Calgary’s Slow Start Was Expected, and There’s Still Time To Turn It Around

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, the Calgary Flames lost two high-end players, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. Their defense also suffered a system loss, with Eric Gudbranson departing in free agency. The start of the Flames’ season has been shaky, and it’s evident they’re without their two forty-goal scorers.

They didn’t leave the offseason empty-handed. The Flames signed highly sought-after free agent Nazem Kadri after shipping Sean Monahan to Montreal in a cap dump trade. While the Flames acquired Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar in the Matthew Tkachuk trade, they would still have to learn to adjust.

Offense Finding Their Footing

We’ve watched the Flames pot six goals one night and then struggle to get two by a goaltender the next. Tyler Toffoli and Nazem Kadri lead the team with 8 goals apiece. Elias Lindholm leads the team in points with 17. Lindholm centered Gaudreau and Tkachuk this year and is working on building chemistry with his linemates. Huberdeau was projected to take over the top left wing opening, and Toffoli was slated to be on the right. Head coach Darryl Sutter has taken every opportunity to find what works.

Yes, even if that means putting Huberdeau on the third line.

Sutter has a way of making things work, even if it means sacrificing the youth. ( Don’t worry, we will get there.)

Leaky Defense

We are all so quick to jump on the goaltender for allowing three or four goals a night but rarely look at the bigger picture.

Nikita Zadorov was your third-pairing defenseman last year with Gudbranson. It was an effective pairing that only got better with time. The number of penalties the pair took was their biggest downfall. Due to Chris Tanev’s injuries, Zadorov has seen a significant jump in time on ice. Last season he was averaging 16:55. This year, he is up to 20:06. Sutter has referred to Zadorov as his best physical player, but it’s the physicality that has gotten the team into hot water.

You never want to be a man down. Being on the penalty kill will drain your team. Zadorov leads the team with 29 PIM. The less ice time for Zadorov, the better the team will be.

Goaltending Blues

Jacob Markstrom was a Vezina Finalist last season. He played out of his mind for 63 games and fizzled out in the playoffs. The biggest problem, or so we thought, heading into this season would be managing his workload.

Through 17 games, Markstrom has posted a .889 SV%. How could you not be worried when you see those numbers from your starter? It makes sense to be concerned, especially when you’re paying him north of $6m.

It’s great that the Flames have a backup like Dan Vladar to hold the fort down. He has a .913 SV% through seven games and carried a team to a shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There’s no way you’re going to have Markstrom sit and Vladar transition to the starter role. Sutter and Markstrom would never make that happen.

There is no way to accurately predict goaltending or their trends, but I think it’s safe to say that Markstrom will overcome this hurdle. He has the self-awareness and mental strength to get through this barrier. It’s just about waiting it out while he gets into a rhythm.

It’s Not Time to Panic

The Flames still have plenty of hockey left to turn this around. They are currently 3 points out of a wild card spot. There is this old saying that I think we can all take into consideration right about now. It’s not about how you start but how you finish.

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Jess Belmosto

Jess Belmosto is a jack of all trades. You’ll find her hosting Locked On Flames as well as contributing to ITR. When she isn’t dabbling in the NHL, she is busy running the PHFPA’s comms department.

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