Calgary Flames

Flames Falling Just Short of Redemption

(Photo by Kathleen Hinkel/IconSportswire)

The Calgary Flames currently sit seven points out of a playoff position. The teams that hold the spots they covet (either a Western Conference wild card spot or the third-place ranking in the Pacific Division) are the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche. All three of those teams have been playing well lately.

A closer look at Calgary’s recent month of play reveals they’ve come close to turning their season around, but have just barely come up short from chasing down these other squads. The Flames won only four of a possible 11 games through the month of January. However, they ranked near the top of the league across a number of different metrics.

Defensively, Calgary tied for the third-fewest goals-against, allowing only 24 in that span. They also limited their opponents to only 305 shots in January–the fifth-lowest total of any NHL club–which is significant considering the fact the Flames have largely been forced to play without the puck more often than with it.

While part of the explanation for that low shots-against total is the fact that Calgary has established themselves as a team willing to block shots if the possession game isn’t going their way (see: Russell, Kris), the Flames have seen their blocked shots total decrease with each passing month as well (203 in November, 202 in December, and 177 in January). Thus, it seems they have been doing a better job of limiting chances from the opposition overall.

January also saw the Flames lead the league with the least number of penalties and overall penalty minutes (26 and 55, respectively). That shift was crucial due to how horrid the club’s special teams have been throughout the season, most of which has seen both their penalty kill and powerplay rank dead last in the league. And yet, in January the Flames managed to rank among the league’s top 10 in terms of fewest powerplay goals-against (seven) and total powerplay goals scored (also seven).

That being the case, it seems Calgary has been trending in the right direction, yet they still haven’t managed to get over the hump and start stringing together much-needed wins. Offensive consistency seems to be a continuing issue. Calgary finished January with the eighth-least shots-for (328) and were 13th in terms of goals-for, with 29 in total.

There’s one very specific way in which the Flames’ lack of production has hurt them, and that’s the loss of overtime opportunities.

Of Calgary’s seven losses in January, five were one-goal games. That’s crucial as it means, in five of those games, the Flames had a real chance of tying the game and getting to overtime. Once in the extra frame, the odds shift heavily into Calgary’s favor–the Flames have lost in overtime only once this season, while they’ve posted eight wins as a result of 3-on-3 action.

To put that in perspective, that means 16 of the Flames’ 51 points (nearly a third) have come from winning in overtime. It’s been an essential part of the little success they’ve had so far. If Calgary had been able to score one more goal in a few of those games, it’s safe to say it could have clinched a few more victories in overtime.

January ranked as the only month so far this season in which the Flames didn’t earn an overtime win. They had at least three overtime opportunities in each of the previous three months, while January saw only one–which ended in a shootout loss to Edmonton. Even three more wins (which seems reasonable given their five one-goal losses) would give the Flames 57 points right now–which would leave them just one point of out a playoff spot.

A large part of Calgary’s offensive woes has been the lacklustre play of Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler, who tied for the team lead in goals last season with 31 apiece. While linemate Johnny Gaudreau has taken a step forward this season (scoring a team-leading 21 goals and 49 points in 51 games this season), Monahan and Hudler seem to have regressed slightly.

Monahan’s 16 goals put him on pace for roughly 25 by the season’s end. Hudler has tallied only seven times this season, partly the result of being moved throughout the lineup and dealing with injuries, which ranks as the second-worst goal-scoring pace of his career.

January wasn’t kind to either forward. Monahan scored only three points in 11 January games, the fewest he’s posted in any month this season. Hudler posted four points in seven games for the Flames, though only one goal.

But after a month to forget, it seems the Flames may be moving in the right direction once again. Monahan and Hudler have combined for 10 points already through the Flames’ first four games of February (though Monahan was benched for Calgary’s recent tilt for disciplinary reasons). Alongside that increased offensive contribution, the Flames have won three of four games this month.

The road back to playoff contention won’t be easy, especially with six games against division rivals coming within the next two weeks. However, if the Flames can get their offense rolling again and can find those few extra goals, it seems they may be able to claw their way back into the playoff picture for the second straight year.

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