This was not the start The Calgary Flames envisioned.
They certainly expected to be above .500, but at 12-8 there’s a feeling this team is capable of so much more.
Instead of being a defensive juggernaut leaning on the strength of their vaunted blue line, the Flames now routinely find themselves in high scoring shootouts.
Their last seven games have seen an average of more than nine goals scored, which pleases fans but gives coaches fits. That said, it seems to be working for a team that has won seven of its last nine.
THE GOOD: Mike Smith. Make that the The Great. Smith entered his first season as a 35-year-old question mark for the team and is now its undisputed MVP.
Without Smith the Flames would certainly be below .500, as opposed to being 12-8.
His size, positioning, presence, ability to come up big when required and his playmaking abilities have all been the most pleasant of surprises to Flames faithful.
Johnny Gaudreau has also been spectacular, getting off to an uncharacteristically solid start, sitting amongst NHL scoring leaders with 10 goals and 31 points. His chemistry with a red-hot Sean Monahan (12 goals) has never been questioned, but what’s new is the fit Micheal Ferland (eight goals) has been on the top line.
THE BAD: Secondary scoring and special teams.
Up until Game 16, the third and fourth lines had not scored a single goal. Yes, you read that right.
Somehow Calgary’s goaltending and the top line have helped the team overcome terrible starts from the likes of Sam Bennett, Kris Versteeg, Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar. Mark Jankowski’s call-up from Stockton seems to have injected life into the third line over the past handful of games, and helped Jaromir Jagr and Bennett get off the schneid.
The Flames’ traditionally strong penalty killing unit is now dead last in the NHL.
TRENDING: The Flames have only lost two of their past nine as they show signs of being the team most saw them as in the pre-season – a legitimate contender.
The defensive corps has yet to round into form as a unit and relies far too much on their goaltender to win high-scoring track meets.
Offensively the team now has three lines rolling and that takes some pressure off the top trio, which is playing like one of the league’s best.
BOLD PREDICTION: Flames will make the playoffs, but will fall short of the 100-point goal it set in the pre-season.