The Flames have reached the numerical halfway point of the season and it would be a lie to say that any of us saw this kind of success coming. Calgary made some significant off-season moves to sure up a team that couldn’t score last year and the results have been amazing. Sure, hindsight is 20-20. We all HOPED these moves would be decent, but did we really think it would be THIS good?
There were questions about Bill Peters coming in to replace Glenn Gulutzan, but through 41 games Peters has done nothing but silence his critics. He added players that he wanted, he shuffles his lines without thinking twice and if you aren’t performing, you aren’t playing. All that has done is put the Flames in first place in the Pacific Division and in first place in the Western Conference. You know, no big deal. Peters and company have also corrected their play at home from last season. In 2017-18 the Flames were 17-20-4 at the Saddledome. Forty one games into 2018-19 they are 12-4-4 at the Dome, a slight improvement.
Calgary came into this season with two question marks in net and David Rittich has answered one half of that question with his formidable play. Mike Smith has been up and down, but he’s won seven out of his last eight and it would appear that the Flames have “sured” up the crease for now. Calgary is 11th in the league in GA with 113. Last year the Flames finished with the 13th most goals allowed in the NHL by giving up 243 markers. They were a -27 on the year in goal differential compared to their unfathomable +33 for this season so far. David Rittich has been nothing short of brilliant between the pipes for Calgary in 2018-19. His .920 Save% is 12th in the NHL. He has stopped 556 shots this season and his 2.39 GAA is 8th in the league as well. Rittich’s emergence as Calgary’s true #1 goaltender has not only been a surprise, but also one of the major reasons the Flames sit atop the Western Conference.
One big knock on the Flames last season was their lack of goal scoring. They finished 27th in the league with 216 GF. This current version of the Flames already has 146 GF, good for second overall in the league. But let’s look at the real reason the Flames are where they are: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. These four have combined for 203 points. Lindholm, who came over in the Hamilton/Ferland deal has already surpassed his career highs in both points AND goals in a season in 41 games. Johnny Gaudreau has 22 goals on the season, just eight goals short of his career high of 30 from 2015-16. Sean Monahan has 22 goals making it the 6th straight season he’s reached the 20 goal mark and there’s still 41 games left. Matthew Tkachuk? He has 47 points. He’ll surpass his career high of 49 points from last season without even trying.
And how can we not mention The Captain? Mark Giordano is having a Norris Trophy caliber season on the blue line for Calgary. His current 38 points has him on pace to obliterate his career high of 56 from 2015-16....and let’s also remember that Gio is 35 years old. He leads the NHL in Plus/Minus at +27, is tops on the Flames TOI with 24:43 and 13th in the league in assists with 32.
If you look at what the Flames have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time it is quite remarkable. The Flames were 21-16-4 at this same point last season (currently 25-12-4), so they are currently 3 wins and 4 losses better than the 2017-18 Flames. Now, while that may not seem like a lot, if you watched this team compared to that Flames group, it’s like comparing apples to elephants. The Flames were 100% carried by Mike Smith over those first 41 games last season. The current Calgary Flames are a much more balanced unit that is scoring at will and getting great goaltending. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up over the remaining 41 games, but if the first half of the season is any indication it’s going to be a fun second half!