After Gulutzan’s Berating, Flames Have Been On Fire

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The big turnaround for the Calgary Flames seems to have started after a postgame interview with Glen Gulutzan. The Flames had just been beaten by the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 when Gulutzan called the teams performance pathetic.

After this interview the team turned it around. Since the Montreal beatdown, the Flames have gone 17-4-1. They were on the outside looking in after that game, fighting for the last wildcard spot. Now they have their eyes on home ice advantage in the first round, juggling in and out of 2nd and 3rd place in the Pacific Division and the first Wild Card spot in a heated race between the Flames, Ducks and Oilers.

One of the main reasons this team has been so successful since that game has been their ability to fight back after getting down by a goal. While the Flames were on that 4 game losing streak they allowed the first goal each game. They would play well, the opponent would score, and they would crumble. But that changed very quickly, they now have a record of 6-2-1 when the opponent has scored the first goal since the Montreal game.

The Flames have the ability to completely shut the game down when they lead after 2 periods. They have a record of 30-0-1 on the entire season when leading after 2. The one OT loss came in a shootout in their 3rd game of the season (the game Louis Eriksson scored an own-goal). Since then the Flames have gone 30-0-0, one of  the main reasons they went on that 10 game win streak.

The Flames solidified the defense, which has clearly helped because they have gone 10-1-0 with Michael Stone in the lineup and 12-2-1 with Matt Bartkowski in the lineup.

The goal in the video is Michael Stone’s second since coming to Calgary in a trade about a week before the deadline.

In 11 games with the Flames he has 2 goals and 3 assists, which is far better than what he had with the Arizona Coyotes. In 45 games with the Coyotes he had 1 goal and 8 assists. It has been a very good fit for the Flames and Stone. Matt Bartkowski has not been scoring but has been playing very good defensively with veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland. This pairing is mainly used as a shutdown unit, which has clearly worked given that the Flames don’t lose when leading after 40 minutes.

The chatter among Flames fans and media about Gaudreau and Monahan struggling has been put to rest now.

Gaudreau scored this spectacular goal against the Penguins to give them the lead in the 3rd. The Flames won this game in the shootout to win their 10th straight. Number 13 is the team’s leading scorer with 53 points after missing 10 games with a broken finger. During the 10 game win streak Johnny Gaudreau had two 4-point nights. The game that started the win streak (against the Predators in a 6-5 win) he had 4 assists including an assist on the game winner scored by Mark Giordano. His next 4-point night was against the Montreal Canadiens in a 5-0 shutout win. He had 1 goal and 3 assists. He also had the game winning goal in the game that started this success – against the Ottawa Senators. In a recent game against the Kings, both Gaudreau and Monahan had 1 goal and 2 assists. In their 4-2 loss against the Capitals, Gaudreau assisted Monahan. Both Gaudreau and Monahan have been a big part of the Flames success and have come up big at the best time.
And of course, the goaltending. All of those Brian Elliott doubters at the beginning of the year were proven very wrong.

And the 3M line..

They have been unbelievable all year, the most consistent line offensively and defensively. They have carried this team almost all season long. Enough said.
The Flames have been outstanding recently, but a few times this season and last season they have been really hot and sometimes been really cold. They have done enough to get a cushion in the Playoff race, but will they be able to keep up the good work in the Playoffs? We shall soon see.
 

Battle Of Alberta: Delay This Match-up

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With the way things could shape up heading into the 2017 playoffs, there is increasingly a chance that the Battle of Alberta will resume this year. Social media is abuzz with the possibility of this happening in round one.

I remember fondly all the match-ups and series of the 80’s between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. This was arguably the best hockey I have ever seen in my life, and some of the roughest and meanest. The only rivalry I have ever witnessed that has ever come close happened in the 1970’s between Montreal and Boston. Of course in the 1980’s between Calgary and Edmonton, no fans were ever attacked with their own shoe by a player climbing into the stands off the ice.

However, the 80’s had Tim Hunter, Nick Fotiu, Dave Semenko and Marty McSorely. Fans were treated constantly to the reason why Hunter’s nose was so big and misaligned: Dave Semenko had a bad habit of kneeing Hunter in the face whenever he was losing in fights between the two. Of course this happened a lot.

With Nick Fotiu I remember his legendary attempt to get to Edmonton coach Glen Sather or the non-fight he had with the Oilers’ Marty McSorley: The two skated in circles, each waiting for the other to throw the first punch. McSorley knew about Fotiu’s martial arts background and was simply not going to be the first to throw down while Fotiu was just waiting for it to happen.

Aside from the goons, Calgary had Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Gary Suter, Al MacInnis and Lanny McDonald. Edmonton had Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Mark Napier and of course Wayne Gretzky. Lanny led Calgary, Wayne led Edmonton. Both these players highlighted the difference between the two teams: Lanny was the prototypical power forward, and Gretzky was the smooth-skating superstar of the entire league. the Flames weren’t afraid to play a tough, mean game and a few of their wins can be attributed to intimidation of other teams. However, with a roster of more than just the players listed above, the Flames could also beat their opponents with skill.

The Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s were a mirror image of the Flames: They would destroy opponents with skill, but could also win the rough-and-tumble affairs with their own heavy hitters. The Oilers had a penchant for running up scores in games and embarrassing their opponents, an action that made them overall the most hated team in the NHL outside of northern Alberta. It gave the blue-collar city full of Oiler fans a chance to look down their noses at their rivals to the south, the white collar city of Calgary. The one thing fans of both teams would agree on: Whenever they met in the playoffs, that series should have been for the Stanley Cup.

Those under the age of 30 have only experienced faint shadows of what once was: A bitter rivalry with heated debates in a never-ending cycle where the only thing that mattered in an NHL season was beating the other team. When one attended or watched any regular season or playoff game between these teams, one packed a lunch. A game that should have lasted no more than 2 1/2 hours could take close to four hours from opening face-off to the final buzzer. Calgary and Edmonton weren’t the only reason the rules changed as far as fighting and having enforcers on your team, they were just the main reason.

Today, with three teams within a single point of each other, its becoming more likely that Calgary and Edmonton will face each other in round one of this year’s post season. The Flames have a fantastic opportunity to finish as high as 2nd with home ice advantage. So do the Oilers. It’s very possible these two teams can finish in 2nd and 3rd, which immediately puts them on a collision course in round one. This is not the most desirable of match-ups to kick off the playoffs.

The intensity would be great, both between the teams and between the fans, but the winning team would definitely experience a let-down going into round two. It would be inevitable. Additionally, one Canadian team is guaranteed to be eliminated in the opening round.

More than bragging rights are at stake: Edmonton is currently aware of having swept the Flames in their regular season series. Calgary, meanwhile, is fully aware that all the games played took place well before the Flames went on their impressive streak: 7 wins, 4 losses, and 1 overtime loss. While the Oilers have been in the middle of the pack for wins and losses since that last meeting in January, the Flames look to have found their game. Edmonton will want to prove hockey supremacy in Alberta, Calgary will want sweet revenge.

By the same token, provided the stars all align correctly, there is even a slim chance that these two teams could meet in the West Division Final, with the winner going on to vie for the Cup. This would be the best case scenario however unlikely. The absolute earliest these two teams should meet is round two, like it was back in the 1980’s.

Alberta fans desperately want these two teams to collide in this year’s playoffs. The league will benefit greatly from it. The hockey will be the best seen by everyone since the heyday of the 1980’s. This can be a main event match-up that will likely steal the show. It would be tragic on many levels for them to become the opening act: The rest of the post season would just feel like a letdown.

The Story of Brian Elliott this Season

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Brian Elliott’s season has been full of ups and downs this year. He was acquired from the St. Louis Blues on draft day for a 2nd round pick and a conditional 3rd round pick. When he was brought in He was pretty much expected to be the Flames number 1 goalie and finally bring solid consistent goaltending to Calgary to help them make the playoffs.

Elliott played very well in the preseason, but he got off to a miserable start with the onset of the regular season. He allowed 6 goals in the season opener as part of a 7-4 loss. Brian Elliott was 3-9-0 with a SV% of .889. It was then that Chad Johnson stepped up and went on a impressive run of 13-4-1 with 3 shutouts, ultimately saving the Flames season.

In this time at the beginning of the year the majority of Flames fans were doubting Brian Elliott and many were hoping he would get traded. But Elliott blocked out all of the noise and just focused on getting his game back, which paid off. Elliott is now 21-13-4 with a SV% of .910. Since Jan. 26 Elliott is an outstanding 13-1-1 with a SV% of .934. He is arguably the biggest part of the Flames current 10 game win streak.

One of the main themes of this win streak for Elliott is big saves at the best times. Just recently against the Penguins he robbed Crosby of a rebound chance and stopped Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in the shootout. Four of the Flames ten wins have come in overtime and in those overtime periods Elliott has come up big. He also just recently posted 2 shutouts in a row. The Flames won 5-0 against Montreal and 3-0 against the Winnipeg Jets.

Elliott is leading the league in wins since the all-star break and is in the top 3 in almost every goalie category since then. It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Elliott but naturally at this time of year he steps up. Since 2012,  March and April have seen Elliott go 33-13-3 with a 1.68 GAA and a .935 SV%. along with 14 shutouts, those numbers are phenomenal.

But it is not all done for Elliott, there are still 13 games left this season and most likely the playoffs. In the playoffs last year with St. Louis, Elliott went 9-9-2 with a 2.44 GAA and a SV% of .921. Although his record is not great those numbers are pretty good but if the Flames want a chance to go deep in the playoffs, those numbers may need to be a bit better. This is also Elliott’s last year on his current contract so if he wants to stick around in Calgary he cannot slow down.

Making A Case For “Mikael Selke”

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Mikael Backlund has arguably been the best, most consistent player for the Calgary Flames this year. Game in and game out he is tasked with taking out the opponents’ top players,  and he puts up points at a consistent pace along with that. Backlund is having a career season with 48 points in 68 games this year. Mikael Backlund’s previous scoring record was 47 points in 82 games, set last season. Backlund is also a +12 on the year. While he is putting up career numbers, his defensive play this year has been outstanding. Backlund and Frolik are the team’s most dependable penalty killers. They both block shots and are very smart but they are a very dangerous offensive threat when short-handed.

The conversation about Backlund and the Selke Trophy has caught on recently. In the past few weeks, teammates Mathew Tkachuk and a few others started calling him “Mikael Selke”, which has now caught on in the locker-room. In clutch situations, big faceoffs, big penalty kills, in the last few seconds when the opponents are pushing, Backlund will be the first one coach Glen Gulutzan will call on to hit the ice. Backlund will always be the first one to be called upon when taking defensive zone faceoffs and he plays tough minutes in the defensive zone. All of those things get overlooked.

Backlund this year has made a statement that he is one of the best two-way forwards in the past few years. But Backlund hasn’t got much exposure for his great play because all eyes have been on stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. With Johnny Gaudreau struggling early in the year it opened many eyes to the importance Mikael Backlund has to this group. When Johnny Gaudreau went down with injury, Backlund and his linemates Mathew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik carried the team offensively for those 10 games. Backlund always comes up big at the best times and leads the team with 7 game winning goals. For several years he has been very underrated: Now, its time for him to get the credit he deserves. No doubt if Mikael Backlund went down with an injury, the Flames would struggle offensively and defensively, which is why he should be a candidate for the Selke Trophy.

 

 

 

 

Troy Brouwer Needs To Step up

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Welcome new columnist Joel Mann! This is his first submission, a quick analysis on Flames' forward Troy Brouwer

I’m Joel, I have been watching the Flames since I was 5, been blogging and covering Flames for almost 2 years. Always trying to get Flames fans fast reliable coverage/news. Follow me on twitter: @CFlamesNews

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Its no secret Troy Brouwer has under-performed this year. He surely isn’t playing like somebody who makes $4.5 million annually. Brouwer has 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points in 58 games this year. He is also a -10 on the year, 9 of his points have come on the powerplay, but just recently Michael Ferland took over his powerplay spot.

Brouwer missed 8 games because of a broken finger from a slap shot from Kris Versteeg. Brouwer has been all over the Flames lineup. He used to be on the first line with Gaudreau and Monahan, then he was moved to the Fourth were he only played a few games, then he was put with Bennett and Versteeg where he has been for the 7 game win streak.

With the Curtis Lazar trade and Michael Ferland’s play of late, it has opened up many questions about if the Flames have any plans to protect Brouwer in the upcoming expansion draft.  If the Flames use the format of 7-3-1 (which I think they will) One of Brouwer, Lazar or Ferland will be left unprotected, and Treliving wants Lazar to stick around.

Whether Brouwer is protected or not will rely on his performance in the final stretch of the season and possibly the playoffs. He has had success in the playoffs, scoring the series-winning goal against Chicago in the first round of last years playoffs. In St Louis’s playoff run last year, Brouwer had 8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points in 20 playoff games, which are pretty good numbers. Still, Troy Brouwer has not played up to expectations in Calgary this year, so if he wants to stick around, he needs to up his game a lot in the final 16 games.

Should Jarome Iginla Return To The Flames?

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Jarome Iginla is arguably the second-best known Calgary Flame in the franchise’s 37-year existence. Only to the man with the moustache, Lanny McDonald, would rank higher with Theoren Fleury in third spot.

Lanny retired as a Calgary Flame, the summer after the team won its first – and only – Stanley Cup. Theo retired a Flame after rejecting a contract by the team in a comeback bid that has been seen by many as a publicity stunt for his autobiography. Jarome Iginla was traded at this year’s deadline to the Los Angeles Kings from Colorado, reuniting with coach Darryl Sutter. The move was made to give Iginla one more chance at reaching the Stanley Cup finals in his career. The Calgary Flames have recently thrown a wrench into this trade.

Currently on an incredible run, the Flames continue to distance themselves from the Kings as well as other teams vying for one of two wildcard spots. The Kings are in mortal danger of missing the 2017 post-season dance while Calgary is threatening to overtake third in the Pacific from Anaheim.

Leading up to the trade deadline, social media was awash with wishful and hopeful fans wanting Calgary to bring Jarome back into the fold. As wonderful for the fans as this might have been, it would not have helped the team and in fact might have caused harm.

The current dynamic in the dressing room is the best this team has had since their unlikely run in the playoffs two years ago. While minor tweaks here and there wouldn’t – in fact didn’t – hurt their chemistry (Stone and Bartkowski), adding such a major name would definitely upset the balance of this team just learning to trust in themselves and each other.

Iginla is at the end of his career by this point and his best producing days on the ice are behind him. He’ll be hard-pressed to score 10 more goals this season, while Calgary has enough depth both on the main roster and in Stockton to more than beat that total on right wing. The team is currently averaging 2.67 goals per game this season. Admittedly this is on the low end of respectable but that stat is for the entire season: Since losing 5-1 against the Montreal Canadiens back in January, the team has gone 12-2-1, an incredible run. In that time, they’ve been scoring at an average clip of 3.2 GPG, a very respectable stat.

Had the Flames brought Iginla back into the fold, the biggest thing he would have provided, besides a disruption to the chemistry they have found and are solidifying, is nothing more than a distraction. He would have been the main focus of the fans and the media with the unfortunate effect of having an extra burden placed on his shoulders. Management and coaches would feel obligated to a point to place Jarome in a position to fail.

Iginla is now part of this team’s legacy, which is where he belongs. However, he should one day return as a Calgary Flame – by signing a one day contract with the club then announcing his retirement. It simply not worth tarnishing his legacy at this point in time.