Few things around the league are more surprising than the early success of the Calgary Flames.
After missing the playoffs last season, and being unable to replace captain Mark Giordano in a relatively quiet off-season, few believed it could be possible for them to sit atop the Western Conference 19 games in.
It’s been a season of surprises in Calgary, which is why we’ve ranked the 12 biggest to explain how they got here:
1. OLIVER KYLINGTON
The loss of Giordano in the summer left a gaping hole at the back end of a team that was one player short of filling its top four.
Enter Kylington, who had previously been the forgotten man in an organization that exposed him on waivers a year earlier.
A strong camp opened eyes, but not as much as his performance as the team’s leading scorer amongst defenceman with three goals and 12 points to sit 16th amongst NHL blue-liners.
His plus-10 rating is also amongst leaders, proving he’s limited the mistakes that used to define him.
With points in 11 of his last 14 games, the speedy, creative playmaker is proving to be as dependable and consistent as any of the team’s top four defenders.
2. ANDREW MANGIAPANE
Few in Calgary are shocked he’s had a good start, but even his biggest supporters couldn’t have fathomed he’d be second in NHL goal scoring behind Leon Draisaitl with 15 goals in 19 outings.
A league-leading 14 of those have come on the road.
Well before his breakout as world championship MVP, he’d been trending as one of the game’s most efficient 5-on-5 scorers, but the run he’s on now has people starting to understand why Team Canada put him on its Olympic long list months ago.
A dependable penalty killer whose tenacity makes him a good fit as a role player for Canada’s Olympic squad, his success has come despite playing just 15 minutes a night as a second-liner who has yet to crack the team’s top power-play unit.
3. THEY’RE ROAD WARRIORS
The club’s shocking 11-3-5 start has come largely on the road.
The Flames have opened the year with taxing, five and seven-game roadies out east. They have league-best 9-2-2 record away from the Saddledome.
The early money was on Calgary to be amongst the teams battling for third in the NHL’s weakest division, behind Vegas and the Oilers.
Instead, they’re a point up on their northern rivals, albeit having played two more games.
If the Flames can duplicate their road success at the Saddledome, the race for first place could be a long one.
4. DAN VLADAR
In a league in which backup goalies need to win at least half their starts for a team to make the playoffs, the unproven 24-year-old was a significant gamble.
The Flames gave Boston a third-round pick for Vladar, who had only five NHL starts under his belt.
In five starts as a Flame, he is 4-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .946 save percentage, which includes shutouts against the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins his last two outings.
These two pic.twitter.com/mLI2mW3odP
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) November 22, 2021
5. JACOB MARKSTROM
Given how much the Flames paid him two summers ago on the open market, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise he’s found the form to make him a dominant force.
However, his five shutouts in 14 starts has him on pace to shatter Miikka Kiprusoff’s franchise record of 10 goose eggs.
His 1.71 GAA and .942 save percentage have helped him to a 7-3-4 record that has backstopped the Flames to tops in the Western Conference.
6. THEY’RE EXCITING TO WATCH
Based on previous squads coached by Darryl Sutter, if anyone thought this team could have early success, conventional wisdom suggested it would be by way of boring, defensive, 2-1 games.
Instead, this team is actually entertaining to watch, even on low-scoring nights when Markstrom or Vladar are putting on goalie clinics.
Johnny Gaudreau is back to being one of the most electric players in the league, spearheading one of the most creative and prolific lines in the loop with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames sit eighth in goals scored per game (3.32), and are tops in goals against per night, at 1.89 — a combination any fan can get excited about.
7. SEAN MONAHAN
Most people would have assumed Sean Monahan would be a big part of any Flames bounce-back.
Perhaps still dealing with the effects of off-season hip surgery, Monahan has largely been playing on the third and fourth lines, where he’s a team-low minus-5.
Five of his nine points have come on the first power-play unit, where the 206-goal man has managed to remain a part of their success.
Full credit to the veteran, who has accepted his new role and is working hard to play himself back into the top six.
8. ERIK GUDBRANSON
Expectations were low, even for a sixth defenceman, but the veteran has been a huge part of the team’s fifth-ranked penalty killing unit.
Brought in for his toughness and experience, he’s been the third-pairing mainstay alongside Nikita Zadorov and Juuso Valimaki, who have taken turns trying to grow their games.
9. THERE’S MORE ON THE FARM
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) November 22, 2021
Experts on prospects have long suggested the Flames don’t have much in the pipeline compared to other teams.
However, the Stockton Heat are atop the AHL’s Pacific Division with a 10-0-2 record.
There are a litany of young stars spearheading the team-record 12-game point streak, including Glenn Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka, Matthew Phillips, goalie Dustin Wolf and first-rounder Jakob Pelletier, whose first year as a pro has started brilliantly.
It gives hope that when the Flames do need to summon help from the minors, there are plenty of viable options.
10. THEY KEEP SCORING FIRST
Over the last few years the knock on the Flames has been their inconsistency, as in, no one knew when they’d show up for a game.
Not so this year.
The Flames have scored first in 15 of 19 outings this year, going 11-1-3 in those games.
They’ve scored first in all 12 road games.
An incredible turnaround for a team clearly more prepared for puck drop than previous years.
11. JUUSO VALIMAKI
Given the tough love Sutter gave the young defenceman upon arriving last year, we figured the ride would be rough for the first-round pick.
However, few would have predicted he’d play only eight games in their first 19, making it hard for the youngster to build momentum and confidence.
The unforeseen emergence of Kylington has impacted Valimaki more than anyone.
12. JOHNNY GAUDREAU
JOHNNY BE GOOD!
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) November 22, 2021
Few should be surprised he has found the bounce in his step and perfect linemates to sit fourth in NHL scoring as the reigning NHL Player of the Week.
What no one saw coming was this stat: he has yet to be on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal scored against him or his line.
He’s bought into the program and made himself a more conscientious backchecker, putting himself amongst league leaders at plus-14.