Welcome to our end of October roundtable where our writers answer questions about the opening month of the season.
Question 1: The Flames finished October at 6-6, what is your overall reaction from the first twelve games of the season?
MarkParkinson14: The key word for me would be “surprised.” I’m surprised at how well Mike Smith has played. Clearly his struggles with the Coyotes were based on the team in front of him. He’s been nothing but brilliant so far for Calgary. The big question now becomes: can he handle the wear and tear of what the Flames are about to put on him?
I’m surprised at how much trouble the Flames have scoring. They’re 27th in the league in GF and they’ve only scored 3 or more goals three times this season. And I’m NOT surprised that the PK has taken a nose dive. There was no way they could keep killing the boneheaded penalties this team kept taking.
MGMacGillivray: The early portion of the month was somewhat frightening because although the Flames were winning, they were doing it completely off the back of Mike Smith.
Although the last few weeks have had some losses, at even strength this team has played quite well, they just have struggled with scoring and special teams. Hopefully both can come around in the coming weeks.
SamWell9: I very much expected that the flames would be able to run 3 competent lines and 2 solid D pairs. Instead it has been 2 competent lines, although I expect things to improve dramatically upon Jagr's arrival.
They've been inconsistent overall as a team, but all the players you'd expect to perform well are doing their part. Gulutzan's deployment of personnel really needs to improve in order to optimize the players that have something of value to bring to the team.
Question 2: Who are two players that have exceeded your expectations and two that haven’t met them so far this year?
Exceeded: Mike Smith and Mark Giordano. Smith has been dominant in goal and given the Flames a true #1. You couldn’t have asked more of him and he’s been more than advertised. Giordano is always solid, but his defence has been out of this world. His offence has dipped a touch, but if he keeps playing defence like he has so far, his season will be phenomenal.
Below Expectations: Sam Bennett & Troy Brouwer. I was hoping new line mates would push Bennett and make him better, plus he got a nice, new contract. I don’t see it. I expected more out of him in regards to scoring and he’s WAY off. Brouwer, eh. I was hoping last season was an aberration. It wasn’t. He’s not good.
Exceeded: Mike Smith and Johnny Gaudreau. As Mark said, Smith has been absolutely outstanding to start his tenure in Calgary, something the Flames absolutely needed. Gaudreau has excelled this season on offense but has especially had a good year improving his defensive game. Heading into play on Tuesday he was tied for fifth in league scoring and he continues to impress early.
Below Expectations: Michael Stone and Kris Versteeg. I wasn’t a fan of the contract Stone signed from the very first day. At least I thought he would be okay on the third pairing, but even then he’s struggled. Brett Kulak has looked better at times than him. I don’t think Versteeg has been terrible but he’s seemed to be a step behind from last year in my opinion.
Exceeded: I was lukewarm on Mike Smith but he has been brilliant to start the season. They'd be much worse off without him. Johnny Gaudreau has taken his game to another level, he's playing the best he's ever played in his career by far. While not surprised that he's been their best player, I wasn't expecting him to go out so hot.
Below Expectations: Bennett has really underwhelmed, although playing better of late, but I don't think anyone thought he'd have no points in 12 games. Everyone else is playing about as good or bad as I expected them to.
Question 3: After seeing a plethora of combinations in October, how would you arrange the forward lines for November?
MarkParkinson14: There’s going to be some tinkering once Jagr comes back, so I’m going to list these based on his return:
I’d like to see SOMEONE on that 4th moved, but that won’t happen. Ferland doesn’t deserve to be moved back to the 4th, no matter how well Jagr looked with that top line. Micheal Ferland has really turned it on since being moved back up top. Jankowski, as far as I’m concerned, has earned his stay. Someone out of Glass, F.Hamilton and Lazar is getting the bump.
MGMacGillivray: Before the last two games, I would’ve had Jagr returning to the top line, but Micheal Ferland has looked really good lately so I’d keep him there.
I also think Curtis Lazar has earned a spot in the lineup and he definitely deserves to his shots this year, but as things stand now this is the best lineup.
SamWell9: I'd like to see Mangiapane in the mix sooner or later if he continues his hot start and the bottom six remains cold but for now this is my lineup.
Question 4: Who or what is the x-factor for the Flames to have success moving forward?
MarkParkinson14: It would be easy to say Smith, but he’s already done his part. I think it’s Sean Monahan. Monahan has been playing very well, but he’s the guy that needs to pile up goals for Calgary to make a playoff push. He’s working his way towards captaincy with his play and I think as he goes, the Flames go.
With that said, Glen Gulutzan’s stubborn streak could be an X Factor as well. His ability to move pieces around and not play contracts for the sake of playing contracts could be HUGE for the Flames down the stretch.
MGMacGillivray: The Flames haven’t scored more than two goals in regulation in their last six games. When that’s happening you need your special teams to step up, and they haven’t lately.
With the Flames struggling to score, they must keep the puck out of the net while shorthanded, and get a few on the powerplay in order to win these close games. Improving their special teams is critical to the Flames success this month.
SamWell9: The x-factor would be the flames third line producing at all, as well as Gulutzan making smart decisions on line up decisions and powerplay/penalty-kill deployment. Get Brouwer off the Powerplay and Stone off the penalty-kill.