The Flames hit the quarter post of their inaugural season in Adirondack, with a lackluster 3-2 win over the Toronto Marlies. The Flames survived their worst first 30 minutes in a month, with a three goal third period. Ben Hanowski had two goals, Bill Arnold scored his fourth of the season and David Wolf added two assists.
The Flames are likely the hottest team in professional sports at most any level. They have won nine consecutive games and are 12-3 in their last fifteen games. This has erased a 1-5-1 start to the season, and has the team second in the North Division and fifth in the Western Conference.
At this point, I thought it was time for the teams first quarter grades.
Offence - B+
The team is in the top quarter of the league in goals scored, averaging 3.16 goals per game. If you back out the first four games of the season, when the team was really struggling - they are averaging over 3.5 goals per game.
What is even more impressive, is this production has occurred during a time when several of the teams tops forwards have been called up to Calgary (and producing at the NHL level). As a player moved up, another filled the gap in this up tempo system. Ben Hanowski now leads the team in scoring (9G, 3A, +3). Bill Arnold has been given an expanded role in the past 3 weeks, and has made the most of it - moving to second on the team in scoring (4G, 6A, -1). Since returning from off season surgery, Emile Poirier (4G, 5A, +3) has shown some shades of brilliance offensively, and is just below a point per game. David Wolf has been a constant for the team, at even strength and on the power play (3G, 6A, +1).
In Brad Treliving's comments when the move was announced, he stated that this team would compete every night and play an up tempo style of play in all three zones. This team has delivered on that commitment.
Defense - B
This young team struggled significantly in their own end of the ice early in the season. For the first 19 games, they have a GAA of 3.0. Taking a look at the last 15 games (yes, those first four were pretty brutal), the GAA is 2.67 and during their nine game winning streak, a scary 1.67 GAA). The team believes in the system, and is doing the little things well.
The average age of this team is 23 years old. When you consider that this average includes 35 year old Trevor Gillies and 33 year old Nolan Yonkman - the fact that it took the coaching staff some time to get the youngsters understanding the system and the team defense responsibilities should not be surprising.
Nolan Yonkman has been a rock defensively for the team, and the captain is a clear leader on the ice. Corey Potter (+7) and Tyler Wotherspoon (-2) have settled in nicely as a top two pairing over the past month. Ryan Culkin and Mark Cundari have effectively added some offense from the back line - each averaging a bit under a point a game.
Goaltending - B
Joni Ortio had a tough start to the season, but has really found his game in November. As mentioned, the team struggled defensively early in the season which did not help the cause - but everything seems to have corrected itself in our end of the ice. A GAA of 3.25 and a save percentage of .899 is not what the Flames expected from their top prospect, but Ortio is now 9-3 and has been close to spectacular during the month of November. During November, Ortio has a GAA of 2.24 and a save percentage of .925.
Brad Thiessen has been the steady veteran goaltender a young AHL team needs . He has been solid in every start, always giving the team a chance to win (3-3; 2.05 GAA; .933 SAV%).
The team now has a top 1 and 1A combination between the pipes, and the grade would have been higher if not for the first handful of games of the season.
Special Teams - A
The Flames are third in the AHL in power play effectiveness (24.5%), and average over a power play goal per game. For the most part, this has been a constant throughout the season, but what is truly impressive is the entire first power play unit from early this season is in Calgary - and the success has continued. The passing, speed and skill of this team really comes out in the man up situations.
The penally kill is rated 15th in the thirty team league. What is really impressive, is that the team was near last a month ago - but has killed 27 consecutive shorthanded situations and has been near perfect for the past four weeks. A fan can see the total team defense improvement and the ties to this portion of the special teams.
Coaching - A+
I may not be objective here, but Ryan Huska and Todd Gill have made this team a TEAM. They have been outstanding. These players believe in the system, have overcome injuries and significant call ups, and play a style of hockey that is entertaining and takes advantage of their skill and speed. As players get called up, others fill the gaps - which is a testament to the leadership of the team and the organization. The organization stated they wanted to move to Glens Falls to allow for more practice ice time, and a decrease of travel. It would appear that this decision has paid dividends for the organization.
The Flames close the books on the first quarter of the season in a great position. The community has fallen in love with the Flames (you cant throw a snowball downtown without hitting someone with a Calgary or Adirondack jersey or sweatshirt.
They face a rival Utica Friday tonight on the road (who they have not beaten to date), and the Red Wings affiliate Saturday at home. What a great first month and a half......