Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, team reaction, statistics, analysis and maybe an opinion or prediction mixed in too, it's a round-up of eight random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.
1. Familiar Name Among NHL's Leading Scorers
Note: This section (No. 1) was updated after the Flames win on Monday in Dallas so is accurate going into games on Tuesday, March 31.
Jiri Hudler is not winning the NHL scoring race, but he is in the top 10. As of Tueday morning, he's tied for seventh with 71 points. That, in itself, is quite the accomplishment.
However it gets more impressive from there.
Look strictly at even-strength scoring -- and it could be argued five-on-five play is most important of all, and there is Hudler alone in top spot in the league with 55 points. That's right -- Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jakub Voracek, Alex Ovechkin -- none of them have as many even-strength points as Hudler. In fact, the closest of that group is Crosby with 48.
9. Mike Ribeiro NSH, 14-34-48
Looking at his recent body of work, I'd be surprised if Hudler has had a better month of hockey in his career than this March. He's leading the NHL in scoring and it's not even close. He's surely a lock for one of the NHL's three stars of the month that will be announced on Wednesday morning. Here's a run-down of what No. 24 has accomplished so far this month:
- 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 15 games.
- Nine multi-point games
- Helped Calgary to a 9-3-3 record
2. Ryan O'Reilly COL, 14 gm, 5-12-17
5. Sean Monahan CGY, 15 gm, 8-8-16
5. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 15 gm, 7-9-16
2. Super-Strength at Even-Strength
Lance Bouma scored two more goals on Sunday giving him 16 on the season. It's been a remarkable year offensively considering he entered the season with six goals in 121 career games. More impressively is every goal has come even-strength. How much time has Bouma spent on the power play? A grand total of 4:17 or the exact length of The Police hit Every Breath You Take.
Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I'll be watching you.
Safe to say a lot of fans are, indeed, watching Bouma's every move these days considering with two weeks to go in the season, his 16 goals at even-strength are one more than NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby. Now try and wrap your head around that. This season, Bouma is making $775,000 while Crosby is making $12-million. Wow. Just wow.
Bouma is tied for 49th in the NHL in even-strength goals and shares that spot with notable stars such as Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Steen, Jeff Carter, Nick Foligno, Phil Kessel, Ryan Johansen and Jordan Eberle.
Fun facts about Bouma's 16 goals:
- Top playmakers have been: 1. David Jones (6 assists), 2. Mikael Backlund (5), 3. Dennis Wideman (4).
- Most times on the ice: 1. Kris Russell (10), 2. Dennis Wideman (9), Mikael Backlund (9)
- Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan have not been on the ice for any of Bouma's goals. (Jiri Hudler has been on for two and assisted on both).
- 12 of his 16 goals have come in the third period. (Two in the first, two in the second)
- All the goals have come at five-on-five
- Sunday's was the first goal into an empty net.
Bouma was one of the last restricted free agents to sign last summer and when he did, I was surprised it was only a one-year deal. While it's hard to critique a GM for taking a 'show me more and I'll pay you more' approach as too often term is handed out and then regretted, this is one instance where it will come back to haunt GM Brad Treliving. Bouma is a RFA again this summer and my goodness, he'll be in line for a pretty hefty pay hike that's for certain.
3. Red-Hot Rookies
Michael Ferland's first NHL goal on Sunday was the 40th goal by a Flames rookie this season. He joins Gaudreau (21), Josh Jooris (12) and Markus Granlund (6) as first-year players that have lit the lamp this year.
That's the most since since 1996-97 when the Flames got 50 -- Iginla 21, Jonas Hoglund 19, Joel Bouchard 4, Chris O'Sullivan 2, Todd Simpson 1, Cale Hulse 1, Dale McTavish 1 and Hnat Domenichelli 1.
Do you want another reason why Calgary may not be in line for the big drop-off next year as many skeptics suggest, consider that rookies have produced 18 percent of Calgary's 220 goals this season. Add in goals by sophomores Monahan and Joe Colborne and 35 percent of the Flames offence has come from first or second-year players.
Next year, the rookie total could be even bigger with the talented Sam Bennett and Emile Poirier likely in the line-up. It bodes well for the future success of this hockey club.
Overall in the NHL, Calgary has gotten the second-most production from rookies this season. The top five in goals from rookies are:
1. Ottawa, 53
2. Calgary, 40
3. Nashville, 30
4. Carolina, 29
5. Vancouver, 26
5. Boston, 26
4. Gillies Off to Frozen Four
Flames prospect Jon Gillies, 21, who Calgary selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, is off to the NCAA's Frozen Four, which will be held at the TD Garden in Boston. The 6-foot-5 goaltender made 23 saves on Sunday to help Providence College to a 4-1 win over Denver University. It's the first appearance for PC in the Frozen Four in 30 years. Their next game is a semi-final against Nebraska-Omaha on Thursday April 9. A win would send the Friars to the final on Saturday.
What's next for Gillies is uncertain. However, after three standout seasons at Providence, I would bet on the Hockey East goaltender of the year turning pro when his season ends by signing with Calgary. Leaving school after his junior season is the exact scenario that unfolded with Gaudreau last year. In fact, Gaudreau signed with Calgary right after Boston College got knocked out in the Frozen Four semi-final.
Those that follow NCAA hockey closely say Providence's recruiting would suggest they're fully expecting Gillies to be gone next season. The Flames goaltending situation would also suggest they expect to have Gillies in their system.
Joni Ortio (high ankle sprain) is injured at the moment but he was the organization's No. 1 goalie this year in the AHL. Next year, however, Ortio will move to the NHL as his contract reverts to a one-way deal starting in 2015-16 and he will also be waiver eligible by then. That leaves a void in the crease in the AHL and that would be the perfect scenario for Gillies to move in and start learning the pro game.
5. Rolling Four Lines
While I think Brandon Bollig has been playing better for the Flames over the latter half of the season, there's a discernible difference to how Bob Hartley can deploy his lines when Bollig is not in the starting dozen and we saw that on Sunday in Nashville.
In terms of offensive zone time and all-round effective and dynamic play, it was one of the best games of the season from the bottom six forwards. The Matt Stajan-Drew Shore-Michael Ferland line were continuously buzzing around the net and working the puck deep in the Predators zone. The Mason Raymond-Josh Jooris-Joe Colborne trio also had a strong night.
A combination of their effective play and the Flames being able to open up a 4-1 lead halfway through the game afforded Hartley the luxury of rolling all four lines and the ice times by the end of the night reflected this.
No player was under 10 minutes in ice time with Shore the low man at 10:05. No forward was over 19 minutes with Monahan the leader at 18:16 (or 17:00 even-strength). In fact, 11 of the 12 forwards played over 11:30. It may have been the most equally divided ice times we've seen all year and that's important for a few reasons:
- When you're playing the next day as was Calgary's situation -- playing in Dallas tonight, it keeps everyone fresher, especially that top line, which has been logging a ton of ice time lately.
- More rest between shifts helps the team sustain their high tempo style throughout the game, which makes them so much more effective. The Flames are at their best when they're relentlessly buzzing in on the forecheck and breaking out of their own zone on quick transitions.
- Getting 13 minutes of ice time instead of eight or nine is a huge difference for guys down in the line-up and often can result in them playing better as we saw Sunday with Jooris, Raymond, Stajan, Ferland and Shore all having solid games.
6. History: Most Points to Miss Playoffs
It seems people want to paint a target on somebody specifically. Is it Los Angeles? Maybe it's Vancouver. What about Winnipeg? Inquiring fans want to know, who is Calgary battling with to try and secure its first playoff spot in six seasons.
Well, the way I see it, who cares. You'll only drive yourself crazy trying to hone in on one specific team because as soon as you focus on a single target, that team inevitably gets hot. Instead, the approach to take is not get too fussed about the eb and flow of surrounding bubble teams and instead just know that if the Flames can win four of their final six games, that's 97 points and that surely gets you into the playoffs. After all, no one has ever missed with even 96 points before.
However, if there's a risk with this season, it's that Arizona and Edmonton have both been so poor all year. Edmonton has hardly beaten anyone in the West and the only team the Coyotes have cleaned up against in the West has been the Oilers. Because of this, that's inflated the point totals of all the other teams to the point where maybe this is the first season where 96 or 97 points doesn't get you in.
On Friday in this piece, I attached percentages to each of the bubble teams in terms of how likely it was that each of them would be the one team that ends up missing. As of this morning, not a whole lot has changed. I'd probably move Calgary and Minnesota up a bit based on the last 36 hours, drop Winnipeg and Los Angeles down a little bit, but that's about the extent of the changes for now.
Most Points to Miss the Playoffs:
95 - Dallas, 2010-11 (2 pts back in West)
95 - Colorado, 2006-07 (1 pt back in West)
94 - Calgary, 2010-11 (3 pts back in West)
93 - Florida, 2008-09 (0 pts back in East)
92 - Carolina, 2007-08 (2 pts back in East)
92 - Vancouver, 2005-06 (3 pts back in West)
92 - Edmonton, 2001-02 (2 pts back in West)
7. Tie-Breaker Scenarios
With 13 days to go, it's still very much conceivable that the Flames could finish tied with any of the other three teams on the bubble -- whether it's with Vancouver or Los Angeles in the Pacific Division or with Winnipeg for a wildcard spot. Here is a look at how Calgary is positioned in respect to the end-of-season standings tie-breaking criteria.
Vancouver - Slight Edge Canucks
- First tie-breaker criteria is regulation/overtime wins (ROW) and at the moment, the Canucks are on pace to finish with one more than Calgary.
- If Vancouver ends up with a shootout win in their final games and the Flames can avoid that, edge would revert to Calgary as they won the season series with the Canucks and that's tie-breaker No. 2.
Los Angeles - Edge Flames
- Calgary is on pace to have two more ROW.
- If the ROW fell apart, the Flames hold a 4-3 edge in points in the season series (which excludes the first game, as it only counts the last two games in each team's building) with one game left between them on April 9.
Winnipeg - Flames Own Tie-Breaker
- Calgary is on pace to have six more ROW.
8. Stanley Cup Playoffs Lite
This time last year, the out-of-town games that mattered involved the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. In short, they were awful games to watch. While for Flames fans, hoping this season to see the Kings, Jets, Wild and Canucks lose hasn't been any more successful than last year hoping to see the Oilers, Sabres and Hurricanes win, the games are so much more compelling to watch when teams are battling for playoff spots, not draft lottery spots.
Whether the Flames make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season or not remains to be seen, but what they've already delivered has been playoff-like intensity for much of the year and especially the past month.
Following the exploits of Calgary, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Devan Dubnyk and the Wild, the crazy crowds at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, every night has made for some great action and about as entertaining as non-playoff hockey can get.
Playoff starter kit, playoffs lite, however you want to describe it, this Western Conference playoff race has been fantastic. Learning how to play in meaningful games down the stretch with the pressure that continues to build will only pay off in future seasons for the young core of the Flames.
I've been covering the Calgary Flames for The Canadian Press dating back to the 1989-90 season. In my 25 years, I've seen some really good Calgary teams -- especially those first few years after winning the Cup, but they often won games by three or four goals. There hasn't been a team in all those years that has played this many entertaining, one-goal games. It's been a joy to watch and follow and whenever the ride finally comes to an end, it's going to be a sad day. Although spoiler alert, I wouldn't be surprised if next year offers much of the same.
Recent Related Flames Reading
- Flames Improbable Playoff Chase Comes Down to the Wire - So close. So damn close. So tantalizingly, excruciatingly, mouth-wateringly close. With two weeks to go in the season, the Flames are right there in the playoff race, within striking distance of a playoff spot. I try to put this crazy, improbable season and all they've accomplished into some perspective.
- 15 Signs You're a Flames Fan Caught up in the Playoff Race - This playful piece will hit close to home for Calgary fans, who have been riding the emotional roller coaster all season. It's a light-hearted look at 15 obvious signs that you have Flames playoff chase fever.
- Johnny Gaudreau: Making a Case for the Best Flames Rookie Season Ever - In terms of points, Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary rookie in 25 years. But dig deeper and a case could be made that Gaudreau is having as good of a rookie season, and maybe even better than Joe Nieuwendyk when the Flames great scored 51 goals in 1987-88.
- Eight from 80 Feet: Sean Monahan Edition - How impressive has Sean Monahan's sophomore season been? I put his year into a number of different contexts -- vs 2013 draft class, top 10 picks lately with least goal variance in jump from major junior to the NHL, best sophomore season, comparison to Joe Nieuwendyk. Spoiler Alert - It's darn impressive.