42 games. It's just past the numerical mid point of the 2015-16 NHL season and the Flames sit at 20-20-2. 42 points. 6th in the Pacific and trying to hold on to their playoff hopes in the West. They are currently 9th in the West, all by themselves, with only the lowly Edmonton Oilers keeping the Flames from looking up from the basement. Last year's improbable playoff run had expectations very high this season with the playoffs being a "must do." The Flames haven't played well against their conference opponents lately. Calgary's last 4 losses have all been against conference opponents and while no loss is a good loss, losing to Anaheim, San Jose, LA and Arizona was BAD. 8 points surrendered in a tight West, where every point is going to count, just isn't going to get it done. Now, with all of the said, the Flames are still in the middle of their rebuild. Last season was a major surprise and maybe fans got a little overzealous thinking that the rebuild could be done in one season and the turn around was close to being complete. I'm not saying the Flames aren't close, but you can see where there's work to be done.
As much nonsense as Bob Hartley gets in the social media sphere, I think he's still doing a great job on the bench. He's got a very young team sitting in front of him and he's handling this well. Hartley is STILL the perfect coach for this team and he will continue to get everything he can out of a young squad that is still getting it's feet wet in the NHL. Hartley, smartly, recognized the efforts that Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland had been putting in and moved them both up in the line rotation. Neither had scored in over 15 games when he promoted them and then the flood gates opened. Ferland has 1 goal and 2 assists in his last five and Bennett has gone off to the tune of 5 goals in his last 2 games. Hartley's no dummy and the team does respond to him. He's also not afraid to take some of his vets and demote them if it is warranted. Bob Hartley is coaching well with what is on his bench and I don't think any other coach could get more out of these specific players. One of the big reasons for the Flames "struggles" so far has been the declining play of Jiri Hudler. Hud's has had a few stints on the bench due to injuries, but his overall numbers are down. They also aren't getting the point totals they got last season from Dennis Wideman. Michael Frolik is hurt and Lance Bouma is now entering his second, long streak on the injured list. So yes, there are some factors that have contributed to how the Flames have played and where they sit in the standings.
So, with all that out of the way, are the Flames any better or worse than they were at this juncture last season? Record wise they're fairly similar. This year's Flames squad finds themselves at an even 20-20-2 and that gives them 42 points. The 2014-15 Flames were slightly better coming in at 21-18-3 and amassing 45 points. So by those numbers alone the 2015-16 Flames are on a similar pace to last season. The big difference between the two teams was last year's domination in the third period and overtime. Calgary has played very well in overtime this season, but last year the Flames had this heir of confidence about them that if they entered the 3rd down by 12 goals, they'd score 15. I'm not sensing that with this team this year.....yet.
Another aspect of Calgary's game play that differs from last year to this year was their play within the Pacific Division. So far this season Calgary has struggled against their division foes with a record of 4-9. Last year Calgary was an unimaginable 22-6 against the Pacific. Yes, every year there are variables (ie. player trades, drafts, coaching changes, injuries, etc), but winning that many games in your own backyard is huge. This year Calgary is giving away points and they're lucky it hasn't hurt them more than it already has.
Scoring wise, the Flames are in the middle of the pack. They've scored 114 goals so far this season which places them 13th in the NHL. Goals Against however, that's a different story. The Flames have given up an astronomical 128 goals which puts them 5th in the league at the midway point. Last season? The Flames had 122 GF in 42 games and 114 GA over that same time span. What's that tell you? The Flames are scoring less and giving up more this season over the same amount of time. They also only have 1 shutout this season so far, where as last season they had 3 in 42 games.
In the end the Flames finished 2014-15 with a record of 45-30-7 and won their first round series against Vancouver before being bounced by a juggernaut Anaheim team. Is this Calgary team capable of another run? They still have 13 games left with Edmonton, Anaheim, Arizona, Vancouver, LA and San Jose. Those games will be crucial if the Flames are going to climb the ladder out of the basement in the West and they need to hunker down and own their division games. As for the rest of the West, they have 9 game remaining against competition from the conference. Do the math, 22 games are left against the teams they need to gain ground on and that's a lot of points up for grabs. Calgary's young players are getting hot and the goal tending situation seems to be right where it needs to be. The Flames aren't as far off the pace as you might think. As of this writing, Calgary is in 6th place in the Pacific and only 4 points separates them from 3rd place San Jose. They are out of the playoffs if they were to start today, but they're only 1 point out from the final spot in the Conference. So while it seems daunting, it's not impossible for them to move up and squeak in. If last year's Flames showed us anything, it's that this team can surprise. Now if they could stop the bleeding within the Pacific Division, we could be seeing more meaningful hockey come springtime.