Colton Pankiw The Hockey Writers
Flames Weekly: New Coach, Same Team
Flames Weekly is our new series on how the Calgary Flames performed the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for our take on the week that was and to find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let us know how you thought the team performed this past week or to post any other ideas or questions you have about the Flames.
Heading into this past week, the Flames appeared to be getting on the right track, led by newly hired head coach Darryl Sutter. They were able to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in convincing fashion on both March 11 and March 13, which were Sutter’s first two games behind the bench. Many hoped that this was the start of big run for this team, and that perhaps the true problem so far this season was coaching all along.
Unfortunately, their inconsistent play returned this past week, proving that this team’s problems run deeper than just the head coaching position.
Erratic Versus Edmonton
Monday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, the first of two against them last week, went quite well for the Flames. As they had done in their previous two versus Montreal, they played a very tight-checking, fast-paced style and were able to walk away with a 4-3 win.
Many have questioned the locker room of this team and for fair reason, as at times throughout the season they don’t seem to be playing for each other or having one another’s back. However, after Oliver Kylington received a high hit in the first period from Jujhar Khaira and had to briefly leave the game, Brett Ritchie took on Khaira the very next shift. Ritchie was able to get the best of Khaira in the fight, which ended with the Oilers forward needing help off the ice. While that was tough to watch regardless of which team you cheer for, it was nice to see Ritchie come to the defence of his teammate.
It really did appear things were turning around with this group, until Wednesday night happened. The Flames got blown out for a sixth time this season, as the Oilers, led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s three points apiece, won by a decisive score of 7-3. The hope here is that this was just a one-off under Sutter, but given how many times blowouts seem to occur with this team, it’s tough to be confident in that.
Lucky Against Leafs
After Edmonton, the Flames headed to Toronto for a back to back set against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday and Saturday night. In many ways, this mini two-game series was quite similar to the previous against the Oilers. Like the first game against Edmonton, they were able to defeat the Leafs by a score of 4-3. However, this game was not nearly as impressive of a group effort, as they had a horrendous third period and likely wouldn’t have walked away with two points had it not been for the goaltending of Jacob Markstrom. Still, a win is a win, and this team needs those in a big way right now.
Unfortunately, the luck ran out Saturday in a 2-0 loss, at least partially. While the 2-0 score doesn’t look bad, this game could have been a lot uglier had it not been for multiple posts and crossbars hit by the Maple Leafs throughout. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as another blowout would have likely caused somewhat of a media frenzy in Calgary.
When the pucks were on net, David Rittich was able to kick 31 of 33 away, but was outdueled by Jack Campbell who had a 31-save shutout in what was his first start since Feb. 27.
While this may seem negative, and their play certainly was disappointing at times, this week all and all was not too bad for the Flames. The Maple Leafs and Oilers are who most would consider to be the top teams of the Scotia North Division, so going .500 against them is a fairly positive feat. The unfortunate thing is that it lost them some ground in the standings. They currently sit four points behind the Canadiens for the final playoff spot, while also having played one more game.
On top of that, the Vancouver Canucks, who have been red hot as of late, took over fifth place from the Flames. The good news in that regard for the Flames is that they have three games in hand of Vancouver and sit just two points back, but it really shows just how tight this race will likely be until the very end of the season, and emphasizes just how important every point is.
Speaking of points, the Flames have a good chance to pick some up and gain ground this week. They will take on the lowly Ottawa Senators both Monday and Wednesday night, a team who everyone in the division is beating up on this year. Everyone besides the Flames that is, as Calgary has gone just 2-2-1 in five games against them this season. That has to change this week, as picking up all four points in those two games is critical for their playoff hopes.
What really bodes well for the Flames in those two games is that the Senators have ran into some huge injury problems as of late to their goaltenders. Starting netminder Matt Murray is week-to-week with an upper-body injury, while backup Marcus Hogberg is on the injured reserve with a lower-body injury. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 24-year-old Joey Daccord needed to be helped off the ice in a game Wednesday night versus the Canucks, and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
That leaves 22-year-old Filip Gustavsson along with 20-year-old Kevin Mandolese as the team’s only two options at this point. Neither have made a start in the NHL, and Mandolese has played in just two games as a professional. Both have bright futures ahead of them, but with how inexperienced they are, there is no excuse for the Flames not to jump all over them.
After the two games versus the Senators, the Flames will return home to Calgary and prepare to take on the Winnipeg Jets both Friday and Saturday night. The Jets have a much more intimidating goaltending duo in Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit. While Hellebuyck has struggled a bit this season for his standards, he is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and regarded as one of the game’s best puck stoppers. Brossoit on the other hand is having a fantastic season, though in limited fashion as he has appeared in just eight games.
Winnipeg also has a ton of talent up front, led by Mark Scheifele who has 37 points on the season. Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor are the two others up front with 30 or more points, while captain Blake Wheeler is close with 26. They certainly won’t be an easy matchup for the Flames, though they are capable of winning at least one if not both contests if they can just find some consistency and bring their “A” game.
Rise in the Standings
As mentioned, this week is huge for the Flames if they want to not only stay in the playoff hunt, but inch closer towards it. Monday and Wednesday night’s games are must wins. If they are able to do that, and pick up one against the Jets, that would give them six huge points and certainly have them right back in the thick of things.
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