With Vancouver winning last night and taking the NW division lead, the Flames Cubsian choke looks to be in full effect. As late as the end of February, Calgary held as much as a 13 point lead over the hated Canucks for the NW crown. Now, with about 6 games remaining, Calgary will be hard-pressed to reclaim the lead considering their recent play and relatively difficult remaining schedule.
A lot of fans are probably wondering what precipitated the plunge during March. Unfortunately, it probably wasn't a single, isolated factor: various aspects of the Flames game went through rolling black-outs during the last 4 weeks or so. Including:
Due to injuries, the club played without significant portions of their roster for long stretches recently. Daymond Langkow, Rene Bourque, Todd Bertuzzi and Mark Giordano all succumbed to various ailments, resulting in multiple farm call-ups and frequent re-shuffling of the forward line combinations.
It's no secret that the Flames netminding went directly into the toilet once February expired. Kipper's ES SV% through march was sub .900 and was probably one of the main reasons the 7 game road trip was such a disaster.
Defense wasn't exactly a strong point either, however. Post-March, Calgary now languishes in the bottom half of the league in terms of shots against and quality of shots against. The Flames are also 25th in the league in terms of shots against on the PK.
The Flames were very potent to start the month, but have petered out completely in recent weeks. Jokinen hasn't scored on home ice, Iginla has returned to the funk that marked a good portion of his year and Cammalleri is suffering through his worst drought of the season. The PP has been especially lackluster recently, going oh-fer during the mini-trip through PIT and CBJ.
As a result the Flames PP, featuring Iginla, Cammalleri, Phaneuf and Jokinen, has sunk to 17th in the league and it frequently looks in total disarray to my eyes. Calgary seems to have problems getting the puck beyond the periphery and spends a lot of time in puck battles or rimming the puck around the boards in a vain attempt to escape pressure. As if right now, the Flames are 19th in the league in terms of shots for on the PP. They also give up the second best quality chances against while on the PP in the entire NHL (only EDM is worse apparently), as well as the third most shots against. Apparently, those 15 SHG against are no fluke.
Finally, Calgary's March sched wasn't a kind one. The 7 game road trip at the start of the month coincided nicely with the team's spate of injuries. The Flames also played 9 of 15 games on the road in March. In addition, more than half of the games came against strong competition (PHI, CAR, NJD, DET X2, CBJ and SJS).
The good news is - the team was still strong at ES in aggregate over the course of March and stuff like Kippers abysmal SV% and Iginla et al. shooting every scoring chance wide should eventually correct themselves (I hope). Calgary still has the 4th best expected goal differential in the league at ES, so the strengths are there. Hopefully they can surpass the weaknesses before the Flames make yet another disappointing first round exit.