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Many people were expecting the Calgary Flames to have success last season, taking advantage of some weaker Canadian clubs in the one-off North Division. They had what looked like a very good roster on paper, and should have easily claimed one of the four playoff spots available.
That’s not how their season transpired. Two weeks after the Canadiens had fired Claude Julien following a long period of poor play, the Flames did the same to Geoff Ward, bringing back Darryl Sutter to take over behind the bench. The switch didn’t have the desired immediate effect, as they finished fifth in the division with more regulation losses than total wins.
Through 12 games this year, they’re looking much more like they were expected to in the pandemic-shortened season. They didn’t see a lot of roster turnover in the summer — except their top minute man, 2019 Norris Trophy-winner, and captain, Mark Giordano, getting claimed in the expansion draft by the Seattle Kraken. The team is burning white-hot with points in all but two of their games so far, and they pose a significant challenge to any team in the NHL.
Tale of the Tape
|52.8% (9th)||Scoring-chances-for %||58.7% (1st)|
|2.00 (31st)||Goals per game||3.42 (6th)|
|3.43 (28th)||Goals against per game||2.17 (2nd)|
|12.8% (27th)||PP%||24.4% (11th)|
|68.6% (29th)||PK%||86.1% (8th)|
|3-6-0||H2H Record (20-21)||6-3-0|
It’s a complete team game the Flames are playing at the moment. They rank sixth in the NHL, scoring 3.42 goals per game, and are second only to the Carolina Hurricanes in goals allowed at 2.17 per contest. Only two teams — those Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers — have better goal differentials at this stage.
On the offensive side, Johnny Gaudeau has refound the form he had lost two seasons ago. Following a 99-point campaign in 2018-19, he had 58 points in a 70-game 2019-20, before leading the team in points once more a season ago. He’s now at 14 points through 12 games.
He’s joined by three teammates with double-digit point totals: the other two members of his line, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, and the club’s top goal-scorer, Andrew Mangiapane. Mangiapane had five goals in that postponed four-game series with the Vancouver Canucks to close out the last campaign, carried that momentum into the IIHF World Championship where he was named tournament MVP, and has picked up right where he left off, now up to eight goals on the season.
The team has been good at limiting opposition chances as well,, surrendering just over 28 shots per game. Pucks that do get through have been swallowed up by Jacob Markstrom, who has a .940 save percentage after 10 starts, and is already up to four shutouts.
Montreal’s top stories coming into this game are mostly of the injury variety. On Wednesday, all of Christian Dvorak, Josh Anderson, Jonathan Drouin, and Cédric Paquette were absent. The latter two were placed on Injured Reserve, giving Montreal few options at the centre position.
The response was to recall Ryan Poehling from the AHL. It’s a move made out of necessity, and the Canadiens probably would have liked to continue the partnership with him and Cole Caufield in the minor leagues to boost the confidence of both players. Despite the situation, Poehling did have six points in seven games played, and should be a better option than Paquette had been in the bottom six. It’s going to be a trial by fire dropping directly into action versus such a strong opponent, but he’s going to be far from the only player on the team having issues containing the Flames.