Happy Monday, everybody! The Calgary Flames remain in top spot in the Pacific Division and could officially sew up a playoff berth this week.
As we prepare for what could be a really important week for the hockey club, let’s check in with the mailbag!
There’s a distinction to be made: City of Calgary administration has hired a third party, a consultant who doesn’t work directly within administration, to find possible partners to work with the City (and the Flames, possibly) to find and construct a new arena. The third party consultant is looking for a third funding partner, to add to the City (partner #1) and the Flames (partner #3). Clear as mud, right?
I think there’s validity to it. There’s a large amount of confidence right now within city hall that they can find someone to fill in the gap between what the Flames and City are each willing to fund and what they need to build an awesome new facility. There have been talks with the Flames to suss out what their comfort level is, and presumably once a third funding partner is found, they’ll need to hash out exactly what the shape of whatever deal would be.
It’s not posturing. It’s a real, valid possibility. Heck, it’s probably how the arena gets built.
The Flames’ power play hasn’t been great lately. Since March 1 (21 games), they’ve scored 14 times. Since March 15 (13 games), they’ve scored seven times, and their expected goals rate on the PP has creeped towards league average after being quite great beforehand. Some of that is puck luck: players are just bobbling pucks at inopportune times.
But some of the Flames’ PP challenges might just be penalty kills game-planning for a key part of a good team’s attack. What might work is shuffling up the two PP units a bit here and there, trying out different looks and making it a bit more challenging for teams to game-plan. The team has a stacked first unit and a second unit that’s full of, well, the best of the rest of the team. If they balance out the two units and shake things up, maybe that’ll confound the opposition a bit and help the PP get their swagger back.
Sean Monahan’s surgery reportedly has a four to five month recovery period, meaning he won’t be medically cleared until likely around September. The two buyout periods are in June and August, so unless Monahan signs off on it, he cannot be bought out this summer.
But for cap reasons, it’s tough to keep a $6.375 million fourth line centre around given the financial decisions the club has to make this off-season. I would be willing to bet that Monahan is wearing a different sweater when the puck drops in October. Hopefully he’s able to be part of the decision-making and gets to call his shot somewhat, because he’s been a huge part of the team’s success up to this point.
Looking at Jacob Markstrom’s last five starts, he allowed an early goal against St. Louis (0:54 into game), but in the other four games he didn’t. But Markstrom is the type of goalie who likes getting a bunch of shots early in games so he gets a feel for the net and his timing (and the timing of the other team’s attack), so there is something to thinking he might be a little skittish when he doesn’t get a lot of work early.
When Erik Gudbranson and Oliver Kylington return from the sidelines, that bumps Michael Stone and Connor Mackey to the press box. While it’s a bit of a bummer to see Stone and Mackey get bumped, that’s their gig right now – especially Stone, who’s been a good soldier this season being ready at short notice. But Gudbranson and Kylington have worked hard, earned their spots, and performed quite well in those spots, so it seems inevitable that they return to their old gigs when the medical staff signs off on their return to the lineup.
Ryan Carpenter has only played six games, so sample size warning. But so far, his expected goals percentage is 60.15% (via Natural Stat Trick) compared to 43.02% for Brad Richardson. I will say, though, that Richardson had the possibility of playing games with both of Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan, while Monahan’s injury has meant that Carpenter is playing with Lucic and another player (usually Brett Ritchie). While Ritchie lacks Monahan’s offensive ceiling and flair, he’s a capable replacement level player and can get the puck up the ice a bit faster that Monahan can lately, and that’s a big help to Carpenter’s numbers.
So the short answer is that Carpenter has much better possession stats than Richardson had with the Flames, though the sample size is quite small for Carpenter.
As of Monday morning, the Flames’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot (via our math whiz Pat Steinberg) is 3, or any combination of Flames wins and Vegas losses adding up to three clinches a spot for Calgary. Based on the schedule, Thursday night against Vegas could be the clinching game for the Flames.
(We had a few questions about ideal first round opponents, but we’ll probably tackle those separately once the Flames cement a playoff berth.)
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