The NHL season has wrapped up, and the playoffs are set to begin Wednesday night.
16 teams are vying to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, and ten of those teams start Wednesday.
Playoff hockey kicks off when the Columbus Blue Jackets head to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning. The Lightning are the favorites to win the cup this year, and finished the season with an impressive record of 62-16-4.
Other action on Wednesday will see the New York Islanders host the Pittsburgh Penguins, The Winnipeg Jets hosting the St. Louis Blues, the Nashville Predators hosting the Dallas Stars, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights will Travel to San Jose to play the Shark.
“The (Tampa Bay) Lightning are favorites to win the cup this year”
Our hometown Calgary Flames won’t be in action until Thursday, when the Colorado Avalanche come to town. Playoff fever is already starting to take hold in Calgary, as more and more people are starting to don the flaming “C”. The Flames will be hosting viewing parties for all home games in the parking lot of the Scotiabank Saddledome. Entry is free, and members of the C of Red of all ages are welcomed to attend.
For the first time since the 2005-06 season, the Calgary Flames have secured the Western Conference title. The Flames have had an amazing regular season with a 49-23-7 record. After their 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks the Flames are now on their quest for the Stanley Cup.
“To get where we are with these guys says a lot about this group and the resiliency of this group.”
Since the Flames clinched the top title in their division winning in San Jose they will have the home advantage for the first three rounds towards their Stanley Cup pursuit. The Flames came out on fire in the first period with three goals within a 75 second span against the Sharks. Flames Goaltender Mike Smith says “to get where we are with these guys says a lot about this group and the resiliency of this group” after his 12 saves in the game. Their perch atop the Western Conference translates that the team has the skills it takes to win the Stanley Cup this year if they keep it up on the ice.
The Calgary Flames have clinched the Western conference for the first time in 29 years. With that they also clinched the Pacific division as well.
The Flames went on a California road trip on Sunday hoping to clinch the top spot after a home loss against the Dallas Stars. Many players were excited for the possible feat to be achieved and they certainly brought the excitement against their opponent the San Jose Sharks.
Calgary won the game 5-3 to then be crowned the Western conference champs. Sean Monahan opened the scoring for the Flames with his 34th of the season. Mark Jankowski, Dalton Prout, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik also added to the stockpile of goals.
“That doesn’t come around very often, so it says a lot about the group in here.”
-Calgary Flames net minder Mike Smith
Timo Meier, Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc scored for the Sharks.
Being the top of the west has it’s perks. The Flames will have home ice advantage against their playoff opponent for the first 3 rounds of this Stanley cup hunt.
“It’s a great accomplishment for this team and this organization to finish first place in the Western Conference,” said Flames goaltender Mike Smith who was in-between the pipes in that game. “That doesn’t come around very often, so it says a lot about the group in here.”
The Flames won their next game against the Los Angeles Kings 7-2 and lost in the hands of the Anaheim Ducks 3-1. The Calgary Flames will come back home for the last game of the regular season against the Edmonton Oilers for the Battle of Alberta, right before the playoffs commence.
For the fifth time in franchise history – 8 seasons in Atlanta and 37 in Calgary – the Flames have reached the 100-point mark in the NHL standings.
The previous times the Flames reached 100 points included:
1987-88: 105 pts (48-23-9)
1988-89: 117 pts (54-17-9) ** won Stanley Cup **
1990-91: 100 pts (46-26-8)
2005-06: 103 pts (46-25-11)
With 101 points and a record of 47-21-7 through 75 games, this year’s edition of the Flames has already surpassed the 1990-91 team, and with 7 games remaining in the regular season, it isn’t unrealistic to believe that they could also pass the 2005-06 team and the squad from back in 1987-88.
Here’s a look at the current NHL Western Conference standings, as of the evening of March 24th:
(Courtesy of NHL.com)
The Flames have a 5-point lead on the San Jose Sharks, who have lost five-straight games, and 7-point lead on the Winnipeg Jets for first in the west.
It is safe to say at this point that the Flames have surpassed all pre-season expectations, and this regular season has been a resounding success. This team missed the playoffs by 11 points last year, and the bounce-back has been incredible.
But how did that happen?
In this final edition of the “Road to the Red Mile” blog, we will compare the 2017-18 Flames with the 2018-19 Flames, and try to make some sense of how they got this good, this quickly.
2017-2018 Calgary Flames team stats:
Total Points: 84 points (20th in NHL)
Record: 37-35-10 (missed playoffs by 11 points)
Goals For: 216 (27th in NHL)
Goals Against: 243 (13th in NHL)
Goals-per-game: 2.63 (27th in NHL)
Powerplay: 16.0% (29th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (7th in NHL)
Shots-per-game: 33.6 (6th in NHL)
Faceoff-win Percentage: 49.4% (19th in NHL)
2018-2019 Calgary Flames team stats (through 75 games):
Total Points: 101 points (2nd in NHL)
Goals For: 268 (2nd in NHL)
Goals Against: 206 (23rd in NHL)
Goals-per-game: 3.57 (2nd in NHL)
Powerplay: 20.7% (13th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 79.7% (19th)
Shots-per-game: 32.3 (14th in NHL)
Faceoff-win Percentage: 52.0% (3rd in NHL)
This year’s Calgary Flames are beating last year’s squad in basically every category.
The one I would like to focus on, however, is the offense. In one calendar year, the Flames went from 27th (out of 31 teams) in the league for goals scored, to second. Calgary looks like a much deeper team offensively than they did in 2017-18, so where did all those goals come from?
Players from Calgary’s 2017-18 roster that are no longer with the team:
Matt Bartkowski (D): 2 pts in 18 GP
Troy Brouwer (F): 22 pts in 76 GP
Michael Ferland (F): 41 pts in 77 GP
Tanner Glass (F): 0 pts in 16 GP
Dougie Hamilton (D): 44 pts in 82 GP
Freddie Hamilton (F): 1 pt in 8 GP
Jaromir Jagr (F): 7 pts in 22 GP
Brett Kulak (D): 8 pts in 71 GP
Nick Shore (F): 3 pts in 9 GP
Matt Stajan (F): 12 pts in 68 GP
Chris Stewart (F): 3 pts in 7 GP
Kris Versteeg (F): 8 pts in 24 GP
Those 12 players from last year’s team totaled 151 points.
Of note, 9 of those 13 players are not NHL regulars this season.
New to Calgary’s roster this year:
Austin Czarnik (F): 14 pts in 47 GP
Oscar Fantenberg (D): 1 pt in 10 GP
Noah Hanifin (D): 30 pts in 75 GP
James Neal (F): 15 pts in 56 GP
Elias Lindholm (F): 77 pts in 75 GP
Dalton Prout (D): 1 pt in 15 GP
Alan Quine (F): 4 pts in 11 GP
Derek Ryan (F): 33 pts in 74 GP
These 8 players that are new to the Flames this season, have totaled 175 points so far this year.
But of course, it’s not just new guys who have had an impact offensively. Big steps have been taken internally by young guns within the organization, who have become NHL-regulars this season.
Drafted #53 overall by the Flames in 2015 (22-years-old)
Last season: 0 pts in 10 GP with the Flames
This year: 16 pts in 72 GP
Undrafted signing by the Flames in 2015 (27-years-old)
Last season: 13 pts in 59 GP
This year: 16 pts in 69 GP
Drafted #166 overall by the Flames in 2015 (22-years-old)
Last season: 0 pts in 10 GP
This year: 11 pts in 37 GP (including 6 pts in his last 10 GP)
Drafted #60 overall by the Flames in 2015 (21-years-old)
Last season: 0 pts in 1 GP
This year: 7 pts in 36 GP
And then of course, the Flames are seeing career years from many of their players.
If you compare the Flames top-10 scorers from 2017-18 to this season, the change is noticeable.
Flames top-10 scorers, 2017-18:
J. Gaudreau (24-60-84 pts)
S. Monahan (31-33-64 pts)
M. Tkachuk (24-25-49 pts)
M. Backlund (14-31-45 pts)
D. Hamilton (17-27-44 pts) **
M. Ferland (21-20-41 pts) **
M. Giordano (13-25-38 pts)
T. Brodie (4-28-32 pts)
S. Bennett (11-15-26 pts)
M. Jankowski (17-8-25 pts)
** players who are no longer with the Flames
Flames top-10 scorers, 2018-19 – through 75 games:
J. Gaudreau (35-57-92 pts)
E. Lindholm (27-50-77 pts) **
M. Tkachuk (34-42-76 pts)
S. Monahan (31-45-76 pts)
M. Giordano (16-56-72 pts)
M. Backlund (20-26-46 pts)
M. Frolik (15-18-33 pts)
D. Ryan (9-24-33 pts) **
T. Brodie (8-24-32 pts)
N. Hanifin (5-25-30 pts) **
** players who are new to the Flames this season
The comparison between the last two seasons is very interesting. In 2017-18, the Flames only had one player – Johnny Gaudreau – break the 70-point plateau; this year, the Flames become the first team since the 2000-01 Pittsburgh Penguins to have five players with 70 points or more. With Giordano reaching 70-point mark with a 3-point performance against the Canucks on Saturday, he also became just the third defenceman to post a 70-point season at age 35 or older.
** Gio for the Norris chants continue.**
The big question heading into the post-season will be: can the Flames offense continue to be this hot?
One guy who might be able to help with that is James Neal; perhaps the only underachiever on Calgary’s roster this season.
Neal was the biggest UFA signing by Calgary in the off-season; inked to a 5-year deal worth north of $5 million per season.
But the veteran winger has only notched 15 points – and only 5 goals – in his 56 games played with the club this season. Before joining the Flames, “The Real Deal” had strung together 10-straight seasons with 20 goals or more.
So can Neal get back to his old ways? Or is the 31-year-old past his prime?
Fans continue to hope that Neal’s offensive prowess will show in the playoffs, where he’s proven himself to be a clutch sniper. The only player to appear in the last two Stanley Cup Finals – as a member of the 2016-17 Nashville Predators and then the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights – has 100 career playoff games played.
He is one of just 40 active players in the NHL who have played 100 or more post-season games.
In those 100 games, Neal has 31 goals and 55 points; including 11 points in 20 games in the Cinderella cup run that Vegas went on last year.
Neal got back in action on Saturday against the Canucks, his first game since sustaining an injury on February 14th. With just seven more games to get back up to game speed, Neal doesn’t have much time left to figure out who he’s going to be for the Flames come the post-season, but if he can figure it out… watch out.
The Flames are back in Calgary now for a three-game home-stand that begins tomorrow night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Monday, March 25: LA Kings – 7:00 PM MT
Wednesday, March 27: Dallas Stars – 7:30 PM MT
Friday, March 29: Anaheim Ducks – 7:00 PM MT
After that they embark on their last road trip of the season – a three-game swing through California – before the season finale: a Battle of Alberta on home ice on the last day of the regular season, April 6th, versus the Edmonton Oilers.
The final stretch will be important as the Flames look to clinch the Pacific Division, Western Conference, and home-ice in the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Calgary Flames were on fire last night earning a 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers. Matthew Tkachuk got his 31st and 32nd goal. All three of his assists managed to be what put them into the lead and it was his 100th assist in the NHL.
“I don’t think of myself as a shooter or a passer, I’m just somebody trying to read the play and make the best play possible.”
The American-born professional hockey player is currently an alternate captain for the Flames and was a top-rated prospect who was sixth overall in the 2016 NHL entry draft. Tkachuk was showcasing his smart plays, impressing spectators at the Saddledome. Now the flames move one point ahead of the sharks with 11 games to go. Flames goalie David Rittch made an impressive 24 saves. Next, the Flames will go head to head with the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS place
And there we have it. With Minnesota’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday, it was official.
This morning the Flames woke up with an “X” next to their logo in the standings; “X” marking a spot in the 2018-2019 post-season.
The Flames become just the second team in the league – and the first from the Western Conference – to secure a playoff berth.
So prepare yourselves, C of Red and Red Mile-goers, in just over three weeks playoff hockey will be back in Calgary.
The Flames have just ten games left in the regular season, so let’s take a look at what’s remaining on the schedule before the playoffs, as well as what it will take to clinch home-ice and maybe even the Western Conference title.
Six of the Flames’ last ten regular season games will be played at the Scotiabank Saddledome, with a single-game trip to Vancouver and three-game swing through California remaining.
In their final ten games, the Flames face just three teams that currently sit in playoff spots – Columbus, Dallas and San Jose – with their other seven opponents having no hope of reaching the post-season.
The game against San Jose on March 31st has the potential to be the biggest game of the season. With the Sharks sitting just one point back of Calgary for top spot in the Pacific, each game and every single point will be huge down the stretch. The head-to-head will swing four points in the standings, so if the two manage to keep pace with each other leading up to the contest, it could be the difference in who wins the division.
Not only are the Flames battling for first in the Pacific
against the Sharks, but there is also a very real possibility that the two
could meet in the second round of the playoffs.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how the Flames have fared against the Sharks this season.
Flames and Sharks head-to-head
Calgary and San Jose have played three of four regular season games against each other in the 2018-2019 NHL season.
November 11 – CGY @ SJS: 3-1 Sharks win
December 31 – CGY vs. SJS: 8-5 Calgary win
February 7 – CGY vs. SJS: 5-2 Sharks win
March 31 – CGY @ SJS: TBD
The Flames will look to split their season-series with the Sharks when they visit the SAP Centre on March 31st, as the second game in a three-game trip through California.
In three games, the Sharks have an edge in goals scored; netting 13 to Calgary’s 11. San Jose has had 11 players contribute offensively in those three games, while Calgary has had 14 different players on the score sheet. Of those producing offense for both teams, the Sharks have five players averaging over a point-per-game versus the Flames, and on the flip-side, the Flames have four. Those players include:
For San Jose:
Evander Kane: 3G, 4A (7 pts)
Joonas Donskoi: 3G, 3A (6 pts)
Tomas Hertl: 2G, 3A (5 pts)
Brent Burns: 2G, 3A (5 pts)
Joe Pavelski: 1G, 3A (4 pts)
Sean Monahan: 1G, 5A (6 pts)
Johnny Gaudreau: 2G, 2A (4 pts) — All four points on December 31st
Matthew Tkachuk: 2G, 2A (4 pts) — All four points on December 31st
Elias Lindholm: 1G, 2A (3 pts) — All three points on December 31st
Of the two teams, there is only three players who have registered points in all three games, and they all play for the teal. Evander Kane, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl have all hit the score sheet in all three games against the Flames.
With the exception of the New Years Eve barn-burner, the Sharks have done an excellent job of shutting down Flames’ leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau – who has over a point-per-game this season – had 4 points (2G, 2A) in the December 31st win, but has been held scoreless in the other two contests against San Jose.
With 24 goals scored through three games – for an average of
8 goals-per-game – it is also important to examine how the goaltenders have
Through the three games we have seen four different goalies. Here is a game-by-game summary of the goaltending:
November 11 (3-1 SJS win in San Jose):
Flames: Mike Smith (26 SV on 28 SA)
Sharks: Martin Jones (29 SV on 30 SA)
December 31 (8-5 CGY win in Calgary):
Flames: David Rittich (28 SV on 33 SA)
Sharks: Aaron Dell (19 SV on 27 SA)
February 7 (5-2 SJS win in Calgary):
Flames: Started David Rittich (2 GA on 6 SA) who
was pulled after 13 minutes, Mike Smith (21 SV on 24 SA) played the rest of the
Sharks: Martin Jones (36 SV on 38 SA)
The main difference
between San Jose and Calgary in the crease is that the Sharks have a clearly
defined number one goalie, while the Flames might still be up in the air when
it comes to their Game 1 starter in the playoffs. The Flames have seen both
Martin Jones (2 wins) and Aaron Dell (1 loss) this season, but here’s a closer
look at their respective numbers on the year:
Martin Jones: 55 GP (34-15-5) with a 2.86 GAA
and a .899 SV%
Aaron Dell: 21 GP (9-6-3) with a 3.06 GAA and a
Of note, both goalies are having statistical seasons that
are below career average. In 279 career games, Jones has a 2.44 GAA and .912
SV%, and in 70 career games, Dell has a 2.57 GAA and .912 SV%. Jones started
the season significantly below his normal standard of play, but he has really
come on in last month. Dell won’t challenge for the starter’s spot in San Jose,
but in Calgary the situation in goal is a very different story.
Mike Smith started the season as the undisputed starter, but
a shaky first half and strong back-up performance – from second-year Rittch –
led to Smith’s loss of the bulk of the starts. Here’s how the Flames tandem in
goal has done so far this year:
David Rittich: 41 GP (25-7-5) with a 2.65 GAA
and .910 SV%
Mike Smith: 36 GP (19-14-2) with a 2.88 GAA and
Smith is similar to the San Jose goalies, in that his
numbers in the 2018-2019 season have been below career average. In his long
career, Smith has a 2.71 GAA and .912 SV% in 565 NHL games. Rittich’s numbers
better than in his first NHL season, so this has been the best year of his
On paper, it would seem that Rittich would be the more
obvious choice as the Flames’ Game 1 starter; however, it might not be so
Flames head coach Bill Peters has shown a willingness to
give a longer leash to the veteran Smith, while Rittich has been more closely
policed. For example, in Calgary’s 5-2 loss to San Jose on Feburary 7th,
Rittich was pulled just 13 minutes into the game after allowing two goals on
six shots. Smith also had a stretch in February soon after the loss to the
Sharks when he went 4-0-1 in five-straight starts. So while Rittich has won
more games and put up better numbers for the Flames this season, Peters might
still be wondering if leaning on Smith – who has played 502 more NHL games than
Rittich – would be a better bet in the first round.
For now, we will just have to see how the final ten games of
the season play out in the crease, and we have a better idea of the Flames’
game one starter before the playoffs begin on April 10th.
The Flames may have clinched a playoff berth, but there’s
still a lot to play for in their final ten games of the regular season. The
battle between Calgary and San Jose for first in the division, and likely first
in the Western Conference, could come down to their meeting on March 31st
in San Jose.
For now, prepare yourselves, Flames fans. Playoff hockey is
back for the C of Red, and the Red Mile will live on this spring.
— Road to the Red Mile (Danica Ferris & Jake Foster)
Johnny Gaudreau had three goals and three assists to earn a career high six points on Tuesday night. The Calgary Flames scored six times in the third period to give them a 9-4 win over the New Jersey Devils.
“Just give him the puck”
Gaudreau entered the night with only one goal in his last 19 games. He became the first Flames player to accomplish the feat since Al MacInnis on March 20, 1994.
Sean Monahan spoke after the game saying “He (Johnny) was feeling it today. Just give him the puck and he was making plays all over.”
Flames now move on to meet the New York Rangers, who are 7th in the metropolitan division, on Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.