In roman times, the Ides of March warned that danger was on the way. And March for the Calgary Flames has been miserable.
Wednesday night’s shutout loss at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks marked their fourth consecutive defeat — a setback that all but ended the club’s hope of participating in the post-season party.
The Flames were in control of their own destiny when the month began, but 10 games later with only three wins and a loser point to show for their efforts. Changing their fate would require seven straight wins and a whole lot of help.
So what happened? In a nutshell, the team’s season has resembled the Calgary winter — a winter that locals have found themselves digging out of many snowstorms. And just when you thought the worst Mother Nature could deliver had occurred, guess again. March has seen the Flames outshoot their opponents to the tune of 400-275. On two occasions, they put up more than 50 shots in a game and still came out on the wrong end of the outcomes.
The last four contests have maybe been the most frustrating, if you measure a team’s preparation and focus by how they get out of the gate. In the first periods of the four consecutive losses, the Flames have outshot their opponents 56-24 but have been outscored 2-1.
I’m a huge believer more now than ever that almost every single game there are two big factors: What do you get accomplished when you are clearly the better team and how do you deal during the times when the opposite is the case? Clearly, the last four games — and the whole month — the Flames have been on the wrong side of the equation.
You’d think the team’s theme song was Roxanne. Forget about not needing to turn on the red light, at the absolute worst time this group can’t find the switch to save their lives.
On the topic of saves, it’s been a stretch where every mistake this team makes seems to wind up in the back of its net. All-star goalie Mike Smith, who missed a month with a lower-body injury, returned to the cage March 11. In his last four games, he’s 0-4 with a goals-against average of 4.81 and save percentage of 822. This is the same Smith, who prior to suffering the injury, was the team MVP in my opinion.
Make no mistake, this one’s not all on the goalie. This group made their way to the North Pole when they desperately needed Hawaii. And at the North Pole they most certainly missed Santa. No gifts, just bah humbug.
Disappointing. Frustrating. Use any adjective you want. The expectations for this Flames crew was high, maybe too high after a 17-5 finish to last season that earned them a playoff appearance. Remember, it’s a season that ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Ducks last spring.
Flames fan are incensed. All you have to do is listen to the call-in program on our radio station after games. They should be disappointed. There isn’t anyone within the organization that isn’t.
Here is what I’ve learned this hockey season more than any other: the finite nature between winning and losing in the NHL is just that — finite.
Just look at the Western Conference where the Flames aren’t the only team with expectations that haven’t been met. I’ve said it many days on the radio. I’ve never been more convinced with some of their core pieces and prospects in the system that the Calgary Flames are on the right track.
I see the Flames in a very similar way to the Winnipeg Jets. Last spring there were many crying for huge change and for heads to roll. Instead, the Jets swallowed the disappointment, believed in the process and their key people, and let their young players grow from some of the adversity.
How has that worked out? Pretty well, I’d say.