The Calgary Flames struggled heavily at the start of the season, but have surged towards the top of the Pacific Division in recent weeks.
The Calgary Flames were a team who had taken a step back after a dominating 2014-15 season. In 2015 the Flames had a record of 45-30-7 and made it to the second of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks. Last season the Flames acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton and had a plethora of issues including poor goaltending. This led the team to amass a 35-40-7 season, thus missing the playoffs. Ownership responded by firing Bob Hartley, who had won coach of the year in 2015, and bringing in Glen Gulutzan who had previously been an assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
In hopes to fix the goaltending situation Calgary brought in two new faces between the pipes, Brian Elliot and Chad Johnson. Elliot had a brilliant 2016 season and led the St. Louis Blues to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. Johnson on the other hand had a respectable season playing for the Buffalo Sabres. However, despite the new additions up front and between the pipes the Flames got off to a very poor start landing them in the basement of the division.
One of the biggest concerns was the play of Brian Elliot. Last season Elliot compiled a record of 23-8-6 with a save percentage of .930% and GAA of 2.07. However, in 13 games this season Elliot has a 3-9-1 record with a save percentage of .885% and GAA of 3.31. Granted in some cases the team did leave him out to dry and it does take time for a goalie to get used to new surroundings, but his numbers are still concerning compared to last season with the Blues.
The unlikely dark horse, Chad Johnson has been a key part of why the Flames are in the top of the Pacific Division heading into Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Johnson had jumped between teams the past few seasons appearing in the lineups of the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres. It seems that Johnsons finally found his footing in Calgary. Since Elliot had been producing the numbers that the team had hoped for, they began playing Johnson and it has paid off in dividends. In 18 games this season Johnson has totaled a 13-4-1 record with a save percentage of .932% and GAA of 1.98. These numbers have helped propel the Calgary Flames to third in the Pacific Division with an overall record of 16-13-2.
Another catalyst in the Flames surge has been the offensive production from the team’s young players. Currently the Flames’ top five leading point scorers are all 23 years or younger. This includes names such as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk, 18, is the newest of rookies to join Calgary’s roster after being drafted 6th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. In 27 games played he has amassed 15 points and is a +5.
Along with Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau has been phenomonal since returning from a hand injury that sidelined him from numerous games. Gaudreau, 23, leads the Flames in scoring with 19 points in 21 games and is on pace to have another stellar season.
There’s still plenty of hockey left to be played with over half a season remaining, but if Elliot can revive his numbers and the team can keep winning, there’s no reason why the Flames won’t be back in the playoffs come April.