The Calgary Flames have been a tale of two teams in 2021. Earning points in their first three games, the team’s week off killed any momentum they built. Currently sitting outside of the playoffs the Flames will need to find their identity, a first line Right Winger but more importantly, consistency.
Before getting started, don’t forget to check out the previous segments as we take a look at the entire Canadian division.
Let’s start with the good, Andrew Mangiapane continues to be one of the team’s most valuable players. No matter who he plays with, Mangiapane’s line has consistently been great for the Flames. His point production may not reflect this, but he is producing at a higher rate than last season, and he continues to excel on the defensive side of the puck.
As an outsider joining the C of Red, how has he not earned himself a shot on the top line?
The third line has easily been the bright spot for this team up front. Milan Lucic has been sneaky efficient in his limited ice time. There will always be the cries for more given his contract, but in making the best of a bad situation, this is all the Flames fans can hope for.
Another bright spot up front has been the play of Elias Lindholm. I questioned the decision to take him off the top line to start the season, but he has given his team a much more balanced attack. He has yet to get the most out of Matthew Tkachuk offensively, but give it some time.
Tkachuck has not yet gotten his offensive game back to where it was last season, but it is not from a lack of effort. He is producing at roughly 75% of of his scoring pace last season despite the increased ice time. When you take into account his full body of work in terms of what else he brings to the table, it’s not all bad. He is still getting under opponents skin and getting to the dirty areas of the ice where he thrives. He just needs to start scoring.
Much of the offense for this team comes from their star player. It’s hard to give any criticism to Johnny Hockey, he is basically a point per game player. The area of concern for is that he is shooting way above his weight class right now. His 22.5% Shooting Percentage is nearly 10% above his career average, or nearly double his standard success rate (12.4%) (Quanthockey.com).
For a team that is struggling to score goals right now, they cannot afford to have their best shooter regress to the mean. On the bright side, Gaudreau is doing all of this despite the lackluster play of Sean Monahan this season. Monahan has always been a 200 foot player, but his offensive production has been subpar of late.
Monahan is having the opposite problem as Gaudreau when it comes to shooting the puck. His 5.6% Shooting Percentage is about a third of his career average (Quanthockey.com). Not to mention, he has been a consistent shooter for the last 4-5 years despite the recent drop in points. Glass half full would suggest that Monahan’s misfortunates are Gaudreau’s benefit, and that both should regress to the mean together.
Now for the bad, the Flames lack any sort of scoring from the bottom of their roster. For all the great things the 3rd line does on this team, the 4th line has failed to follow suit. Only Byron Froese has a goal; yes, one singular goal. Not that teams rely on their 4th line for points, but having just one goal is a concern.
Finally, the ugly, and I’m hesitant to bring it up, Sam Bennett has been struggling. He is a player built for the playoffs, which unfortunately doesn’t help him right now. With only 3 points on the season it is fair to say that it has been a disappointing season.
Again as an outsider spending more and more time learning about the Flames; would Bennett not make sense on a line with Tkachuck and Lindholm? Unfortunately the writing may be on the wall for Bennett, but getting consistent, elevated play from him could be the key to this team as a whole finding more consistent success.
The addition of Chris Tanev and Juuso Valimaki’s return from injury have solidified this as one of (if not) the best Defense cores in Canada. Tanev has never been the offensive type but he is a rock for his partner and brings a lot of intangibles to the table. This is why he ran under the radar in Vancouver until he was paired with Hughes.
Tanev has carried this solid play with him to the Flames and it has had a noticeable impact for new partener Noah Hanifin. Hanifin’s numbers from this year compared to last year are night and day. From a defensive standpoint he is a new player with Tanev on his side. The emergence of this second pairing has alleviated some of the hard shut down minutes from their top pairing.
Giordano and Andersson have provided almost everything you can ask for, from a top pairing. They are both producing points at 5v5 and on the Power Play (PP), while shutting down the opposing team’s top line on most nights. They are not doing the latter by themselves, but they are shouldering most of the heavy lifting while leading by example.
The addition of Juuso Valimaki filled a key void that the Flames have been missing. The team has gotten more secondary scoring from Valimaki than their entire 4th line combined. All of his points have been at Even Strength but if his numbers with Ilves (Liiga) are any indication, this should change shortly. The offensive potential for Valimaki is clearly there and his production should only get better as he becomes more comfortable.
If anyone had their doubts or reservations about this signing, Markstrom has quickly put those to rest. While the term is more the issue, Markstrom is currently an absolute steal at a $6M cap hit. He has been everything the Flames were missing in nets for so many years.
Markstrom’s stats are a little underwhelming to the eye, however they perfectly depict the type of season the team is having. Markstrom has given the Flames a chance to win almost every night, and has stolen a couple games for them in the process. He currently sits third in Minutes player (856:04) and second in Save (411) in the NHL. The Flames have not been afraid to give Markstrom the reigns in nets, but the usage rate has been surprising.
While never being able to cement himself as an every day starter, Rittich has shown flashes of brilliance for stretches in his career. The problem is that his off nights are complete dumpster fires. The season so far has been closer to the latter as he has yet to win a game on the season.
One can argue that it’s a lack of familiarity with the back up role. It is not easy to play once every couple weeks and be on top of your game. Maybe a few more games for Rittich would help get him in a groove, while simultaneously giving their best player some rest.
TEAM GRADE: B-
It’s hard to ignore the flashes of brilliance from this team. They have remained relatively healthy but have little to show for it which makes them hard to grade. The lack of consistency and secondary scoring has this team sitting on the outside looking in. Finding a top 6 Right Wing will be a major area to address for this team at the trade deadline.
The acquisition of Tanev and Markstrom have paid immediate dividends for this team. Their inability to put the puck in the net that is the team’s biggest concern. The Flames need more from their top 6 as a whole since they regularly play against some of the highest scoring team’s in the NHL. There is way too much talent on this team for them to not compete for a playoff spot.
If you are searching for more hockey content, check out the latest episode from the Life & Fantasy Podcast! Spencer and Kaveh touch on the Canadian division from a Fantasy perspective as well as some Buy Low candidates and some sleeper pick ups!