This is something new we’re doing here at M&G. At the conclusion of every week during the season we’re going to “highlight” 3 things from the prior week to discuss about the Flames. Buckle up.
It’s only 1 full week into the season, so it’s clearly no panic time for the Flames, but they need to get something going and get it going quickly. Calgary is 1-4-1 and sinking to the bottom of the West rather quickly. So let’s not look at this as a “sky is falling” scenario, but just a brief look at what’s happened so far.
1) October Record. The Flames so far this month are 1-4-1. Not the best way to start an NHL season. Last year the Flames went 3-9 in October and that brutal W/L record buried their season early. In the last 5 seasons Calgary has had one October that was .500 or better and that was 2014-15 where they were 6-6. That’s the last time the Flames went to the playoffs. Calgary has 4 games left this month, 2 at home, 2 on the road. They’ll visit Chicago and St. Louis, both places have been a horror show for the Flames lately. Calgary is 2-10-0 in Chicago since 2010 and they’re 3-8-0 in St. Louis over that time span as well. The Flames will then come home to close out the month with the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals. The Flames have struggled with Washington at home since 2010 (1-3-0), but they’ve fared much better against the Senators at the Dome with a record of 4-2. The combined records of the teams left on the October schedule is currently 13-7-2. The Blues and Caps are the hottest of the 4 teams right now, but the Blackhawks are always a tough draw. It’s not impossible for the Flames to reach .500 by the end of the month, but it’s not going to be easy either.
2) Line Shuffling. Glen Gulutzan is shuffling lines like a card dealer in Vegas. Ferland’s up, Ferland’s down. Versteeg is all over the place. Freddie Hamilton is in the lineup. Dennis Wideman is benched for 3 games. Who’s playing with Johnny and Mony? I get that he’s trying to find some sort of mix that works and jump starts this offence, but the head scratcher was breaking up Backlund and Frolik. Those two had been playing really well together and one of the few lines generating points. Backlund and Frolik each have 4 points and that ties them for the team lead with Mark Giordano and Troy Brouwer. Backlund and Frolik’s chemistry goes back to last season where they heated up in the second half and I think Gulutzan needs to put those 2 back to together and let it ride. Also, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie need to be paired together. Simple as that. The rest of the line shuffling makes some sense, but the Flames need to find combinations that work and find them fast.
3) Special Teams. Bleh. Just plain terrible. The Flames are dead last in the NHL in PP%. They rank 30th at an anemic 4.0%. That’s 3.1% behind the next worst team, the New York Islanders. Calgary was terrible last season as well, but this season it is much worse. They are 1-25 on the season. 1-25. That doesn’t even seem possible to have that many opportunities this early in the season and be that bad. If that overview isn’t enough, they have two 0-6 games sandwiched in there. The Flames lone PP goal came courtesy of Dennis Wideman (I know right?) in their 7-4 opening night loss to the Oilers. Dave Cameron was brought in to ramp up the Flames horrid power play unit and he’s done absolutely nothing to improve it. Should this come as a surprise? No. Cameron was in charge of the Senators PP last season and Ottawa was 26th in the NHL at 15.8%. The Flames last season? They were 22nd at 17.0%. So at face value the Flames bad power play under Bob Hartley’s staff was 22nd and Calgary brought in a Special Teams coach who guided the Senators to a worse power play than the Flames? Makes sense. The PK is ranked 23rd in the league at 74.2%, whereas they were dead last in 2015-16 at 75.5%. They were a whole 1% BETTER last season and ranked dead last. Calgary has room to improve. The 8 goals they’ve given up on the season isn’t great, but the Flames have been shorthanded a lot this season. Yes, you need to kill penalties to survive in the NHL, but it’s also tough when you’re playing a man down 6 and 8 times (Edmonton, loss and Carolina, loss) in a game. It’s early, but it has to change quickly.