In the sporting world we live in today, analytics have given us so many numbers to delve into. In fact, for those so inclined, I wonder sometimes if the end game is to project absolutely everything before it occurs, or at least attempt to.
Numbers do matter in sports. They always have and always will. Sometimes numbers and trends do lie. Just look at the plight of the Calgary Flames since Jan. 14th. On that afternoon, the Flames beat the Hurricanes to post their seventh consecutive triumph, including their fourth straight on the road, to run their mark away from Scotiabank Saddledome to 13-5-5.
The club was opportunistic and on an absolute roll. Then came the team’s mandated five-day CBA break. Was there any way to forecast a group so hot going in would come out of that work stoppage by losing a season high six straight? Not a chance. But they did.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this non-sensible stretch. The Flames lost the first four of six in either overtime or a shootout, which actually ran their season-high point streak to 11. In the last two seasons, Glen Gulutzan’s gang was an impressive 15-3 in contests ending in the 3-on-3 extra time session, including a 6-1 mark this season prior to a pair of recent overtime setbacks at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings. In the club’s final clash prior to the all-star break, a 2-0 lead turned into a 4-3 shootout loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Jan. 25.
So if you are wondering how that happened, let me bring you up to date on the three games after the all-star break. On Jan. 30, the Flames faced off against the amazing Vegas Golden Knights for the first time. An expansion team that has bucked every possible number and projection with a capital B this season. In that game, the Flames led the Golden Knights 2-1 entering the third period. In the Gulutzan era, the Flames posted an incredible record of 50-0-3 when leading after 40 minutes of play. Not one single regulation loss in that situation in more than a season and a half.
Leading by the same 2-1 count with less than two minutes left, one of the Flames’ most reliable forwards in Michael Frolik missed T.J. Brodie with an outlet pass in front of his own net. The pass turned into a shot on net, which was stopped by Mike Smith. On the doorstep with arguably no business being there with 1:46 left was Erik Haula, who deposited the gift into the game tying goal.
Off the ensuing faceoff 10 seconds later, Jonathan Marchessault sent a laser beam to the top shelf and the Golden Knights led 3-2. David Perron’s empty-netter with 53 seconds left provided a stone-cold stunner unlike many I had ever witnessed with my own two eyes. A crushing 4-2 loss that stretched the losing streak to five and ended the 53-game run of taking second period leads to the points bank.
Two nights later, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning came to town. Calgary built a 4-2 second-period advantage and held a 4-3 lead entering the final frame. The Lightning tied it 12 seconds into the third and added three more for a 7-4 triumph. Smith, who has been absolutely brilliant this season, was pulled after the sixth goal. For the first time in 51 games, it was fair to suggest the Flames’ No. 1 netminder had a bad night as the losing streak reached six. Make it two in a row in the regulation loss column after another forty-minute lead went down the drain.
So a return to the win column Saturday was just what the doctor ordered. The Flames trailed the Blackhawks 2-0 in the second period —
not usually the tonic for success. Calgary battled back to tie it at two before Anthony Duclair took full advantage of a turnover to score a breakaway goal, giving Chicago a 3-2 lead going into the third. The Flames were 3-11 this season when trailing entering the third.
As the no-sense Flames tour continued with another chapter, maybe things were about to make some sense. The same Michael Frolik who played a role in the Vegas crusher tied the game with a hard-working goal in the third, sending the contest to extra time. And in extra time, who else but Sean Monahan — money in overtime during his career — scored his 10th extra-time goal to give the Flames a 4-3 win, snapping the six-game skid. Monahan’s goal capped a night where the Flames’ best players truly were their best players.
In summation, the Flames have 20 of a possible 28 points in their last 14 games. The eye test tells me for how they played during that stretch, their point total is probably right where it should be. How they arrived there is a different story. Sometimes numbers and trends do lie.