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.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now? Glen Gulutzan On The Hotseat

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If you’re a follower of any sports-related social media in Calgary these days, you will notice fans of the Calgary Flames are asking questions and demanding answers. Looking at the Flames on paper before the current season started, it looked like the team should have been formidable on the ice this year; a powerhouse with the potential to make a lot of noise in their division, in the conference and league-wide. Up front the team boasts players such as perennial 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan, top points-getter Johnny Gaudreau, one of the best two-way forwards in Mikael Backlund and 2nd year disturber Matthew Tkachuk. Names such as Captain Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Travis Hamonic would patrol the back end with the promise of delivering a combination of physical play and added offensive depth. Add to this the last line of defense, All-Star and elite goalie Mike Smith, and most fans and hockey scribes around the league had pegged this year’s version of the Flames as a dangerous upper tier team.

Right out of the gate however, this team exposed its collective weaknesses starting with game one of the season against the Edmonton Oilers. This continued for the majority of the season with mediocre play right when they needed to show they were “in it to win it”, as the saying goes.

This isn’t to say there weren’t flashes of brilliance: The team finally broke the Honda Center curse in Anaheim, not only beating the Ducks in enemy territory, but doing so by garnering goalie Smith his first shut out as a Calgary Flame. Tkachuk (or “Chucky”) has pretty much cemented himself in the eyes and hearts of Calgary fans as #1 favorite overall with his aggressive and sometimes chippy, agitator play combined with his becoming the #2 goal scorer on this team. “Johnny Hockey” dazzling yet again this season en route to becoming an actual contender in the NHL scoring race. The team has shown they can hang with the elites of the league such as the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The disappointments however outshine the accomplishments. The team has consistently iced an abysmal power play that only improved slightly once Dougie Hamilton was finally put out on the ice, yet it still underperforms nightly. In referencing said power play, certain players are stubbornly put out in man-advantage situations that should stay glued to the bench. Coverage in the defensive zone is weak, leading to too many shots directed at Smith and too many goals against. Shortcomings in the offensive zone are led by missed shots. This team leads the league in missing the net by almost 100 shots. There are too many physically capable players not playing pysically. The wrong players are lined up with each other or put into the wrong situations on the ice.

It’s true the players are the ones on the ice playing the game, not the coaching staff. However, it is the coaching staff that assigns players, lines, units. It is the coaching staff that tells the players how to perform their jobs. Past incarnations of the Calgary Flames have gone further with less talent than this year’s edition possesses – and that, dear reader, is because of the coaching.

Glen Gulutzan has consistenly refused to shorten the bench in critical situations – generally when the team is down by a goal in the last minutes of a game. This would be the time to keep the fourth line stapled to the bench and ice the best chances of tying said games. Players who should play exclusively in defensive situations and who are good at protecting the lead wind up on the ice when the team needs to score.

Of all the games played to this point in this season, we fans have been treated to some very entertaining games from the Flames. However, the best game they played all season took place on March 13. On this night, the Calgary Flames finally beat the Edmonton Oilers for the first time in over 2 seasons. The final score of 1-0 may not sound monumental – and it wasn’t a drubbing by any means- but it was the actions on the ice in the last half of the third period that showed this team could have been so much more this past year. The Oilers, led by Connor McDavid, were kept to the outside up against the boards. Both the forwards and the defencemen were properly blocking shots, dropping to the ice and letting Mike Smith see and square himself to the shooter, just in case the puck did get through. It was Smith’s second game back from injury. It has also been his only win since returning.

Since coming back from injury Mike Smith has had exactly one weak game. Even then, pucks beat him thanks to screenings and deflections off team mates. He’s even been spotted during games giving his defense the evil eye after failing to stop the puck here and there. The jaundiced looks have been earned but they are also troublesome. The chemistry this team has is at its most fragile in almost a decade and at times the tension is almost palpable between certain players.

Add to this the underachievers on this team and you have a recipe for disaster. but where to lay the blame? Leadership, that’s where. Not the leadership on the ice – Giordano, Monahan, Brouwer – but the leadership that guides this team: The coaching staff.

As a whole, this group at times gives off the impression that they have given up on Coach Gulutzan and Dave Cameron. The majority of fans are also expressing that sentiment, though not in so many words. This blogger actually questioned this in December of 2016. The team gave up on Bob Hartley. It was during the exit meetings in the spring of 2016 that they expressed their dislike of playing for the Jack Adams winner, and their play most of that 2015-16 season certainly reflected this. It will definitely not come as a shock if they have similar complaints at the end of this season.

At this time, a playoff run this year seems unlikely, if still possible. With that outside chance to get into the post-season, the Flames would likely be swept again in the first round like last year. If this happens, Gulutzan and Cameron should be fired. If the more likely scenario – no playoffs this year – occurs, then Gulutzan and Cameron should be fired the day after the last regular season game ends. The only way the head coach has a shot at keeping his job would be guiding his team to a very surprising, deep playoff run. In any case, Dave Cameron needs to go no matter what. The problem is the high turnover rate the coaching staff has gone through since even before Darryl Sutter was initially hired on. Averaging a new coaching staff every 2 years is not exactly a good thing.

If the Flames pull the trigger and finally spend a few dollars on a proven coach like they did with Darryl Sutter – a well-known name – then the team had better respond accordingly. If not, then a wholesale set of changes on the ice should take place, and it should take place in the middle of next season, not after it ends.

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

Succeeding in 2018 – The One Thing

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As of right now, there are a lot of expectations laid on the shoulders of the 2017 – 2018 edition of the Calgary Flames. After righting the ship mid-season, they coasted into the playoffs, only to get swept in 4 against their arch-nemeses, the Anaheim Ducks. Despite the consecutive losses, the series was actually closer than the final outcome actually dictated. Since the season ended, GM Brad Treliving has not sat idle. The team has definitely upgraded over last season’s edition.

The goaltending issue of last year has been addressed. Brian Elliott was allowed to walk and back up goalie Chad Johnson was traded to Arizona. Rather, Elliott was not offered a new deal after his current one expired, and fellow free agent Johnson had his rights traded – in addition to defensive prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional 2018 3rd round draft pick – to Arizona for Mike Smith. The Coyotes also wind up absorbing 25% of Smith’s $6.6 million dollar annual cap hit (that’s approximately $1.7 million in savings). There was a lot of initial speculation that Johnson would eschew an offer from the Coyotes and re-sign as a free agent with hometown Calgary. An offer never materialized and Johnson signed with Buffalo.

Additionally, Flames GM Brad Treliving was able to nab Eddie Lack from the Carolina Hurricanes, not only for Keegan Kanzig and a 2019 draft pick, but he managed to save money – again – by having Carolina retain 50% of Lack’s salary. (Doesn’t it almost seem weird to have another team pay a portion of your player’s salary?)

Not only did the Flames (arguably) upgrade seriously in net, Treliving then went out and acquired Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, along with a fourth round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. The cost? Calgary’s first and second round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and a second round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. While the team loses possibly valuable picks, they do not give up any current keeper players or prospects. Hamonic will replace the departed Dennis Wideman, and ask any fan of the Flames, he will not be missed.

While all this change and upgrading is good, fans need to be cautioned that although the team has signalled that it is now ready to contend for the Cup, there is one thing it absolutely has to accomplish this upcoming season to be taken as a legitimate threat.

Beat. The. Curse.

 

Calgary has upgraded significantly from last season and the moves Brad Treliving has made has sent the signal that the team is now ready to go all out for the post-season. No more sneaking in through the wild card door, the team is going to go gunning for seeding. Calgary can be expected to jockey for position with the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks.

Throughout the years, the Flames have traded even blows with the Sharks and, up until last season, they basically “owned” the Oilers for the better part of a decade and a half. While the Oilers took all the games last season, Flames fans didn’t lose sleep over the losses: All the Battle of Alberta games took place during various Calgary slumps and the fanbase was happy to point this out to the smug and arrogant Oilers’ fans who finally had something to cheer about after eleven seasons.

One team they have not had any success against happen to be the Ducks. With one regular season win in Anaheim in 13 1/2 years, any time these two teams are scheduled to play each other, fans watch almost resigned to the eventual outcome. There is always the support of “we’ll beat the curse tonight!”, but while the hope has always been there, it has always seemed half-hearted. This upcoming season though, feels a bit different.

Herein lies the key to not just a successful season but success in the playoffs as well. The Calgary Flames have to build around a game plan to beat the Ducks. Only when they figure out a way to stand up to the Pacific Division bullies will they be considered true post-season threats.

This is not the first time the team has had to figure out a way to beat a nemesis opponent. It happened in the 1980’s. “Badger” Bob Johnson and “Trader” Cliff Fletcher built a team that could finally knock off the Edmonton Oilers. Once that happened, the league took notice of the small market team from Southern Alberta. In 1984, the team took Edmonton to seven games. In 1986, the Flames knocked the Oilers off in seven games, winning a tightly contested series which ultimately propelled the team into its first Stanley Cup appearance against the Montreal Canadiens.

The point is, this is not new territory or a new idea. It has happened before. It CAN happen again. It can all start as early as this season, as all eyes focus onto the Honda Center in Anaheim on October 9 in anticipation of finally putting an end to The Curse.

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.

Uphill Battle: Underdogs Face Monumental Task

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Here it is, the 2017 NHL playoff matches were solidified on Sunday (April 9) and with it seemingly impossible tasks for at least two teams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Austin Matthews, face the league juggernaut Washington Capitals in a battle that many are predicting will be a sweep of the Blue Buds. The other monumtental task faces the Johnny Gaudreau-led Calgary Flames. While these two teams should match up closer on paper than they do on the ice, nobody is predicting a 4-game series in this one. However a vast majority are still predicting a Ducks’ victory, in five or six games.

This certainly has the Calgary Flames fan base seething and – pardon the pun – seeing red. After the final two regular season games between these teams, coupled with “the streak” in Anaheim, the play of certain Ducks’ players and Ducks’ GM Bob Murray’s comments calling Flames’ Captain Mark Giordano a “dirty player”, a great many people spoken to admit they want to see the team get at least a modicum of revenge on the team seen as most fowl (yes, I used a really bad pun) in the city of Calgary.

One thing is certain: If the Flames wind up being drawn in to the Ducks’ game, the series is over fast. Players like Matt Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland, Deryk Engelland and Sam Bennet will have to walk the line in this series, avoid taking stupid penalties and at the same time be the quartet to get under the skin of the likes of Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler.

For the Flames to have a real chance, they need to force the turnover, embrace puck possession, stand up at the blueline, keep the ducks out of the middle of the ice and up against the boards, and make life unpleasant as possible in the crease for Anaheim’s John Gibson. Additionally, “the curse” has to be laid to rest once and for all.

While I do not expect to see Toronto win more than one game this year (sorry Leafs fans, but I am being objective here), I think that Calgary can stretch this series to either six or seven games. Of course this means they have to learn to win again at the Honda Center. Their last win there did come in the playoffs – in 2005-2006. If they can win one game in Anaheim, then they will have to run the table in Calgary at the Saddledome.

As far as true first round upsets go, there are only really two that would be considered shockers: Toronto upsetting the Capitals, and The Flames upsetting Anaheim. The best chance of an upset starts Thursday in California. As long as Brian Elliott stays hot and keeps playing the way he has the last eight weeks, Calgary’s chances improve dramatically.

While it is a definite uphill battle, the Flames can beat the Ducks as long as they play Calgary Flames hockey. Remember the 5 goals in 6 minutes scored back in December of this season:

Go Flames go!

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

 

 

 

 

 

Flames draw Ducks in First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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With the Ducks defeating the Kings in overtime, they finish 1st in the division, which means they will play the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs.

It was just 2 years ago that the Flames played the Ducks in a playoff series. It was quite an exciting series, but the Flames lost it in 5 games. Of course its hard not to talk about the Flames’ failure to get wins in Anaheim, but their last win in Anaheim came in a playoff series in 2006 that they won 5-2. But that is not the biggest story of this series right now.

The last time the Flames played the Ducks was April 4. We all know how that turned out: The Flames went up 1-0 after playing a very strong first period. Then the Ducks scored 2 straight to lead 2-1 going into the 3rd, when things got out of hand. In the 3rd period alone there were 106 penalty minutes handed out. Most fights broke out largely due to a controversial hit from Captain Mark Giordano on Duck defenseman Cam Fowler.

The Ducks’ strength comes on the back end with their defense, but it took a big blow against the Flames with Cam Fowler going down with a knee injury.

“I have no use … I mean, the big thing in hockey today is concussions, but I still, as an old player, have no use for knee-on-knee hits, and especially if I think they are somewhat intentional. I hear how Gio is a good guy, and he’s this and he’s that. The media in Toronto is saying, ‘Well, he’s a good guy.’ Well, he’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees. I’m sorry, but knees, they wreck your careers real quick. I don’t like it.” Ducks GM Bob Murray said this to the media following the game.

Cam Fowler will be out from 2-6 weeks, so he is likely going to miss the full series, of course you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but that will help the Flames.

With all that occurred in that game April 4th,  fans of both teams could expect a lot of rough stuff from the Ducks and Flames come Thursday. Almost everyone is  certain that Ducks players may take a run at Mark Giordano, (Cough Cough Kevin Bieksa). Be sure tempers will flare come playoff time.

The Flames have played the Ducks in 2 playoffs series, they played in the 2005-2006 year where they lost in 7 games. They also played in the 2014-2015 season where they lost in 5 games. Their playoff record against the Ducks is 4 wins 8 losses.

Some things to watch for:

Michael Ferland is a lot more valuable in the playoffs. In the Flames surprising playoff appearance in 2015, Michael Ferland was a true leader. His role was to hit, annoy the other team, repeat. Which worked very well. Ferland’s big hits would get the crowd into it, would get the team into it, and most importantly would get the opponents mad at him and get them to take a bad penalty. Be sure to watch Ferland and Kevin Bieksa, because they really don’t like each other. Ferland also produced some scoring, mainly his goal to start the comeback in game 6 against the Canucks, but his rugged, physical play will be a big factor in this series.

Flames are a much more experienced team when it comes to the playoffs now. With the additions of Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg the Flames now have loads of playoff experience. On the roster the Flames have a combined 475 playoff games played. These player should be valuable in helping out players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett when the playoffs come.

Also Jon Gillies has been recalled by the Flames which likely says something about Chad Johnson’s injury. But it will be Brian Elliott who will be playing every game unless the injury bug bites him. Last year with St. Louis he had a great playoff run, and he will need to be a factor in this series especially in Anaheim.

The series starts Thursday 10:30 ET/8:30 MT. Flames vs Ducks. Its going to be a good physical series, so get ready.

 

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!