One year can change a lot
A year ago Darryl Sutter was canned as the General Manager of the Calgary Flames. The Flames subsequently went on an unbelievable ascent up the Western Conference standings to come only three points shy of a playoff berth.
Fast forward to today. Darryl is now the head coach of the LA Kings and the Flames are a different looking team.
They are substantially younger with the likes of Roman Horak, Blake Comeau, Mikael Backlund, Paul Byron, TJ Brodie, Leland Irving, and Greg Nemisz all getting time with the big club. This has led to a small dose of optimism in this city...ok, well less pessimism.
The Flames are playing much better in recent weeks having gone 9-3-3 since November 27th, and climbed within two points of the 8th and final playoff spot.
The powerplay has improved tenfold from the earlier on going 11 for 49 over that stretch or 22.4 %. The penalty kill has been good killing off 49 of 56 chances over the same stretch, which would rank in the top five in the league spread out over an entire season.
They are playing much better as a team and it would seem are buying into coach Brent Sutter’s philosophy.
This time last season, as Darryl was getting the boot, the team was sitting in the basement of the west playing tiddlywinks with the Edmonton Coilers. They made the drastic 180 degree turn but in the end the hole they dug for themselves early on proved to be too much.
Now, the Flames are positioned much better for a legitimate playoff run and will most likely be in the chase until game 82.
This upcoming road trip will prove to be a turning point for the Flames as they are set to play the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Senators, Predators, Capitals, and Bruins over an eight day stretch. Add in the Canucks before Christmas and that’s a seven game road trip – the team’s longest of the season.
Two of those teams, the Isle and the Jackets are dead last in their respective conferences. Ottawa, Washington and Nashville are all bubble teams, while the Bruins represent the class of the East.
It’s imperative for the Flames to get wins early on this trip against the lesser lights as getting wins in Washington and Boston will be hard enough, not to mention it will be at the end of a gruelling trip.
Leland Irving should see more action during the trip. Most likely during the team’s back-to-back games against the Isle and Sens. He has done nothing but impress from the moment he stepped between the pipes and has given good reason to question why the team signed Karlsson to a two-year contract last summer. Irving is ready for the big time, that’s quite apparent.
A milestone will likely be reached during this trip as Jarome Iginla is only three goals away from 500 for his career. There will be a big celebration when he becomes only the 42nd player in league history to reach this mark and further cement his spot in the hockey hall of fame.
Six games, eight days and a season hanging in the balance. This is your chance Calgary.