With 26 games left on the season, the Calgary Flames remain in striking distance of the higher-ups 8th-place mandate. On Valentine's Day last season the Flames were in 10th spot, just 1 point back of the almighty eighth.
Unlike last season, when the injury bug mounted the team has forged on and seemingly improved upon their systematic approach and - the surprise of all surprises - consistency.
Elliotte Friedman touched on this briefly in point 13 of his 30 Thoughts when he said that Blair Jones maturing into his role with the Flames had a big impact on the team. That may be exactly right. For whatever reason, as the going has continued to get tougher and tougher for this Flames squad, they've maintained their confidence in their game and have knocked off several big dogs in the new year. This is in stark contrast to last year when after Brendan Morrison and David Moss went down, the team seemed to lose their fight that had seen them claw their way as high as 5th in the West.
Even with the injuries and the promotion of Tom Kostopolous to the 2nd line that has everyone wondering WTF, the schedule appears to be on the teams side.
Here's a breakdown of the remaining 26 games.
- 16 home games / 10 away games
- only 5 of 26 games are against teams in the top 4 of either conference
- 3 back-to-backs, Phx/Anh - Cgy/Edm - Cgy/Van (travel)
- 15 games against (currently) non-playoff teams
- 13 games against 5 of the teams they are in direct competition against.
Three back to back scenarios remaining isn't great, but at least the travel is minimal in each occasion. Everything else works in great favour to the team, including all of the games against their direct competition which will allow them the opportunity to win their way in and not be hoping like hell for help every night (which may still happen).
The biggest thing is the few number of games against the elite teams in the NHL Last year that was a huge problem for the team and even though they've been VERY good against the elite in the west of late (5-1-1), those are obviously much more difficult games to win.
- Calgary's current playoff odds sit at 33%.
- Phoenix occupies 8th with a .553 PT%, on pace for 91 points which is great as it stands but just think of how many 3 point games there will be down the stretch as teams tighten up and try to grasp as many points as possible. I expect that pace will increase to 94-95 by the end of the year.
- In order to get 94 points the Flames would need to go roughly 16-8-2 for a PT% of .654.
- Since the Boston Massacre, the Flames are 8-3-3 for a PT% of .679 meaning they need to maintain their current level of success in order to have a sniff at the playoffs.
Another thing going in the Flames' favour right now is the great play of Kiprusoff. His below-average play last year was a large part in them missing the playoffs despite being one of the best possession teams in the league. This year, it's the opposite, his play is what's keeping the team in it despite being one of the weakest possession teams in the league.
In the new year, Kipper has been nothing short of brilliant. GAA of about 2.06 and a sv% around .930
So far, the injuries haven't slowed the team, but the Blair Jones/Mikael Backlund losses may be the straw that broke the camel's back. I thought this would mean Brent Sutter would give Matt Stajan the chance to prove some of his critics wrong, but it didn't.
With the beginning of March being the earliest point to expect any help, the Flames will have to continue to battle for AT LEAST 7 more games with the current make-shift NHL lineup.
Are renewed confidence, hot goaltending and a favourable schedule enough to battle the injury bug and defy the odds?