Friday, December 04, 2015

Will This Time be Different? Flames 0-for-3 in Leveraging Potential Season-Altering Wins

Forty-eight hours later, the euphoric feeling for fans, never mind the hockey team itself, is still as fresh as it was on Tuesday night.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images
First, there was the ecstasy shown by Dougie Hamilton after capping off the unlikeliest of third period comebacks.

Taking a pass from Sean Monahan, the Flames defenceman beat Antti Niemi inside the goal post with a wicked wrist shot to tie Dallas 3-3 with 2:18 remaining. This coming after Calgary opened the third period down three goals to the NHL's best team.

As he coasted to the corner of the rink, arms thrust straight up in the air, a pump of the fist, a $5.75 million smile and surrounded by bedlam in the stands, it was a moment to soak up.

But the Flames weren't done yet. In the shootout, Joe Colborne, then Johnny Gaudreau, then Sean Monahan all delivered precision strikes to win it. (Just the second time in 88 shootouts Calgary shooters have gone a perfect 3-for-3.)

Once again, there was pure jubilation everywhere. On the face of Monahan, displayed by his teammates as they flowed off the bench, and throughout the raucous, standing crowd of 19,237.

After the game, an energized coach Bob Hartley gushed about the feeling in the dressing room.

"The boys were having fun in the room. The music and everything. For me, that's the best part of coaching and the best part of being in a team sport," said Hartley. "You see those emotions, you see finally the rewards for hard work."

The script from this point pretty much writes itself.

Galvanized by the improbable victory against one of the league's elite teams, Calgary parlays that momentum into victories over Boston on Friday night, San Jose next Tuesday, Buffalo next Thursday and the New York Rangers on Saturday as the Flames extend their winning streak on home ice to nine games and get themselves back into playoff contention.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Not Nearly That Simple

Here's the rub. That feeling from Tuesday, that's been felt before and it's been squandered every time.

As I see it, three times previously this season the Flames have turned in an inspiring performance similar to Tuesday. Three times they've chalked up an impressive feel-good win that looked like it would be the game that was going to turn the season around, that looked like it was going to be that defining moment in which a mediocre start to the season would be put behind them and would mark the coming-out party for the real Flames team everyone expected back in September. Three times we expected Calgary to be ignited by the momentum from an inspiring win and get on a roll and so far? Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. In these scenarios, they've gone a big fat 0-for-3.

What followed all three potential season-altering games was no altering of the season whatsoever. Instead, it was more disappointment via a return to the mediocrity that has characterized the first two months of this season.

Here's a look back at those three momentum-turning games, that weren't momentum-turning at all:

1. Game 7, October 23 - Flames win 3-2 over Detroit

Calgary was 1-5-0 at the time and on a four-game losing streak.

Trailing 2-1 after the first period, Calgary outshoots the Red Wings 29-13 over the final 40 minutes, finally getting the tying goal on a Joe Colborne deflection at 18:48 of the third. Capping off the late rally, Mark Giordano wins it in overtime.

What Came Next

Two days later, Calgary opened up a three-game Eastern road trip at Madison Square Garden and were beaten 4-1 by the Rangers. The Flames lost 4-0 the next night to the Islanders as part of an 0-3-1 skid. The momentum from the Detroit game? Long gone.

2. Game 15, November 7 - Flames win 5-2 over Pittsburgh

Calgary was 4-9-1 at the time. After getting roasted 6-3 in Colorado, the Flames had eked out a 2-1 overtime win over the Flyers in the previous game. The Penguins, meanwhile, entered the game riding a six-game winning streak and winners of nine of their previous 10.

Calgary scored first, took a 3-1 lead after the first period, went up 4-1 in the second period and cruised to a well-deserved victory in their most complete effort of the season. It also gave Calgary consecutive wins for the first time.

What Came Next

Three days later, Calgary opened up a four-game road trip losing 4-3 in Florida. Two nights later, they lost 3-1 in Tampa Bay. Calgary would limp home with just one win on that trip and with all the good feelings from the win over the Penguins having long ago evaporated.

3. Game 21, November 20 - Flames win 2-1 over Chicago

Calgary was 7-12-1 at the time. They had lost three of their previous five with one being a 4-1 spanking five days earlier at the United Center against the same Blackhawks.

It was an impressive night for the Flames, who could have won handily if not for the goaltending of Scott Darling. Calgary outshot the defending Stanley Cup champions 37-19, a total that included six shots in a dominating 98 seconds of overtime that ended on Johnny Gaudreau's dramatic highlight reel effort.

What Came Next

Four days later, Calgary opened up a four-game road trip with a 5-3 loss in Anaheim. They would return home without a victory going 0-2-1 and having frittered away all the positivity that came out of that impressive performance against the Blackhawks.

Talk is Cheap

At practice the last couple days, the players have said all the right things in terms of wanting to build off the victory over Dallas and make it the turning point in the season. But at this point, seeing is believing.

Talking about it off the ice isn't going to get it done, they need to go out there and walk that talk by getting it done on the ice. Execute on the power play, execute on the penalty kill and play with energy. There can be no excuses. Calgary is rested and they're welcoming in a team that just lost to the Edmonton Oilers,  the NHL's last place team.

This is not a nice-to-have game, this one is a need-to-have game.

Forget about playoff talk right now, the priority for the Flames is just getting some swagger back in their game and demonstrating that there really is the nucleus of something good being built here. To do that, Calgary needs to string some wins together. Nearly at the one-third mark of the season, they've yet to win three games in a row.

Why This Time Could be Different

One important point of differentiation this time from the previous three potentially season-changing games that weren't, is this time the Flames are at home. All three previous times, Calgary departed on a road trip right after.

This time, Calgary is at the Scotiabank Saddledome where they've strung together five wins in a row. On Friday, they'll try to make it six, which would be the longest winning streak on home ice since they rattled off eight consecutive victories from Feb. 23 to Mar. 27, 2013.

The schedule sets up for them nicely too having already faced the toughest opponent of the five they'll meet during this two-week stretch of home cooking. After the Bruins come the Sharks and redemption should be on the minds of the Flames that night given their abysmal performance at SAP Center last Saturday.

But one thing Calgary is going to have to get is solid goaltending and it's not something they've been able to rely upon all season and it's been a big part of the reason they weren't able to leverage the momentum from those previous big three victories.

Needing the Big Save

In the first game after each of those aforementioned wins, the next game's starting goaltender didn't exactly step up.
  • Jonas Hiller allowed 4 goals on 21 shots in New York
  • Karri Ramo allowed 4 goals on 31 shots in Florida
  • Karri Ramo allowed 4 goals on 31 shots in Anaheim

A dozen goals against on 83 shots works out to an ugly .855 save percentage. You want to kill a team's momentum? That's how you do it, by getting the kind of sub-par goaltending in which you need to score five goals to win.

Against the Bruins on Friday, it's Ramo once again that gets the chance to keep the good feelings going. While it wasn't his best game against the Stars on Tuesday -- the Jason Spezza goal and the Mattias Janmark goal were particularly poor, but he did stop the final 10 shots he faced including making four clutch saves in overtime. It was enough to get him another start, although there seemed to be some indecision from Bob Hartley initially. However, with Jonas Hiller sitting at a league-worst .856 save percentage, that surely helped Ramo's case.

We'll know by the end of the night if it was the right call and we won't have to go by the scoreboard to know, it will be reflected by the noise in the building. Will it be cheers, or will it be jeers?

I don't think it can get much louder in the Saddledome than it was on Tuesday night although I know fans are dying for the opportunity to prove me wrong. But it's on the players to give them something to cheer about.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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