The Calgary Flames are coming to Long Island for their first and last time this season. The little Canadian team that could hardly gets a lot of attention around the New York metropolitan area. With three teams in the area, that's perfectly understandable. The Flames currently sit just outside the playoffs and play in a different country, so they don't exactly get much press within the United States.
So who exactly are the Calgary Flames? We sat down with Matchsticks and Gasoline's... uh... me to find out.
LHHme: The Calgary Flames are a bit of a surprise in the west. Most people had them in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but they're just three points out in the west. How have they done it?
MS&Gme: The team isn't exactly a high possession team. In fact they've drifted somewhere between the second- and forth-worst possession team at even strength all year. They've relied on quite the high P.D.O. to get themselves to where they're at right now. This has led a lot of fans to throw out the possession numbers as rubbish while some others have just been waiting for the regression. It hasn't happened yet and that's where we're at today.
LHHme: So the team has basically been getting lucky the entire season?
MS&Gme: Well I wouldn't exactly say that. If there's one thing that stands out above the P.D.O., it's the team's ability to draw penalties. They have the best penalty differential in the league and that helps to counter their possession flaws quite a bit.
Their special teams aren't great by any means - their P.K. percentage combined with their power play percentage is 25th in the league, but the sheer number of chances really makes a difference. Once special teams are factored in, their possession rises. It's still not good at around 48 percent Fenwick for, but it's better than the sub 45 that they've supported all season at even strength.
That said, the luck is still there. The team has outscored opponents by 32 goals in the third period while still getting outshot in the third. There is no rhyme or reason as to how they're doing that, but hey, it's working.
LHHme: The Islanders added some big names in the offseason which is a huge part of why they're at right now. Has there been anybody like that for the Flames?
MS&Gme: The addition of Mason Raymond has seemingly flown under the radar with the fans. The team is not exactly flourishing with goal scorers, but Raymond has come in and been a top ten scorer at even strength. Those numbers don't exactly carry over to the special teams though as he only has one point there.
Jonas Hiller has been a huge addition as well obviously. The team's goaltending behind Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio and Reto Berra was pretty bad last year. It's taken a huge jump this year thanks to Hiller. He's not the goalie of the future in Calgary, not with Ortio, Jon Gillies and maybe Mason McDonald waiting in the wings, but he's been very good. Bob Hartley is a mad man and may continue to roll Ramo, but Hiller has a much better track record and is a huge reason for the team's success this season.
Raphael Diaz has also done decently on a cheap, one year contract. He's been stuck playing on the left hand side as a right handed defenseman with a very bad player in Deryk Engelland and managed to do okay. He's at least serviceable as a sixth defenseman and would probably look a lot better if he had somebody decent to work with.
LHHme: What have been the biggest pieces for the Flames this season?
MS&Gme: It's been the Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie show so far. They really have carried the team the entire season. It's almost laughable how bad they might be without those two. They carry the worst zone starts for the team, have the best goal differentials on the team, have the best possession numbers on the team, play the most minutes on the power play and play the most minutes on the penalty kill.
Mark Giordano is second in the league in points and only ranks behind P.K. Subban, Jared Spurgeon and Nick Leddy in relative Corsi. They're probably the most important defensive tandem in the league.
LHHme: Islanders fans can be rather fervent in hoping that a certain player or players get shipped out. Is there anybody on the Flames that seems to draw the ire of the fans?
MS&Gme: Brandon Bollig has very few supporters anymore. He cost the team a third round pick in the draft this offseason, isn't a product of the Flames system, only plays about eight to nine minutes a game, doesn't score, doesn't produce possession, drags down other players, winds up sitting out for players who wind up double shifting in crucial moments in games and really just doesn't bring anything to the table for the team other than the occassional fight. He's the biggest one.
Curtis Glencross demanded a trade and given his age it's clear that he has no future with a rebuilding team. Due to the demand many people want him shipped out, but he has a no trade clause and he's given a list of five teams that he'll take a trade to which has destroyed his value. He's not a bad player, but doesn't have a future with the team.
Engelland hasn't drawn quite the level of disdain that Bollig has, but is much worse. He's drawing down everybody he plays with as well, has no potential to improve, actually has worse possession numbers than Bollig, only plays about 12 minutes per game, has seen his minutes depreciate as time goes by, can't play on special teams and doesn't bring any score effects. He doesn't get the level of hatred as Bollig does due to the lack of prospects on defense, but between the two of them they're getting paid about 4.2 million to be terrible at hockey.
LHHme: Finally, what are the biggest weak spots for the Flames?
MS&Gme: It's strictly the defense. The biggest problem starts with the second pairing with Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman. They both drag down possession and are seeing around 23 minutes per game. Part of that is because the coaching staff has no faith in the third pairing, but there's also an underlying belief that maybe the coaching staff thinks that they are somehow good. Russell blocks a lot of shots (the most in the league) and Wideman scores by virtue of never meeting a slap shot that he didn't like.
They really need at least one, maybe two to three defenseman to dot the job. They have a young player in Tyler Wotherspoon on the team, but for some reason they don't play him. He's young and might not be good, but they used a second round pick on him, he's most likely better than Engelland, would push Diaz to the right hand side and might give the coaching staff some faith in that dilapidated third pairing which would at least decrease the minutes for the not-so-good Wideman and Russell pairing.
The man who goes by HockeyGoalieEh covers the Isles for Lighthouse Hockey and the Flames for Matchsticks & Gasoline. Twice a season, he has dinner with himself.