The pre-season has ended and the regular season has started. Throughout the first few games of the regular season, I have some thoughts.
1. It’s quite clear to me now that the Flames were preparing Rasmus Andersson to take over the hole that was left in the defence by the departure of Mark Giordano. And Andersson has stepped up. He pushes the boundaries of defense, he steps up for his teammates, and he sacrifices himself in front of his goalie. He’s young, strong, and has integrated himself easily into the Flames lineup since the beginning which has led to his defensive prowess. Hopefully he can keep the pace throughout this season to help the Flames work their way up the standings.
2. Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin are good blue liners. But will this be enough? Defense will be the Flames weakness this season. The blue line is lacking in the lower pairings and it might be the downfall of this team this season. Preseason games proved how painfully clear the defense will struggle this year. Even though I saw a few moments of greatness on the blue line, the first few regular season games solidified the idea that the Flames organization needs to do something about the defensive lineup.
3. This is Sutter-style hockey, which was obvious by the big bodies, huge hits, and numerous hit stats through the preseason and first few games. It’s going to be a hard-hitting season. Milan Lucic will be an impactful player, as well as Andrew Mangiapane, Brett Ritchie, Erik Gudbranson, and Nikita Zadorov. And I even noticed that Sean Monahan has been more physical in the first few games too. Re-living another Sutter era will be tough on any player if they can’t be physical when needed. And this will play out in time. For now, it’s nice to see the team coming together to defend their teammates and make the hard-hitting plays.
4. The NHL and the arenas have rules. They are in place for individual and collective safety. Players, staff, executives, and fans all have rules to abide by to keep things safe and fun for everyone at the games. We, as fans, need to understand that we need to have our vaccination status ready to share. Players can’t play if they don’t have the proper equipment, and there are similar rules for the fans - you can’t be a spectator if you don’t have the equipment. Be kind and enjoy the games.
5. Blake Coleman was suspended one pre-season game and one regular season game for boarding Jansen Harkins of the Winnipeg Jets. Not seeing Coleman in the season opener against the Oilers was disappointing. I would have loved to see what Coleman would have brought to that table. But in his debut game with the Flames during the home opener, he notched his first goal of the season at the Saddledome. And he’s made an impact every game since then. I’m all in on Coleman and I can’t wait to see what he brings to this team as the season progresses. Welcome to Calgary, Coleman!
6. Glenn Gawdin was placed on waivers Wednesday, October 20th, then sent down to Stockton the next day. When he hit the waiver-wire, a small part of me hoped he would be picked up by a team like Ottawa or Carolina where he would be utilized better than he has been in the Flames system. Gawdin is not a Sutter-style player so I was not surprised to see this, but I’m still not happy about it. And the Flames are losing out on a skilled, talented player. I want to see Gawdin play in The Show - no matter where he plays.
7. Sean Monahan’s first pre-season game looked good. His first regular season game - getting into the corners, skating hard, rushing the net, throwing hits - he looked like he’s healing relatively well after sustaining an injured hip last year. I just hope he can stay healthy and remain unhurt this year. Monahan isn’t a typical Sutter-style player, but that might be because of the numerous injuries he worked through over the past few seasons. I think this will be the season when Monahan makes his mark on his future with this team. Hopefully he can remain healthy for the sake of his hockey future.
8. For as good as Walker Duehr was during the pre-season, he didn’t make the roster for a few reasons. He’s 23, fresh out of college, with no NHL or AHL experience. It doesn’t matter how good you are, experience is key and Gaudreau was an anomaly. Remember Gaudreau’s partner at the time, Bill Arnold. I didn’t think so. And that’s why kids fresh out of college don’t get signed often. But my guess is that it won’t take Duehr long to see some NHL ice time. Patience, my friends, he’s a Sutter-style player and I think we will see him sooner rather than later.
9. A lot of us have been complaining through the past couple of seasons that this team looked like they didn’t even want to be there, they didn’t show up and put it all on the ice, and they needed an infusion of passion or energy or something to spark them again. Game one of the regular season, they came out swinging and most of the comments were still negative. I heard comments about how awful they looked, how they weren’t even playing hockey, how they had taken things too far. No, they did not. It was nice to see some emotion again after the past couple of snoozer seasons we’ve had to watch. And because it was the Battle Of Alberta, it just made it better. I want more of that please.
10. There have already been some great highlights to start the season. Rasmus Andersson was fined for a head-butt that was kind of, sort of, not a head-butt. Blake Coleman was suspended for one preseason game and one regular season game. Jacob Markstrom has established himself as a strong last line of defense in net. Johnny Gaudreau has started the season with a lot of energy and ambition. Sean Monahan is skating harder and faster than I’ve seen in a long time. Noah Hanifin’s defensive skills look better this year. Elias Lindholm is a force and I think he’s only going to get better as the season goes on. And Andrew Mangiapane has turned into a well-rounded player that should not be underestimated. If they can continue to progress and keep their proverbial foot on the gas, the Flames might actually be a contender this season.
There has been good/bad and positive/negative moments so far this season, but we need to remember it’s early. The Calgary Flames have pleasantly surprised me so far with some good periods of hockey and I hope they can keep up this pace all season. If they can, the entire season has the potential to surprise me in spite of my first impression that it would be another season of mediocrity.