Making the Case: Three Reasons Why the Flames Will or Won’t Make the NHL Playoffs
The Calgary Flames are easy pickings right now, they’ve missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and their best players are mostly north of 30-years-old. While the Flames aren’t world beaters and aren’t a club with the talent to waltz in to the playoffs, there is hope! Here are my three reasons why I think the Flames will make the post-season this year:
1. Home ice advantage. Calgary will play 11 of their last 17 and five of their last six at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames have been very good at home, posting a 13-8-2 record despite the 27th ranked power play in the NHL. Only three other teams that are vying for top-8 in the West (Vancouver, Detroit, and Minnesota) play nine or more of their last 17 at home.
In 2010-11, Calgary played only three of their last six and eight of their last 17 games at home, during which they posted an 8-6-3 record which ended any hopes of a trip to the postseason dance. The Flames sputtered in those final eight home games though, going 4-3-1 – this season’s version just needs to take advantage of the favourable schedule to have a play at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
2. Control their fate. Of Calgary’s remaining 31 games, they will play 21 against the other teams in the top-12 in the Western Conference, and 14 of those are with their “target teams”: Phoenix, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, and Los Angeles. The Flames are having a lot of success against the Avs and Wild this season, they’ve split their decisions against the Kings so far, and haven’t yet faced the Coyotes and Stars. Last season, Calgary had a completely opposite record against those latter two clubs, going undefeated against Dallas and winless against Phoenix. If the Flames can post a string of solid results in these 21 games against the West’s best, they’ll definitely earn the playoff spot they have.
3. Miikka Kiprusoff. When you’re in the midst of a close race, like the Flames are, it helps to have 2005-06’s Vezina trophy winner between the pipes. Calgary relies on Kipper for good reason, during last season’s second-half run from December 23rd on, the Flames were 21-1-1 in games where their Finnish net minder gave up two or less goals. On the flip side, Calgary’s record was only 4-8-10 in that same stretch when number 34 allowed three or more. The Calgary Flames can, and will, still be playing in mid-April so long as Miikka Kiprusoff plays his best, stymies the opposition, and gives up two or less each night.
Playing devil’s advocate on why the Flames will miss the postseason is difficult, I love this team, but if I’m being practical it’s obvious they will be golfing early this spring. Here are my three reasons why I think the Flames will miss the post-season this year:
1. Math. The best and most reasonable argument for the Flames missing the playoffs is math. Simple math. Throughout the course of the season the Flames have been roughly a .500 hockey club, occasional spurts of winning followed by demoralizing losing streaks. With 32 games left the Flames can really only lose 9 more games in regulation. To put that into perspective they lost 6 times in January alone. In order to get to the 94 or 95 point playoff benchmark they would have to go 20-9-3 or 19-9-4 to have a realistic shot, if the rest of the season is any indication they will go roughly .500 ending up in 11th or 12th. The 95 point plateau is not impossible but it is a very big stretch for an average hockey team.
2. Schedule. At first blush the schedule looks okay. At least half of the remaining games are against teams that as of today are not in the playoffs. This would be good however more than half of those games are also against teams that are doing better or are tied with Calgary in standings. That means 19 games (as of today) that will feature teams that have a reasonable shot at beating the Flames, 8 of them against a top 4 division conference team. Remember the Flames can only lose 9 of those. That doesn’t even include the 13 teams that are worse than the Flames today. Will the Flames win all of those games? With 17 games out of 32 in March alone it would be a miracle to not have an injury, of course the deadline will have passed and not much can be done about it at that point. With all of the back to back games the Flames play Karlsson will be starting a lot in March, he still has not won a game this year and we have to be concerned if he’s able to steal a few games at this level, history says no.
3. Injuries. The injuries the Flames have experienced this year have affected their playoff chances by striking key figures on offence and defence. Glencross is the obvious forward that you may think of as the chemistry with Jokinen was the only center and winger chemistry this team enjoyed. When you look deeper you will see Moss being injured also stunted the scoring depth of this team, he’s a big physical winger who can score 15-20 goals a year and will play hard minutes. On defence the Giordano injury was not as bad as thought, or he is super human in his recovery but it did not help the playoff chances either. Giordano is a huge piece of the power play, his playmaking and scoring ability coupled with his feisty play and leadership made him sorely missed. Smith is also another guy that the Flames missed this year, he was showing really good promise when he went down to injury. Tanguay also just came back from a neck injury (allegedly) and his absence gave the Flames less creativity. All of these injuries put the Flames into a holding pattern, the result is that it is now too late to try digging their way out of it. As mentioned in point 2. Injuries will likely also play a factor moving forward as the schedule is so condensed in March.