With the Calgary Flames entering the final quarter of the 2019-20 regular season, there is still much to be decided. The team sits at 31-24-6 with 68 points and in the 1st Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Here are 21 thoughts heading into the final 21 games.
1. Keep Taking Care of Business on the Road
Since Geoff Ward took over as head coach, the Flames have been the league’s 2nd best road team by points percentage at .750. The team has gone 12-4 in 16 away games and are only behind Tampa Bay over that stretch. The Flames are averaging 3.50 goals per game on the road, and 2.38 goals against. Both of those marks are 4th best in the league.
2. Start Taking Care of Business at Home
Conversely, the Flames have been doing very poorly at home under Ward, going 8-8-2 in 18 games. That .500 mark is tied for 8th worst in the league and puts them right around teams like New Jersey and the Rangers. Not great company. The Flames have allowed the most goals per home game over that stretch at 3.78, the next closest is Edmonton at 3.61, and the next after that is San Jose at 3.35. Calgary has 12 of their final 21 at home.
3. Beat the Bad Teams
A theme of the Flames all season long is how they’ve lost multiple games to bad teams, and we’re starting to see how those points cost them. The Flames have five games against teams that are six or more points outside of the playoff picture. They need all six of those games to be wins.
4. Survive the Next Road Trip
After tomorrow’s game against Boston the Flames will embark on a long road trip with five games in eight days. There will be a lot of travel as they make their way to the East Coast before heading down south to Florida. With the exception of Detroit I would also argue there isn’t an easy game on the schedule with Boston and Tampa being elite and Florida and Nashville not being pushovers. I think realistically a 3-2 trip or six points is best case.
5. Give me more of Mangiapane + Dube on the PP2
When Mark Giordano went down, the Flames made some changes by pushing Noah Hanifin up to PP1. I won’t get into my thoughts on him, but I really like what I have seen of Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube on PP2 with Rasmus Andersson as the only defender. I think they should keep it this way even when Gio gets healthy.
6. Give me more Andrew Mangiapane period.
Mangiapane has quietly been one of the best Flames for most of the season. He hasn’t put up ridiculous point totals, but he has been consistently one of the most impactful players on the ice. His hat trick against Anaheim may have been his big coming out party, but if not this year I’d expect his point totals to explode next year.
7. Let’s ease up on all the Johnny Gaudreau hate
I know this isn’t the majority of the fanbase, in fact it’s probably a very small fraction but social media let’s everyone get their voice heard and unfortunately these takes seem to spew out the loudest. Gaudreau has quietly tied Matthew Tkachuk for the team lead in points and he’s been a point per game player since the calendar changed to 2020. I think the bigger issue for some is that his goal scoring hasn’t been there. He’s shooting a career low 7.7% so he’s due for a bouneback. If he was at his career average of 12.7%, he’d be around 23 goals which is more in line with his previous totals. It’s not for a lack of trying either as he has the most shots by a significant margin.
8. Can Elias Lindholm hit 40 goals?
While Lindholm definitely won’t hit his career high of 78 points or 51 assists from last year, he has been finding the back of the net much more consistently. He already has 27 goals which was his total from all of last year and a career high. He’s rocketed away from everyone else on the team thanks to five goals in the last four games. Lindholm is on pace for 36 goals but if he can stay hot, he could very easily hit 40.
9. Keep the Lucic-Ryan-Dube line together
Since the trio was put together shortly after Dube’s callup, all three have really excelled for the most part and made a positive impact while on the ice. Specifically I think you have to keep Lucic and Ryan together.
10. Acquire a depth defenseman
While prices were ridiculously high earlier in the week, I expect things to drop back a bit as we approach the deadline as some teams have met their needs. While we still aren’t too sure of timelines for Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic, adding another reliable guy who could be a 4/5 now and a strong 6/7 later would be worthwhile. Among names that might make sense are Derek Forbort (LA), Erik Gustafsson (CHI), and Mark Borowiecki (OTT). You’ve got to think that one more injury to the current core could be catastrophic.
11. Keep Juuso Valimaki in Stockton
It probably isn’t wise to bring Valimaki up to the NHL this season. He’s still not fully healthy and it’s still not even a guarantee that he plays at all as he recovers from a torn ACL. Even if he is able to play this year, it’s probably smart to let him get significant minutes in Stockton as they make a playoff run, rather than rush him into the Flames lineup. If he doesn’t play at all this year, he won’t have to be protected in the expansion draft, but even then I find it hard to believe the Flames will prevent him from dressing in the AHL when ready.
12. Take Advantage of the Rest
The Flames only have one back-to-back left on the schedule and it comes when they face both New York teams so the travel will be very minimal if not non existent. Calgary is 3-4-1 on the first half of back-to-backs and 4-4-0 on the second half. Edmonton on the other hand has three back-to-backs and three games in four nights three times.
13. The Flames need more from Sean Monahan
While Gaudreau may not have always been a huge scorer, it has been Sean Monahan’s bread and butter for most of his career. He’s not a fantastic player outside of his finishing ability, so his struggles this year to score have showed other flaws in his game. He was gifted a goal against Anaheim on Monday so hopefully that can get him going into the homestretch.
14. Calgary should split the load down the stretch
Cam Talbot’s game has improved while David Rittich’s game has fallen off late in the season for the third year in a row. Perhaps it’s just a cold streak for him, but I’d expect the Flames to have a much more balanced amount of starts between the two down the stretch. They’re going to need both goalies at their best heading into the playoffs.
15. Believe it or not, the Flames might be in a good position to go for it
While things have been a roller coaster ride all year long, there has to be something said that the Flames managed to maintain a decent season and are still in the playoff conversation. If they finish in the 1st wild card spot, I like their chances against any of their divisional opponents, although I still think Vegas will pose the toughest matchup. They’ve been so good lately on the road too that maybe being the away team will be beneficial. If they can get through the Pacific side of the bracket, who knows which banged up Central team will emerge.
16. I will reserve casting individual judgement on the team until after the playoffs
In much the same way the entire narrative of last year’s team was shaped by the playoffs, I’m going to try and do the same thing this year. If the Flames make a run, perhaps we overlook down years for Johnny and Mony. However if they fall flat on their face again or miss entirely, then it’s fair to say major changes will come.
17. The 1st Round Pick should only be in play if term is involved
I’m not a fan of trading a first round pick in this year’s stacked draft unless the Flames are able to secure a player with at least 1-2 more years after this one. Chances are that the pick will reside somewhere around #20, so they could get a good prospect but at the same time it would be a prospect that’s at least 2-3 years away. Players near the top of my list would be Kyle Palmieri, Ondrej Kase, or Vincent Trocheck. Kase might even be available for less than a 1st.
18. Austin Czarnik deserves a shot
It seems to be almost a daily occurrence but it seems that everyone wants to see Austin Czarnik back with the Flames. He was sent down after an early season injury and has proceeded to put up 30 points in 25 games. My thoughts are that the Flames are maximizing the cap savings (~1.1M) while he’s in the minors, but could find his way back after the trade deadline.
19. Mikael Backlund could be an X-Factor for the Flames
While everyone is talking about the big guns and their scoring, Mikael Backlund’s recent emergence could be a big part of getting things going for the top six. He has 32 points on the year with nine points in the last seven games. He had an ugly showing with a -4 in the 8-4 loss to Chicago, but has been performing better since the Flames reunited him with Matthew Tkachuk.
20. Edmonton Sucks
21. Games 79-82 are gonna be CRAAAAZY!