Flames in Playoff Spot; PP Struggling
The Calgary Flames climbed above that playoff dotted line on Saturday night with a hard fought 1-0 shutout victory over Darryl Sutter’s L.A. Kings.
Once again the Flames relied heavily on their MVP Miikka Kiprusoff and once again Kipper delivered the goods stopping all 28 shots he faced for his fourth goose egg of the season and third 1-0 victory of the year.
The Flames now sit with 65 points, technically tied with the Kings for the 8th spot, but by virtue of more wins the Flames sit in 8th and the Kings in 9th.
Going forward, the Flames have 23 games remaining; five of which are against top teams (Blues, Flyers, Sharks, Canucks x 2), three against cellar dwellers ( Oilers x 2, Jackets), two against bubble east teams (Canadiens, Jets) and the remaining 13 games against teams the Flames are directly battling against for the final couple playoff spots.
To break it down further:
Vs. Coyotes – 3 games (2H, 1A)
Vs. Kings – 1 game (Home)
Vs. Stars – 3 games (2H, 1A)
Vs. Avalanche – 2 games (1H, 1A)
Vs Wild – 2 games (2A)
Vs Ducks – 2 games (1 H, 1A)
So, seven home games versus six away in crucial four point games. The Flames control their own fate as of right now, and I have a decent feeling, without getting my hopes too high, that they will be playing hockey past game 82 of the regular season for one big reason.
He is playing the best hockey of his entire career. Better than in the 2004 run, and better than his Vezina season in 05-06. His numbers may not reflect that, but if you have had the opportunity to watch him in action this season, it’s really hard to argue. Goaltending can win you a lot of games in the NHL, and the Flames have stolen points away from many teams this season on the back of #34.
Comparing Kipper to the goalies on the teams the Flames are battling is the reason I have more than just hope this season for the Flaming C.
Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, J.S. Giguere/Semyon Varlamov, Niklas Backstrom, Jonas Hiller, and throw in Corey Crawford/Ray Emery.
Granted, Quick’s stats are better overall than Kipper’s at this point. He has had a great season. So has Mike Smith for the Coyotes, where Dave Tippett is proving to be quite possibly the best coach of all time being able to get every ounce of talent out of that team.
Even so, I believe Kipper is currently playing better than any goalie on that list on a night in night out basis. He hasn’t allowed more than three goals in 12 consecutive starts. In those 12 starts the Flames have been out shot nine times by a combined 47 shots, yet Kipper has managed to defy the odds.
He is as reliable as they come and if he stays hot, the Flames will find themselves in the playoffs.
On the flip side of this conversation are two major concerns with the Flames right now: the powerplay and the growing list of injured regulars.
Despite the Flames being unbeaten in February, they haven’t scored on the power play in their last five games, going 0- for – 14 over that span. Before that they had scored in four straight games with the man-advantage. There are many reasons this could be happening right now. One being that sometime the PP simply goes cold for a bit. The other reason could be a great segway into the second thing troubling the Flames right now and that’s injuries.
The Flames number one PP unit consists of Iggy, Jokinen, Tanguay, Cammy, and Giordano. The Flames second unit consists of Curtis Glencross(injured), Lee Stampniak (injured), Mikael Backlund(Injured), David Moss (injured), Derek Smith (injured). So now, it looks like a makeshift AHL PP with the likes of Krys Kolanos, Blake Comeau, and maybe a Paul Byron/Roman Horak/Matt Stajan trying to convert.
This means that teams will simply key on the number one unit utilizing all their PK top guns to neutralize the Flames offensive firepower, knowing that once Iggy and Co. head back to the bench, the threat is virtually over.
I’m not using injuries as an excuse for the Flames PP woes, but in an effort to figure out what is troubling the PP, I’m simply throwing out a possible theory as to why it is currently stuck in neutral.
A possible solution might be to spread the assets out to give the team a more balanced attack with two reasonably strong units.
Really, the fact the Flames have all these injuries and haven’t lost a game in regulation in February is a testament to their depth (a small part albeit), but more to their dedication to the Brent Sutter system and mainly to the outstanding play of #34.
In Miikka we trust.