In Need Of A Heart Transplant: Major Re-Tooling Needed

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The supposed elimination of the NHL “tough guy” is apparently premature. This prototype is also in short supply on the Calgary Flames, as witnessed pretty much the last two seasons, and highlighted Saturday March 31 against the Edmonton Oilers. There are players on the team that fans should expect to step up when called upon. This however seems to happen way too infrequently.

 

The one player you don’t expect to have to stand up is your all-star goaltender. Yet this is exactly what we witnessed when Mike Smith took exception to the treatment dished out to Captain Mark Giordano by Edmonton’s Milan Lucic.

In case you missed it, Lucic took a swat at the calf of Giordano as play was leaving the Calgary zone and heading towards Edmonton’s end. Smith, seeing t

his, reacted with a slash of his own to Lucic in retaliation. This led to three shots in a row to Smith’s head from Lucic before anyone else – including the officials – had a chance to return to Smith’s aid. At least Mike was able to get one hit into Lucic before everyone found a dance partner.

 

So, where was everyone when this action took place? Fans have been asking this since it happened. Well, here’s the minor wrinkle in all of this: The Flames were at the time nursing a lead over Edmonton, and one thing a team does not do in a close game is give the opposition any sort of chance to get closer or pull even. But in this situation, someone should have skated back and tackled Edmonton’s #27.

This entire scene is emblematic of the core problem with this version of the team. There are no tough guys willing to take matters into their own hands. This is not to say that the Flames have no tough guys: Witness Tanner Glass willing to step out of his weight class to go toe to toe with Lucic on the very next shift after the penalties awarded from the goal crease melee had expired.

Are there too many passengers on this team? Or do the physical players not know when to be physical? Its one thing to talk about a player being physical, throw the body, tussle with someone, and its another thing altogether to be that player and know you have to do or not do what the coach says.

Too many times in the last two seasons, we’ve seen too much talent on this team and not enough toughness: Too often players have not engaged opponents physically, choosing instead to skate away or avoid contact altogether. There are a few who are regulars on the ice night in and night out who won’t hesitate to play physically. To name a few of them: Travis Hamonic, Mark Giordano, Troy Brouwer (until his facial injury), Tanner Glass, and Matthew Tkachuk. Glass has ridden the pine most of this season in the AHL. Brouwer has been horribly mis-used all year and his physicalty was shelved thanks to a puck to the face that broke his jaw. Hamonic is currently in sick bay with an “upper body injury”. Same with Tkachuck. Also in case yo haven’t noticed, the Flames dove head-first into that horrible tail-spin that ended their season the night Chucky got hurt.

This summer will be one long one for Brad Treliving. Despite everything and anything he has said in praise of his current coaching staff, Gulutzan and company will not be returning. They aren’t the only ones he will have to replace. There are several more talented individuals on this current team who will not be back next season, except as opponents.

Whatever wheeling and dealing Treliving does this summer, one thing is certain: He has to find players not afraid to get their noses dirty – players who play with an edge, an attitude. The age of the goon – Hunter, Semenko, McSorley, Milbury, Barnaby, Churla – is long gone, but that doesn’t mean an NHL team can no longer be tough. Toughness is the heart of a team, not goal scoring. The Calgary Flames need to find a heart.

In Praise Of Kelly Hrudey

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At one point in time I despised Kelly Hrudey. As a hockey fan, I did everything all fans of the game do. I would attempt to put a hex on players from other teams playing against my beloved Calgary Flames. Mr. Hrudey was no exception. It wasn’t always that way, and it of course didn’t last.

As a kid from Calgary (who cheered for the Montreal Canadiens exclusively up until 1972 when Atlanta joined the NHL), I had a passing knowledge of who Kelly Hrudey was when he played for the Medicine Hat Tigers.

In 1980 my excitement hit the roof. It was the announcement of the Atlanta Flames being bought by Nelson Skalbania, who was flipping the team to an ownership group in my hometown. For me this overshadowed the 1980 draft that saw Hrudey picked by the New York Islanders. I knew enough about Kelly by this time – I was 15 – that I would have been happy to have seen him drafted by Montreal, or even by the new Calgary-Whatevers (none of us knew what they’d be called yet). Still, going to the team that won the Cup that year (their 1st of 4) meant that he’d be in the company of some of my more favorite individual players in the league and I knew I’d be keeping up on the Islanders, culminating in cheering for them for Cup win numbers 3 and 4 and hoping for 5. Once a Calgarian, always a Calgarian, and I could never bring myself to cheer for the Oilers.

Like most of my friends, I collected hockey cards, the best of course being O-Pee-Chee. Like most of my friends I also played hockey, and being a forward (I played right wing) my favorite cards and players were guys like Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Lanny McDonald. Yet one of my most favorite hockey cards was this one of Kelly.

Being only a few years younger than Kelly, in 1987, he looked – in this photo – like one of the “cool kids” I hung around with on a regular basis after work and on weekends (We may have been in our early 20’s by this time, but we were The Cool Kids, maybe not in fact, but at least in name, belief, and attitude).

I don’t know many fans around my age who aren’t familiar with the Easter Epic, one of my all-time favorite and one of the best playoff games ever. For those of you reading who don’t know about it, the short version is game seven, four overtimes against the Washington Capitals, Kelly Hrudey in net for the Islanders facing 75 shots on net, stopping 73 en route to a 3-2 victory. That game exhausted me completely, and I was only watching it! Oh, and of course, I was cheering for New York.

I can technically blame Wayne Gretzky – again – for ticking me off not too long after that season. If I’m not mistaken, he was the driving force behind the trade that sent Kelly to the LA Kings. So now I had to despise a hockey player I didn’t hate, all because I am such a dyed-in-the-wool Flames fan! If you were a fan of Calgary’s hockey team back then, you just hated any team The Great One would have played on just as a matter of principle.

The 1993 NHL Stanley Cup Final was not fun for me. Half the fans of hockey thought that the Kings “got away with one” on a missed call in the Conference Finals, mad that it wasn’t a best of 7 between Montreal and Toronto. But here Kelly Hrudey was, in the finals with a chance to get his name on the Stanley Cup. He was also Wayne Gretzky’s team mate, and the two almost negated each other for me. Add to that their opponent, the Montreal Canadiens. I was not a fan of Patrick Roy, and there is a reason for this that I won’t go into on record.

It was a true conundrum for me as we hosted viewing parties at the nightclub I was DJ’ing in at the time on the 11th Avenue strip in Calgary once known as “Electric Avenue” – a huge concentration of bars and nightclubs all on one block, and a practical guarantee that you would run into NHL players on a game night after a game. We were almost being forced to pick a team to cheer for by management so we could encourage a sense of fan rivalry in the bar. Of course as we all know, the Canadiens won and became the last Canadian-based team to hoist the trophy.

FILE — 22 Apr 1998: Goaltender Kelly Hrudey of the San Jose Sharks in action during a game against the Dallas Stars at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. The Stars won the game, 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport

Kelly ended his pro career with the San Jose Sharks, retiring after the 1997-98

season, but he wasn’t done with hockey. Before his retirement, he would join the Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts if his team had missed the playoffs. It was at this time I came to appreciate his knowledge not of just the game, but the players and coaches and referees as well. I always looked forward to Behind The Mask to hear Kelly’s analysis of that particular game or any of the other games that were played on those Saturdays.

Hard to believe that 2001 was so long ago, but I was excited to discover that Kelly Hrudey would finally wear the Flaming “C”, even if it was just a CBC feature taking viewers through the Flames’ training camp. I grabbed the Calgary Sun daily to read each entry penned by Kelly.

This brings me to the heart of this blog: Kelly Hrudey’s position as color analyst on regional broadcasts of the Calgary Flames’ games. There are times he will be critical of the team to the point he upsets a few “more blind” fans. What people need to do is appreciate the fact we have Kelly as the color guy for the Flames. I have heard too many other broadcasts of other games around the league, either radio or TV, that are atrocious and have no basis in any form or reality. Not to mention cities, teams, or individuals that certain color analysts have painted the home team as impervious to mistakes: Anything that happens is the other teams’ fault, or the reffing is always wrong, etc. This is a very tame description of some things I have heard on radio and even regional TV broadcasts for certain rivals of the Calgary Flames in the past, and still do to this day, if I ever decide to catch those cities’ local broadcasts.

Kelly deserves recognition for fair and fairly unbiased colour commentary and analysis nine times out of ten. Nobody is perfect and there is the odd occasion where he might sound either a bit biased or overly critical, but this is a rare event, where other commentators seem to utilize this type of commentary as a rule rather than the exception. When listening to other colour commentators, I appreciate all that much more the fact the Kelly was hired to provide colour for the Flames’ regional broadcasts.

When I see on Twitter the rare instance of someone bashing Hrudey’s commentary, I wonder if those people have ever caught a broadcast on some Fox channels, the Vancouver regional games, or ever listened to Edmonton Oiler radio broadcasts. This city is blessed to have Hrudey riding shotgun for the Flames’ games on Sportsnet. This is not taking anything away from Cassie Campbell-Pascall or Louie DeBrusk (in my opinion DeBrusk looks like he could be Kelly’s kid brother by the way), but Kelly brings something to the broadcasts that seems missing when he’s otherwise obligated or engaged and unable to work certain games. The good news is he appears on the panel during Hockey Night In Canada on Saturdays. This is a good counterweight and needed balance to Nick Kypreos (again, this being an opinion column, that is my opinion).

Kelley Hrudey’s book on his time in the NHL, with Kirstie McLellan-Day

I can’t wait to read Kelley’s book, Calling the Shots. I’ve hinted to my son (also a goalie) that this would be a great gift for his old man. Fathers’ Day is upcoming and as a result, I am holding off buying the book myself to give Owen one last chance to get the hint. After that, I will get it on my own. (I’ve actually read the book already, but I’m not telling my son that). If you are one of the few hockey fans yet to read this tome, i strongly encourage you to do so.

 

In closing, Thank you Kelley Hrudey for the insights and the commentary on Sportsnet Flames broadcasts. As this failed season comes to its inevitable denouement I take solace in knowing Kelley will be appearing on HNIC playoff hockey broadcasts. A lot of us will be looking forward to the onset of the 2018-2019 season with a hopeful rebirth of the Calgary Flames – and the return of Kelley Hrudey alongside Rick Ball for the new season.

Sir Rockin’s “EXPERT” NHL Predictions 2017 Edition

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It is that time of the year to break down the league in my ANNUAL Expert NHL Picks. Should be noted that I have no inside information, nor is this an annual thing, in fact this is the first time I am doing such a prediction.

With that out of the way, Here we go!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

Bruins 102
Canadiens 101
Lightning 99
Senators 98
Red Wings 98
Panthers 92
Maple Leafs 87
Sabres 80

Metropolitan Division

Penguins 115
Capitals 112
Rangers 100
Blue Jackets 99
Flyers 97
Hurricanes 94
Islanders 89
Devils 78

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division

Blues 108
Blackhawks 107
Predators 104
Wild 99
Stars 95
Jets 85
Avalanche 68

Pacific Division
Oilers 107
Sharks 104
Ducks 101
Flames 99
Kings 90
Canucks 82
Coyotes 75
Golden Knights 57

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

RANGERS VS BRUINS

BREAKDOWN: To me, this is the year Boston makes their move. They have been close in the last few years, but have had a few hiccups along the way, including having to be in the same conference as the Penguins and the Capitals. I think this year we are in for a shakeup. I think while the Capitals and Penguins will probably be on top as the Playoffs start, I think they will run out of energy down the end. After so many games year after year, it takes a bit of tred off of those tires, which is why I think the Bruins will be able to power through the conference and make it to the Finals.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

BLUES VS OILERS

BREAKDOWN: Let’s continue on with the theme of a shakeup. It gets repetitive when the same teams and the same players make it to the finals. Look at the NBA, everyone already knows what the finals are going to be. The days of the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals is over. After the Rams left the city, it is time to give St. Louis something to get behind.

STANLEY CUP FINALS

BLUES VS BRUINS

WINNER: BLUES

BREAKDOWN: Who isn’t rooting for a Boston vs St. Louis showdown? I know I am. Big cities with historical franchises, that is a ratings BONANZA! It is a gut feeling to be that this is going to be St. Louis’ year. They have been improving over the last couple of years and it is time for them to break through and take the cup this year.

Do you agree? Disagree? Tweet me @WildTalkRadio

Curses! Foiled Again!

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Twenty-eight.

That’s the current number of consecutive losses the Calgary Flames have now amassed at Honda Center in Anaheim. That number includes game one of these 2017 playoffs between the Flames and Anaheim’s Ducks.

The irony is that this game was eminently winnable for Calgary’s team. If not for one brief moment of what can only be called a brain-freeze, the Ducks would not have had a 3-on-0 spearheaded by goalie John Gibson, and would not have scored a gift-goal on Brian Elliott who was left all alone as the Flames attempted a complete line change. Until this point, the Flames held a 2-1 lead and had outplayed the Ducks for most of the game. the tying goal changed that by causing the team’s play to become disorganized long enough for the Ducks to capitalize one more time for the go-ahead – and game winning – goal with Brian Elliott screened on the scoring shot by one of his own team-mates.

A total of two simple blunders cost Calgary game one Thursday night. Otherwise, they played well enough to win. Their game wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t textbook, but it was working. The look on every Flames’ face when they tied the game was in the first one of optimism and the look they all shared with the 2-1 goal was one of belief: From Johnny Gaudreau to Troy Brouwer, they appeared to believe they could kill The Curse on that night. That lasted right up until that line-change goal, when belief in winning turned into a belief in bad luck.

Give Gibson credit: If he hadn’t been on his toes and noticed all five players were leaving the ice at the same time, the outcome could have been quite different.

Time to deal with the fact that The Curse might just be a real thing. Curses however were made to be broken, and tonight is another chance to do so. The Flames have to play a near-perfect game. It won’t have to be their best game (though that would be nice), it just has to be mistake-free while taking advantage of every opportunity they can get. If they stick with their system, they have a real shot at winning tonight.

If one simple little goof-up translates into a goal and a loss, it might be time to call in Major League‘s Cerrano Jones to invoke a little voodoo in favor of the Flames in the form of sacrificing a chicken or – preferably – a Duck.

5 Things the Flames Need to Do in Order to Beat the Ducks

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The Flames are certainly the underdogs coming into Thursday night where they will play the Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the Flames don’t have a chance at winning the series. If the Flames can do the following I believe they have a good chance at winning the series.

1: Play Physical

The Ducks are a very physical team, and the Flames need to match that. The guys to do that job will be mainly  Deryk Engelland, Sam Bennett, Michael Stone, Matthew Tkachuk and of course Michael Ferland. Quick thing on Michael Ferland: When the Flames went on the surprising and exciting 2015 playoff run it was largely on his back. He had 2 goals and 2 assists, 40 hits in 6 games vs the Canucks. He didn’t provide much scoring, but he got very under the skin of the Canucks, especially Kevin Bieksa, who he will play come Thursday. You can almost guarantee the Ducks will be coming after Ferland and also Mark Giordano because of his hit on Cam Fowler. Too often when there has been lots of fighting and rough stuff it throws the Flames off their game. In this series they can’t let that happen. The Flames need to play physical, but they cant let the rough stuff get out of hand. If you want to see the damage Michael Ferland can do in the playoffs, watch this:

2. Solid goaltending

Every cup team needs solid goaltending, but especially against the Ducks. Goals are hard to come by against the Ducks because of their defensive style of play, so Brian Elliott needs to play big. He can’t be allowing 3-4 goals because the offence may not be able to score that much. Besides that 8-3 beatdown by the Flames, in the other 4 games the Flames played against the Ducks they only scored 6 goals, losing by scores of 4-1, 3-1, 4-3, and 3-1.

If the Flames can’t score much against the Ducks Brian Elliott will be the biggest factor in this series. The difference between this years team and 2015’s team is mainly the goaltending. Despite the shaky start for the goalies in Calgary the goaltending has vastly improved. In the 2015 playoff run, there would be some good games for Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller, but it was ridiculously inconsistent. Since the all-star break this year it has been very consistent, and Elliott shows no signs of slowing down his spectacular play as of late.

3. Production from the Back End

The Flames were 4th in the league in terms of defensive point production with 176 points. Their point leaders from the point were Dougie Hamilton with 50 (career high) Mark Giordano with 39, and TJ Brodie with 36 points. The Ducks top 3 defenseman scorers are Cam Fowler (who will not play) with 39 points, Sami Vatanen with 24 points, and Hampus Lindholm with 20 points. So the Flames own the edge in defensive scoring by a wide margin, which will be effective. When you have blueliners like Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie and Michael Stone, they turn almost every line into a threat to score. Their defense is a big reason why the Flames are one of the most balanced-scoring-teams  in the NHL, and the team will need them to be big.

4. Play a fast game

Well that’s what can happen if the Flames use their speed against the Ducks. This goal happened in the 2015 playoffs when Johnny Gaudreau just went right through the ducks team to set up Sean Monahan. To be clear, I’m not saying every rush up the ice has to be embarrassing the entire Ducks team and scoring a goal, but they need to use the speed they have in their lineup to get good breakouts and a clean zone entry because if the Flames don’t use that speed, zone entry will be very difficult because of the way the Ducks play. The players that will be a big factor in playing fast are of course Johnny Gaudreau, also Sam Bennett, Michael Ferland, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk.

5. Winning faceoffs

The importance of winning faceoffs in this series is huge. The Ducks are one of the better faceoff teams in the league, operating at a faceoff win % of 54.69. The Flames faceoff win % is 48.93. Mikael Backlund will likely be facing Ryan Getzlaf in the faceoff circle which will not be easy, also Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette have done well in the faceoff circle this year. Defensive zone faceoffs will be one of the bigger parts of the game, the usual player to take the draws is Mikael Backlund, who so far has done very well . They will need him to come up big in the circle as well as Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan.

Let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @JMannFlames

 

 

 

 

 

The Playoffs Are Officially Back In Calgary

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Coming off a convincing 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the Flames clinch a playoff berth (their second time in 3 years).

 After a disappointing season last year, the playoffs have returned to Calgary.  But this year the team is much stronger and more complete. This season was full of ups and downs, here was there season summed up in a few lines:

  • Bad Start
  • Gaudreau Injury
  • Chad Johnson Steps up and goes on impressive 11-4-1 run
  • The team goes on a bad 4 game losing streak ultimately being dressed down publicly by an angry coach
  • Brian Elliott picks it up and the Flames start winning
  • They go on a 10 game winning streak
  • They Clinch a playoff spot

So now that the Flames have clinched a playoff spot its time to start thinking about match-ups. Right now the biggest possibilities for the Flames to play are:

Anaheim Ducks:

Right now the most likely match-up for the Flames is the Anaheim Ducks, which may scare some Flames fans. Of course everyone knows about the struggles at the Honda Center. The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since 2004. But this year’s Flames team is one of the best Flames team I have seen in a long time, If the Flames play the Ducks in a series I wouldn’t be surprised if they finally got a win in Anaheim. The Ducks are currently leading the season series 2-1 and they will be in Calgary Sunday.

Edmonton Oilers:

If you are any kind of hockey fan you want to see a Battle Of Alberta playoff series. It would be a fantastic, entertaining series that nobody would want to miss. But the Flames have struggled against the Oilers this year, the Oilers swept the Season series 4-0. The Oilers played the Flames 2 times in the beginning of the year and we all know how that turned out(7-4 loss, 5-3 loss). Flames lost in a shootout the next meeting and got embarrassed at home losing 7-3. However, all of these games were before the Flames got really hot and put together an amazing final stretch to the end of the season. The thing about the Oilers is their lack of playoff experience, Connor McDavid (a very large part of the Oilers success) has never played a playoff game, neither has Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. That could play a factor into the Oilers success in the playoffs and if the Flames would want that match-up.

San Jose Sharks:

It does not look likely that the Flames will play the Sharks but anything can happen. The Flames have done well against San Jose this year, they are leading the season series 3-1. But the Sharks obviously have lots of talent and players that come up big during the playoffs like Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau etc. But given the success the Flames have had against the Sharks and the Sharks recent struggles I wouldn’t mind this as a first round match-up.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Nobody would ever want to play the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and I would think every Flames fan feels the same way, we do not want to see the Flames play the Blackhawks in a series.

Right now the Flames hold the 1st Wild Card spot with 92 points, they are chasing down the Sharks (93 points), the Oilers (95 points) and the Ducks (96 points). With the remainder of the Flames schedule all against California teams it will be an interesting finish to the season.

What do you think? Who would you want the Flames to play in the first Round? And why? Comment what you think below or on my Twitter, @JMannFlames!

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.