With 45 games checked off the 2015-16 calendar, the Calgary Flames remain mired in the depths of the Western Conference standings.
The Flames currently rank second-last in the West, just two points above the last-place Edmonton Oilers. Pinpointing the exact reason for Calgary’s lacklustre season isn’t an easy task. Their offense isn’t prolific, but the club ranks 11th in the league with 2.69 goals per game. Star winger Johnny Gaudreau is doing his part; he sits ninth in league scoring with 46 points thus far.
Calgary’s back-end seems the more likely culprit. The Flames boast a plethora of talented defenders – namely captain Mark Giordano and rising stars T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton — but the group seemingly hasn’t played to their full potential up this point. Combined with the underwhelming performances put forth by the club’s netminders, Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller, the Flames have fallen to third-last in the league in terms of goals-against per game with a mark of 3.00.
Despite the problematic numbers, the Flames have been trending in the right direction as of late — since December 1st, they’ve put together a record of 13-7-1, winning the seventh-most games in the league. Interestingly enough, Calgary’s goaltending duo has been a crucial part of this resurgence, despite the tandem being one of the key reasons behind the club’s slow start.
Through October and November, the Flames ranked dead last in the league when it came to keeping pucks out of their net, allowing a league-worst 86 goals through their first 24 games.
Ramo played a key role in that slide; the 29-year-old posted a paltry save-percentage of 0.868 in October, alongside a horrid goals-against-average of 4.27. Hiller didn’t fare much better, posting marks of 0.861 and 3.67 over the first month of the season.
While Hiller was limited to only three total games in November and December (allowing 12 goals over that span), Ramo has improved his play with each passing month. His save-percentage rose to 0.909 in November, while he dropped his goals-against-average down to 2.63.
But it was December and January that truly saw Ramo back in form. The former KHLer raised his save percentage even further in the final month of 2015, posting a mark of 0.919 while winning seven of 11 starts. Ramo’s exceptional play through December allowed the Flames to finish the month with the eighth-lowest total of allowed goals (30 over 12 games).
Through Ramo’s five starts in January, he’s posted an even better save-percentage of 0.927, winning three of those five contests. His goals-against-average over that span has been a solid 2.03 – the lowest he’s posted in any month yet.
Hiller’s return in January has brought some exceptional numbers as well. Through three starts this month, the veteran netminder has registered a sterling save-percentage of 0.948 alongside a goals-against-average of 1.31.
Needless to say, both goaltenders have been doing their part over the last two months, improving to near-elite levels to help keep Calgary’s playoff hopes alive. The trend matches the work done by the duo last season as well.
After the first few months of the 2014-15 season brought a rollercoaster of results, Ramo posted his best month of the season in February (putting forth a save-percentage of 0.945 and a goals-against-average of 1.71), before Hiller came up with his best two-month stretch in the final two months of the season (recording save-percentages of 0.925 and 0.953 in March and April respectively).
With nine points standing between the Flames and a wild card spot — not to mention a few dangerous teams like Nashville and Anaheim — Calgary will need all the defensive help they can get if they hope to close that gap and return to the postseason.
Their offense has been stepping up as of late, doing their part in powering the club forward. Gaudreau’s sophomore season has continued to be an undeniable success — since December 1st, Gaudreau has scored the fourth-most points in the league (25 in 21 games), keeping pace with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Erik Karlsson. On the back-end, Giordano has finally found his groove, and has reigned as the second-highest scorer among NHL defenders over that same span, scoring 21 points in his last 21 games.
Calgary still must solve their divisional woes if they hope to climb in the standings, but the club can at least take solace in the fact that their core pieces are stepping up now that they’re needed most, and the team as a whole seems to be trending in the right direction.