Can the Calgary Flames get away from .500?

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It’s often said that if you get as many points as you have games played on a road trip, you’re happy.

However, this might not be true for the Calgary Flames.

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Captain Mikael Backlund put it clearly after Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks:

“The position we’re in, going .500 on a trip, is not good enough,” Backlund said.

When you’re chasing the pack and trying to make up ground in the playoff race, a 2-2 record in a four-game roadie seems disappointing, especially when you factor in a wasted opportunity to score points against a depleted Chicago Blackhawks. team on Sunday.

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If you remove all the context, hitting .500 on a four-game swing through the Midwest (and Philadelphia) isn’t the end of the world.
But even the briefest of glances at the standings tell you that splitting games in half wasn’t what the Flames needed.

But after 40 games this season, that might be exactly what they are.
It’s not just that they are one game under .500, with a record of 17-18-5. They’re probably better than that record, though that doesn’t matter.

If you could somehow start the season on November 2, when the Flames had just lost their sixth straight game and were sitting at 2-7-1, it would look a lot better. The Flames are 15-11-4 since then. That’s a percentage of .566 points, which would currently be eighth best in the Western Conference.

But unfortunately the season did not start at the beginning of November. It started in mid-October and we can’t just erase the Flames’ six-game losing streak from the history books.
And that means the Flames have had to make a run to get back into the mix. They needed to win more than they lost to catch up to the teams ahead of them.
However, it’s been more of a stop and start than that.

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They went on a four-game tour from November 20 to 25. They won two. They lost two.

They had a six-game homestand from November 27 to December 9. They won three and lost three.

The Flames need to buck that trend. They play seven of their next nine home games at the Saddledome before the All-Star break. Going to .500 in that stretch won’t be enough.

So let’s take a look back at their road trip and try to find reasons why they will (or won’t) find a way to start some kind of race.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

  1. HUBERDEAU PRODUCTION

Well, that changed quickly.

After going 12 games without points, Jonathan Huberdeau has had five in the Flames’ last five games. That includes two goals, for those keeping score.

No matter how you look at it, Huberdeau finding his game and producing consistently would be a huge boost for the Flames. It’s no use repeating the entire Huberdeau story, but he is their highest-paid player and they need him to play like that.

If it continues like this, it will only be good news.

Jonathan Huberdeau #10 of the Calgary Flames shoots and scores a power play goal against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 20: Jonathan Huberdeau #10 of the Calgary Flames shoots and scores a power-play goal against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena on November 20, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Steph Chambers /fake images
  1. THE SHUFFLED LINE WORKED

It’s been five games since Flames head coach Ryan Huska moved Andrew Mangiapane back on a line with Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman, and that’s a large enough sample size to give the move an overhaul. enthusiastic.

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The 27-year-old winger had three assists in his first game with his former linemates (they spent most of last season together) and has four points in the four games since.

Coleman has six points in this recent five-game stretch, while Backlund has three and has been his usual consistent self.

The Coleman-Backlund-Mangiapane trio has been excellent whenever they’ve been together, and the way they’ve played since reuniting is hugely encouraging.

  1. MARKSTROM ON FIRE

Jacob Markstrom has been completely crazy lately. That’s probably true for the season as a whole, although the Flames’ defensive struggles early in the season mean their save percentage and goals against average don’t rank among the NHL leaders.

But anyone who’s seen him knows he’s kept the Flames in a lot of games. He also seems to be getting even better as the season progresses.
Markstrom is playing like one of the best goalies in the league, and if you’re a team looking to run, it’s always good to have one of those between the pipes.

THREE REASONS FOR PESIMISM

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek (34) saves Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday.
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek (34) makes a save against Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024 in Chicago. Photo by Erin Hooley /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
  1. THE OPPONENT DOESN’T SEEM TO CARE

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When you look at the Flames’ schedule from now until the All-Star break, there are plenty of games against teams that aren’t in playoff position.

Winnable games, hopefully.

Six of the Flames’ nine remaining games in January are against teams not currently in the playoffs, but we’ve learned this season that doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Flames are just 7-8-2 against teams that are sitting on the outside of the playoff picture as of Monday morning, compared to 10-10-3 against teams that are in playoff positions.

  1. NEEDS FOURTH LINE PRODUCTION

Dillon Dube hasn’t scored a point in 20 games. AJ Greer has been a great addition for the Flames, but he hasn’t produced much recently, while neither Adam Ruzicka nor Walker Duehr are putting up big numbers.

The Flames don’t rely on their fourth offensive line, so it’s not entirely fair to use the lack of production as proof that they’re playing poorly. If they’re playing smart defense and changing momentum with their shifts, that’s what you want.

But getting a little more out of the fourth line could only help.

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  1. UNCERTAINTY ABOUT

You can’t quantify this, but Monday marked exactly two months until the NHL trade deadline.

With key players like Elias Lindholm, Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, the Flames have decisions to make about their future.

The Flames have done a great job of blocking out the noise and focusing on the day-to-day this season, but it’s only going to get stronger. Teams may not want to wait until the deadline to make their moves, so changes could happen any day.

We’ll see how that affects the guys in the locker room.

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