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We’ve been referring to this shortened season as a 56-game sprint.
It’s important to remember the Calgary Flames just left the starting blocks.
They have, for stretches, looked like a well-oiled machine. There have been some stumbles, too. Their 2-2-1 record is, by definition, a mixed bag.
As the Flames embark on a five-game, two-stop road-trip that opens with a pair of clashes against the Canadiens in Montreal, here is the good, the bad and the outlook, based on the tiny sample-size that we have witnessed so far …
THE GOOD: DOMINANT PERIODS
How good were the Flames during the second period of a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks? Or during the middle frame in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs? When these guys find a groove and get the momentum on their side, they’ve shown they can be an absolute handful for an opponent. That’s a very encouraging sign.
THE BAD: DUD PERIODS
How bad were the Flames in Tuesday’s early stages against the Maple Leafs? They mustered one measly shot on net during that stinker of a stanza and were no better in their defensive details, with head coach Geoff Ward saying post-game, “we looked like we’d never tracked before in our life.” They also had one feeble frame during their curtain-raiser in Winnipeg, and it cost them.
THE OUTLOOK : The Flames deserve credit for this much — they haven’t allowed a couple of putrid periods to snowball into a game that was ugly from start to finish. It’s worth noting there have been wild pendulum swings across the league, but they’ll still want to smooth out some of that inconsistency.
THE GOOD: BOUNCE-BACK BUDDIES
You think Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were sick of hearing about their offensive shortcomings last season? Still skating side-by-side, they find themselves in familiar territory — atop the team scoring charts with seven points each. Ward also deserves a stick-tap on this turnaround. By pairing Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, he’s been able to free up Johnny and Monny for some favourable matchups.
THE BAD: SLUMPING SAM
It’s not entirely fair to single out one of the depth dudes, but Sam Bennett hasn’t been able to carry forth the momentum from his splendid summer showing. The still scoreless Bennett — always a major factor in the playoffs but inconsistent in the getting there — has just five shots on net so far, hasn’t really been a physical force and owns a team-worst minus-5 rating.
THE OUTLOOK : With the Flames hitting the road for five in a row, we’ll start to learn if opposing coaches still view Gaudreau and Monahan — currently riding five-game point-streaks — as their most important matchup. Bennett, meanwhile, will be ticked about his performance and that usually brings out the best in him.
THE GOOD: POWER-PLAY POPPING
The Flames have made the most of their man-advantage opportunities, scoring eight goals already — that’s exactly half of their season total — while on the power-play. Their passing has been creative, and their top-unit personnel seem to be oozing confidence. While they’re not likely to continue soaring at this 33.3% clip, they have enough talent to hang with the NHL’s best in this stat-category.
THE BAD: SOCIAL-MEDIA SLEUTHING
This is not so much on the Flames and more on the rest of us … Matthew Tkachuk is going to do plenty to spark rivalries — and set off fireworks — in the NHL’s North Division, but we might be looking too hard for controversy. Was his tumble onto Jack Campbell a malicious act, as some were alleging? Pffft. No. Was he wronged by Jake Muzzin’s post-buzzer puck-flip? Hardly. Let’s calm down a little.
THE OUTLOOK : As the animosity grows in this all-Canadian division, special-teams success will become more and more crucial. The Flames are counting on Tkachuk to be effective as the net-front presence on PP1, and the rest of us can count on No. 19 to give us lots to gab about.
THE GOOD: MARKY’S MARK
Through five games so far, you certainly can’t gripe about the goaltending. Prized free-agent signing Jacob Markstrom is proving to be every bit a top-tier netminder, and back-to-back losses should not change your mind on that. This guy exudes calm and confidence. Simply put, he is a difference-maker, and there hasn’t been one of those in Calgary’s crease since Miikka Kiprusoff’s glory days.
THE BAD: DON’T GET TOO COMFY
The danger of employing a star goalie is the support-staffers know many of their mistakes or defensive breakdowns will be covered up. Ward stressed after Tuesday’s loss to the Maple Leafs that “everything we do has to come from the fact that we can check.” You can bet he’ll be harping on that message inside the locker-room. The new guy is a great eraser, but you can’t get too loosey-goosey and come to rely on the big save.
THE OUTLOOK : Having a stalwart between the pipes is always a good thing. When the Flames are sharp in front of Markstrom, they should be a very formidable foe.
THE GOOD: PAIRINGS POSITIVE
The Flames seem to have found some instant chemistry on their back-end. It’s probably not a coincidence Noah Hanifin has been rock-solid since being partnered with under-rated veteran Chris Tanev and although they had some tough moments Tuesday against Toronto, there’s a lot to like about the third pair of Juuso Valimaki and Nikita Nesterov. They have been able to so far spread the blue-line minutes, which should help keep the top tandem of Rasmus Andersson and Mark Giordano fresh as the season wears on.
THE BAD: RIGHT-WING ROTATIONS
With Lindholm’s shift to centre and Dillon Dube’s injury absence, right-wing remains the biggest area of weakness for the Flames. Ward has yet to find the ideal fits on that flank. There’s a real opportunity for Andrew Mangiapane to emerge as the depth-chart topper on his off-wing and it’s up to him to seize that slot.
THE OUTLOOK : With injuries, potential illness and the gruel of a condensed schedule, we’ll be talking about lines and pairings until mid-May and likely beyond.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021