good outings and bad under the new system, just as they did under the old system. They’ll need to keep working on their breakouts, as their entire puck possession system seems to rely on fast transitions and puck protection.
The Flames scored five goals (and allowed one shorthanded goal) on the power play over eight games. They allowed seven goals on the penalty kill during the same span. It’s tough to really judge how good or bad the special teams units were given the wild game-to-game disparity in line-up quality on either side. The power play did have some nice flashes, especially in the early games, so we’ll see if that translates to the regular season.
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