What's wrong with the Calgary Flames?
9 games into the season, and the Calgary Flames remain the NHL’s greatest enigma. Nobody can seem to figure them out – as it always has, inconsistency continues to plague this team.
Players that were often misaligned and Calgary’s whipping boys (ie: Matt Stajan), are actually playing some excellent hockey, while skilled players such as Mark Giordano struggle. The question remains, what is going on with this team?
Well, lets start off with what they’re doing right this year. The Flames are wining faceoffs when it matters. In previous years, the Flames have been downright horrendous in the faceoff circle, particularly in the offensive zone. This is clearly an area that they’ve worked on this season – with 5 regular faceoff men over 50% at the dot. This may seem rather insignificant, but the Flames have scored a number of goals off faceoffs this season, which is a significant improvement from previous years.
They’ve actually picked up some offensive upside. Roman Cervenka and Juri Hudler were big unknowns coming into this season, but have found some chemistry together. Cervenka is still getting used to the North American game, especially after missing training camp. Despite that, there is a lot of potential between these two players, and their dynamic play-making ability certainly helps to foster many offensive chances.
Defensive scoring. This has been a stat missing from the Flames over the last 10 years. Dennis Wideman seems determined to break this trend. With 7 points in 9 games, he is the Flames third leading scorer. He has been moving the puck well from his own zone, and is able to get pucks through to the net. Jay Bouwmeester has frustrated Flames fans for years, with such amazing skating and offensive talent he has not lived up to his potential since arriving in Calgary. This season, Bouwmeester seems to have the green light to jump up into the play, and has been taking full advantage. Flames fans should be excited about what he has to bring to the table this year under the new coach.
They're shooting the puck. The Flames in previous years have typically been outshot by most opponents. This season they rank third in the NHL with over 32 shots a game. This is an encouraging statistic, and points towards the new offensive style of play.
Speaking of new coaches, Bob Hartly is advertising a very offensive minded system, with responsible defensive play. When the Flames have been playing well this year, they have been following Hartly’s coaching style to a T. When they’re struggling, however, it is a whole other story…
The Flames are a much better team than their record indicates, so what is holding them back?
The biggest killer of the Flames this year is defensive breakdowns at the most inopportune times, ie: in the last 2 seconds of a game against Chicago, or multiple times this year right after scoring a goal, they allow a goal on a defensive breakdown. This inconsistency is an issue that has classically plagued the Flames for season, and it comes down to coaching and player accountability to rectify this.
Superstars struggling – the Flames expect a lot more out of their captain Jarome Iginla, and defenceman Mark Giordano, but neither has had a stellar season thus far. Giordano is a team worst minus-6, while Jarome only has 1 goal, despite 39 shots on net this season (22nd in the NHL).
The Calgary Flames currently sit 12th in the west at 3-4-2, and at times this season have shown flashes of being a much better team than their record indicates. In order to turn their season around the Flames need to play more consistently in their own end, while allowing and fostering their new-found offensive creativity.
If the Flames are able to maintain consistent play, they have the talent and capability to be a playoff contender. However, if they continue to struggle during this shortened season, expect significant changes in the lineup.