Why the Flames still merit suspicion as a Stanley Cup contender

In September, it was a little surprising to hear Flames GM Brad Treliving say the team’s goal was to make the playoffs.

At the time, we reasoned, this was a way for Treliving to manage rising expectations after a less desirable season. Since then, manager Daryl Sutter has reiterated those same ambitions for his club. Considering how the Flames have played up to this point, not leaning into the hype that was placed on them before the season proved to be a wise approach.

That won’t stop some people from wondering about the Flames and whether or not they’re really Stanley Cup contenders. But at least you can’t accuse Treliving or Sutter of overselling.

After losing 2-1 in a shootout to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Flames were in the first of two playoff spots on American Thanksgiving morning, an unofficial benchmark of sorts for NHL teams in determining whether or not to make the playoffs. qualifiers. There are, of course, anomalies like the St. Louis Blues who had a losing record on Thanksgiving in 2018 and were the last to start the 2019 calendar year before winning the Cup that summer. Last season, the Colorado Avalanche finished second on the wild card list after starting the year slowly, riddled with injuries and COVID-19 cases, before winning it all.

So far, the Flames haven’t reached the heights of last year’s team. They collected 21 points, eight fewer than they did last year while also having three fewer wins. The Flames also have a goal difference of -3 (one of five teams currently in, or tied for, a play-off position with a negative goal difference), and they don’t have the same offensive quality they boasted last year at the top. Line.

Goalkeepers Jakob Markström and Daniel Vladar both put in solid performances, but their stats leave a lot to be desired. Markstrom’s save percentage is 0.889 with a 3.03 goals-against average and is tied for fourth most goals allowed by a goaltender who has played at least four games this season. Vladar’s numbers were slightly better in fewer matches.

Despite these negatives, this team still has the benefit of the doubt when it comes to postseason opportunities. MoneyPuck has the Flames with the sixth-best chances of making the playoffs – better than any team currently in a famous venue – and the eighth-best chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Here’s a deeper look at why the Flames should be seen as a playoff team with aspirations beyond their current place in the standings.


On paper the roster still looks like a qualifying team

That was the case when the season began and the uneven start hasn’t changed: The Flames still have a noteworthy roster. Position depth is a necessity for qualifying teams, and the top three in Elias Lindholm, Nazim Kadri and Mikael Backlund are more than suitable for that. The Flames’ defensive depth was tested early on with injuries but still has solid options in Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, MacKenzie Weegar and Nikita Zadorov, who get rave reviews from Sutter. Markstrom and Vladar should be better, but they also had moments where they showed what they’re capable of. Jonathan Huberdeau may not be playing on the top line at the moment, but he’s still an outstanding striker who helps make the centre-forward look great.

Markstrom, in particular, made some quality saves at key moments despite not having the best numbers. There is still time for him to regain the form that saw him reach the Vezina final last season.

Games, series and the Stanley Cup are not won on paper. But the Flames still look like a team that can make people think they can win the playoffs.

Overcoming adversity early

The Flames didn’t have a losing streak longer than four games last season. According to ManGamesLost, the 2021-22 Flames have the fewest games lost by men with 92. In that series, Chris Tanev was injured, Markstrom’s goaltending was not up to par, and the Oilers overcame their own troubles en route to a series win.

This year’s Flames team overcomes major roster changes and difficulties in order to establish chemistry. Calgary’s depth has been tested with previously scratched players like Adam Rosica and call-ups like Dennis Gilbert. Let’s not forget the seven-game winless streak as the Flames blew the lead and struggled against smaller, faster teams, battling few teams in the Eastern Conference after spending most of the first month of the season at home.

The whole time, there was no rush to hit the panic button.

The Flames still need to improve in certain areas, but they have a roster that understands that regular seasons have their ebbs and flows. When asked about how the team handled the early-season rollercoaster after the Flames’ victory over the Panthers last weekend, Weegar praised the “range of personalities” of players from the core and beyond.

“It’s not like we were playing badly. Every game has been close,” Wegar said. “Now, hopefully things start to click and we get some bounces to come our way.”

New players still need time to have fun

Weegar is still looking for his first goal with the Flames and only has five assists, but otherwise he’s been playing well in the second defensive double, with either Tanev or Zadorov. Lately, Huberdeau has seemed like a committed and productive player, but we didn’t expect him to play alongside Backlund and Blake Coleman. Kadri has been quiet over the last three matches, but he’s got off to a great start and there were no real issues with his placement in the squad.

He may not be at the level some might want yet, but the Flames’ new players certainly aren’t dragging the team down. As long as they are not commitments, Flames can still be patient as they continue to settle and adjust to Sutter’s system.

Other teams are still thinking about it

Not sure if you noticed, but the difference was all over the place when it came to the lines. The New Jersey Devils, whose fans booed head coach Lindy Ruff at the start of the season, have just hit a 13-game winning streak. The St. Louis Blues really seemed to be finished when they were on an eight-game winning streak. They are currently second in the Western Conference, tied with Minnesota State, Edmonton, and Nashville.

While there’s always room for a team like Seattle to continue playing above expectations and secure a playoff spot, the Flames are in a similar place with a handful of teams that have the potential to break out.

(Photo by Elias Lindholm and Sidney Crosby: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

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