A View From the Press Box
Cup Contender or Pretender?
The Calgary Flames defeated the Florida Panthers 4 to 3 in home game 22 and overall season game 46 on Friday night. With the win the Flames still remain on top of the Western Conference with 62 points. The Calgary Flames are 2nd overall in the NHL and have won their last 4 games. On the surface, the Flames seem polished for a deep play off run this season but are they really Stanley Cup contenders or pretenders?
The Flames started the game against the Panthers in second gear at best while managing only 4 shots in the opening period. Besides a shot by Sam Bennett going off the post the team’s play was far from inspiring; quite FLAT to say the least. The team’s second shot of the period came with 10:02 left on the clock! After the first period the Flames trailed 1 – 0 and were down 2 – 0 early in the 2nd period when Jonathan Huberdeau scored on the power play. Without the stellar play of “Big Save Dave” Rittich, the Flames could have been easily down 3 or 4 to nothing! Rittich earned 3rd star in the game and Mikael Backlund earned 2nd star with 1 assist and plus 2 from 19:17 minutes of play on 24 shifts.
The 1st star of the game was Michael Frolik who scored the Flames first goal to start again another great Flames league leading comeback. He had 1 goal and 2 assists. Frolik’s parents are in town visiting. He joked that they may have left after the 1st period! Frolik didn’t start the game on the Flames 2nd line with Backlund and Tkachuk but was put back on the line in the 2nd period. Frolik said “ First period I had maybe 1 minute ice time so it wasn’t the start I was looking for…we switched lines little bit and went back to the 3M line and, you know, tried to bring little energy through that line.” Exact time played was only 2:26 minutes and only 5 shifts in the 1st period but Frolik finished the game strong with 15:15 minutes and 23 shifts and emerged as the Flames best player on the night! Indeed, Frolik made his parents proud!
At the post game press conference, Coach Bill Peters talked about the inconsistent / mediocre team play…. “ because we continue to win and so they think we’re obviously playing well and that’s good enough, the effort’s good enough, the execution’s good enough where in reality it’s not at the level we should be at and can be at.” Peters appreciates the win but doesn’t like the way his team has been playing. “We haven’t played well here for a while and it’s been masked by the fact we’ve gotten wins but we still haven’t played well.” Note : The Flames home record is 14 – 4 – 4.
So reflecting back on the Calgary Flames first half of the season there are many positives. Coach Peters and his staff have done a stellar job and Peters is a candidate for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season of his career and sits 3rd in NHL scoring with 26 goals and 41 assists for 67 points. He’s mentioned in the running for the league’s MVP award. Also, Mark Giordano who at 35 years of age is playing the best hockey of his career. He has 7 goals and 37 assists. Gio is gathering much talk for best defenseman with a league leading +31. T.J. Brodie is having a comeback year with a +27 and 4th best plus / minus overall. Monahan, Lindholm and Tkachuk are having season bests with 55, 52 & 52 points respectively. Plus the blossoming of David Rittich who has been in net for 17 of Calgary’s 29 wins are just a few of the many positives from the season thus far.
On the other side of the equation opening season No: 1 goalie Mike Smith’s play has been very inconsistent; James Neal has been in a season long slump with only 4 goals and Sam Bennett with only 6 goals; each of their performances has been disappointing indeed.
General Manager Brad Treliving and his Flames management team have done an excellent job improving the depth and talent on the roster. The Flames can play a finesse / goal scoring game, a tight defensive checking game and even a physical style of game. The team is built for playoff style hockey success and should go deep this season into the playoffs. The big concern expressed by Coach Peters and rightfully so is what team will show up on a nightly basis? Also, who will be the No: 1 Flames goalie for a strong playoff performance run – Smith or Rittich ? The Flames have been fortunate on many occasions this season to acquire 2 points from subpar efforts. Coach Peters is well aware that this kind of effort can’t show its ugly head in the playoffs. The Flames ideally need to raise their level of play to win the Pacific Division in order to avoid playing San Jose or Las Vegas in the first round and instead play a weaker wild card team.
Bottom line to be a Stanley Cup contender not pretender the Flames must win especially at home with a consistently higher level of team play! It’s an exciting season – stay tuned!
The Flames next home game is scheduled for Sunday January 13th against the Phoenix Coyotes.