The Calgary Flames' Division Title Chances: Objects in the Rear View Mirror?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. For what seemed like months, the Calgary Flames had a Red Wing-like lead in the NHL's Northwest Division. Fans in Calgary were getting used to hearing about the nine point gap between the Flames and their rivals. For the first time in years ‘the toughest division in hockey’ didn’t seem so tough.
Immediately after making the biggest splash at the trading deadline, the Philadelphia Flyers felt the wrath of Calgary’s offensive depth and fans began to wonder aloud how far this team could go in the Playoffs. Surely Calgary would get past the first round this year.
What a difference a couple of weeks can make.
After dropping three straight (and in somewhat ugly fashion), Calgary picked up what seemed to be a crucial motivational victory over Detroit in a shootout. But they followed this with an abomination of a performance: an 8-6 loss to Toronto.
One could argue that any team's loss tally should increase simply for being down three goals in the first period to the lowly Maple Leafs.
After giving the Flyers fans a show, the Flames had five straight games where they gave up at least three goals. The sky might not be falling, but helmet sales are certainly up.
For a goaltender and defensive corps reputed to be amongst the best in the league, the last few weeks are a bunch of red flags.
While Mike Keenan's handling of Calgary's goaltending workload has been under constant scrutiny from the local media this year, the fact is the Flames have no where to go beyond Miika, though his play has been beyond shaky at times.
Not that this defense has carried their load admirably. Dion Phanuef and Adrian Aucoin, two of Calgary's top four defensemen, are a combined minus 16 on the season.
Playoff hockey doesn’t often involve turnover-happy squads, regardless of how many pucks they can put in the net. Their impressive firepower up front has the Flames ranked second in the west with 231 goals scored, and that's a testament to the depth on the squad for sure.
But Calgary also ranks second to last in the conference in goals allowed, with 215. This "high risk, high reward" style has made for some exciting games, but is it a recipe for success in the postseason?
Looking at the rest of the West, Roberto Luongo’s return to world-class form has certainly motivated the Canucks, who are playing a dedicated defensive game at this point, only allowing one of their last 20 opponents to score more than three goals. Vancouver has picked up points in 12 of their last 15 games and are winners of four straight.
The Flames are all but assured a Playoff spot, but thanks to their rival's run, the division title is certainly in question. Here’s a look at Calgary's remaining games:
- Mon., Mar. 23 vs. Detroit
- Wed., Mar. 25 @ Pittsburgh
- Thu., Mar. 26 @ Columbus
- Sat., Mar. 28 vs. Minnesota
- Mon., Mar. 30 vs. San Jose
- Thu., Apr. 2 @ Dallas
- Fri., Apr. 3 @ Minnesota
- Mon., Apr. 6 vs. Los Angeles
- Tue., Apr. 7 @ Vancouver
- Fri., Apr. 10 @ Edmonton
- Sat., Apr. 11 vs. Edmonton
With the Canucks just three points back with a game in hand, Calgary needs to make their home a fortress over the next few weeks. The Flames have a combined 6-0 record over the Kings and Wild this season and have beaten all of their remaining Western Conference foes at least once. Vancouver, on the other hand, plays seven of their next eight away from GM Place.
The two teams will meet for the final time April 7 in what should be the crucial match-up that might just decide the Northwest.
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