With 14 games behind them, the Calgary Flames advance to 7-6-1. The new acquisitions have made themselves right at home and the core reignite themselves after a quiet 2019-20 season. As the season progresses it appears that the team has found themselves in the same book, not the same page quite yet but the gap is closing. The Flames are on their way to being a cohesive unit. Before we get there, we need to take a look at the players so far.
Marking His Territory
Jacob Markstrom has been beyond consistent for the team. Through 10 starts he is 6-3-1 and earned himself a .916 SV% with a 2.5 GAA. Every night you can count on a remarkable save. There are times where he leaves the crease and your heart finds itself in your throat but he never misses a beat.
One of the more terrifying moments of the season was when Connor McDavid crashed into the net, running over Markstrom. Of course everyone remembers what happens the last time McDavid crashed the net. Markstrom was slow to get up but he returned to play as if nothing happened. And of course the true test was if he got the start against Winnipeg on Tuesday night. He recorded a .926 SV%. Safe to say things are going alright there.
Finding Their Footing
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were the subjects of trade rumors this offseason. In fact, Gaudreau was on TSN Trade Bait board a few times. After the short lived playoff run, fans were certain there would be a drastic change in the lineup. The question was, would it be Gaudreau or Monahan? General Manager Brad Treliving decided blowing up the team was not the way to go.
Gaudreau is leading the team with 15 points ( 8G, 7A) and had an 8 game point streak going. We’re seeing a version of Johnny Hockey that fans have longed for these last few seasons. To my knowledge, he has not mentioned what changed or if he had shaken up his routine. Could the change in coaching and better key players around him be it?
Monahan passes the blind eye test with flying colors. His passes are smoother than butter and he isn’t afraid to shoot. Both him and Gaudreau appear more confident when it comes to shooting. There is no overpassing or hesitation. Monahan has 11 points ( 3rd on the team ) through 14 games. He has recorded 7 even strength assists and one even strength goal. Monahan is 4 goals shy of 200. That milestone will likely be accomplished this season.
Matthew Tkachuk came out of the gate hot. He recorded 3 goals in the first five games and was not hesitant to shoot the puck. On January 24th, he recorded 9 SOG against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since the Jake Muzzin incident just two days later, Tkachuk has been a little less noticeable.
It was reported that the Flames had a players only meeting after a loss to Montreal. It’s speculated that Tkachuk was told his antics needed to stop and it, “couldn’t be a riot every night.”
Tkachuk has just 2 assists in the last five games. Unfortunately, he hasn’t looked like the same player we saw a month ago. Before we break out the pitchforks for a trade or demotion, let’s remember that players do have streaky moments. Could this be a typical slump we see from players? After all, he did lead the team with 61 points last season. Is this the same type of regression we saw from teammate Gaudreau after his point heavy season?
Andrew Mangiapane inked a deal that would bring him back to Calgary for 2 more years. He ended last season with a career high 32 points. There were high expectations for him coming into the season. While he was putting in the work every game, he just couldn’t finish. It wasn’t until the 8th game of the season that he notched his first goal. He hasn’t slowed down since. He has 4 goals and 2 assists in the last 6 games. The expectations are high for Mangiapane and it’s expected that he will continue to meet them.
The Flames signed 31 year old, Chris Tanev to a four year $18 million deal back in October. The biggest concern about this signing was of course, Tanev’s injury history. He is an older, injury prone player who would be eating up a lot Calgary’s money.
Tanev and D partner Noah Hanifin have been the stars of the show each and every game this season. Both fall under heavy scrutiny for their contracts and performance. The both of them have proved everyone wrong. They did not allow and even strength goal against through 8 games, nearly 2 hours of gameplay.
If the time comes were headcoach Geoff Ward wants to limit Mark Giordano’s ice time, I think making this pairing the top pair is an obvious choice. Though the pair is off to a hot start, that does not mean they are out of the woods just yet. There is still plenty of time for things to turn sour.
One of the hardest part of the game is watching your favorite players age and decline. Unless you are Zdeno Chara, it is inevitable and coaches have to learn to adjust. Milan Lucic and Mark Giordano are two players that come to mind. Granted, Lucic has not been nearly as effective as Giordano but his presence needs to be talked about.
Lucic had a great playoff run last year. It was as if 2011 Lucic had returned to the ice. That was shortlived of course as the Flames were knocked out after losing to the Dallas Stars in the first round.
That Lucic was left in 2020. The Lucic we’ve seen for a majority of the season has been a liability. Turnovers and trips to the penalty box have been costly. On a positive note, he has three goals and three assists which is more than he was doing at the start of the 2019-20 season.
He is averaging 11:57 a night and I do think that that’s acceptable for the time being. However, if you’re going to healthy scratch Sam Bennett, you’re going to need to hold Lucic accountable for his mistakes. Benching him for a game is the better option than walking away without a point.
Captain Mark Giordano is on the final year of his contract. He has played a total of 907 NHL games, which is a rather impressive milestone. One might call this a crossroad in his career. Will the Flames offer him an extension or will they make him available for the Seattle Expansion draft? There are more questions than answers when it comes to Giordano.
He is still playing on the top pairing with Rasmus Andersson. Many fans have called that decision into question after Gio’s slow shifts and turnovers. Whether it be a respect thing or not, you have to do what is best for your team. Geoff Ward has a hockey brain and is seeing it all up close so we can only assume he knows exactly what he’s doing and there is a method to his madness. I do think a demotion needs to happen at some point this season. The captain should be preparing to pass the reigns over to his younger defensemen, and setting them up for success.
One Month Down, A Few More To Go
Barring the league does not pause, the regular season is expected to wrap up in May and playoffs to follow right after. The Flames are currently out of the playoff picture but there is still time for them to turn it around. Don’t count anyone out just yet.
Flames play Vancouver tonight at 8pm MT.