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The Road Trip That Could Sink or Salvage the Season

The Flames embark on a Eastern Conference road trip starting Sunday

NHL: Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Following last night’s tough loss against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames record now sits at 7-11-1 as they get set to head out on a season high six game road trip. It’s not an enviable position to be in, but it’s up to the Flames to dig themselves out of it. *Note: All standings and rankings as of completion of games on Friday night.

That being said, the Flames have had more success on the road thus far this season, perhaps playing away from the pressure of Calgary is best for the younger players. The Flames currently have a road record of 4-4-1 which is 11th best in the NHL. Comparatively, their home record is 3-7 which ranks 28th and has been very disappointing thus far.

With the stronger road efforts the Flames have been giving, this road trip affords the Flames the opportunity to get back into contention in the Western Conference playoff race. From November 20th to November 28th, the Flames will play the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and the New York Islanders.

Of those six teams mentioned above, only the Blue Jackets currently sit in an Eastern playoff spot as of Saturday morning. The Wings, Flyers, Sabres, and Islanders currently occupy 4 of the bottom 6 spots in the East.

The Flames are coming off three strong performances where they amassed two wins and a heartbreaking loss to the Blackhawks last night. It was a game where the Flames deserved at least a point, maybe two, but fell short late on a bad bounce.

If the Flames can continue these strong efforts, they should be able to come away with at least 4 wins on this trip. They aren’t exactly playing the cream of the crop in the east, and these are teams the Flames should be able to beat if they are serious about being a playoff team.

The trip starts in Detroit with the Flames making their final visit to Joe Louis Arena, against a Red Wings team that has had defensive struggles for most of the season. The Red Wings sit at 8-9-1 and have a 5-5 home record so far this season. The Flames should be able to take down the Wings if they bring a strong effort into their road trip opener.

The next night, the Flames head to Chad Johnson’s former stomping grounds in Buffalo to take on the offensively challenged Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since October 30th. They sit last in the East at 5-8-4, and have a home record of 1-4-2. The Flames must get two points out of this game.

Arguably, the toughest test of the trip comes next as the Flames make a visit to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have had a solid start to the season sitting at 9-4-2, bolstered by an amazing 7-2 record at home. This record is highlighted by 10-0 and 8-4 wins over Montreal and St. Louis respectively. This will be a very tough challenge for the Flames.

The Flames then take on the Bruins in a building the Flames have only won in once since 2003. The Bruins sit just outside of the playoffs in the east and have been playing strong hockey of late, going 7-3 in their last ten games. They’ve only played 6 out of their 17 total games this season at home, and in that time amassed a 3-3 record. Boston has always been a team that seems to have the Flames number, but hopefully that changes on Friday.

The Flames then begin another back-to-back duo of games when they visit the Flyers on Sunday. The Flyers it at 8-7-3 which is only a point of the playoffs but have played more games than any other team. The Flyers are always a challenge and I expect that to be the case next week.

The road trip wraps up with a visit to Brooklyn to take on the Islanders. The Islanders have had a horrid start to the season after rather high expectations (kind of like the Flames) and they sit at 5-8-4. All five of their wins have come on home ice where they are 5-4-3. There have already been widespread calls for the firing of Jack Capuano and you can expect him to have his team fired up to take on Calgary, who have struggled as much as his own team.

Realistically, the Flames should be able to pick up at least 8 points on this road trip if they play as well as they have in the last three games. If the Flames can bring their record to even within a game or two of .500 then it’ll set them up nicely for their return home. I expect Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson to both get action on this road trip, with Johnson likely getting a chance to take on his former team in Buffalo again.

However, if the Flames falter on this road trip, the season could be toast. American Thanksgiving is usually the time of year where early playoff implications can be made. Stats have shown that approximately 34 of teams in a playoff spot on thanksgiving will make the playoffs in April. Usually the teams that bump their way in by the end of the season were only a couple points out, save for extreme cases like Ottawa in 14-15.

The Flames as of Saturday morning sit 3 points out of 3rd in the Pacific Division and 4 points out of a Wild Card spot. They’ve played more games than any other team near them, and will likely fall further behind as teams catch up in games played.

If the Flames can get at least 9-10 points on this trip, then they’ll be right back in the thick of things. 6-8 points and they’ll be similar to where they are now. Anything less than 6 and this season could be on life support heading into December.