Saturday, January 16, 2016

80-Foot Oscars: 12 Best and Worst Individual and Team Performances of the First Half

This week the Flames passed the halfway point in the 2015-16 season.

At 20-20-2 after 42 games, here's a look back on the first three months in the form of my picks for the best and worst (and runner-up) individual and team performances in 12 categories.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

1. Most Valuable Player

Winner: Johnny Gaudreau

After putting up 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie, Gaudreau has taken another giant step forward. The 22-year-old is sixth in the league in points-per-game and is on pace to finish with 37 goals and 84 points. Despite inconsistency from his linemates, he's put this team on his back and carried them.

Runner-up: TJ Brodie

Since returning from injury (team went 2-7-0 without him), Calgary's ice-time leader has been one of the best players every night. Constantly a threat on the rush, he has also been a rock in his own end.

2. Most Pleasant Surprise

Winner: TJ Brodie

There was uncertainty to start the season what Brodie's role would be with Dougie Hamilton lined up alongside Mark Giordano on the top pairing. Turns out, Brodie is the anchor tenant of the Flames blue-line and he's proven it all year with his elite-level skating, passing and two-way game.

Runner-up: Michael Frolik

The prize free agent signing has been a huge boost to the right side. Superb in a checking role, he's also second among forwards in shots-per-game. His versatility was missed while he was injured.

3. Biggest Disappointment

Winner: Dennis Wideman

Statistically, it's been a huge drop-off. After 15 goals and 56 points a year ago, he has only two goals and 19 points. But it's more than that. At times he has struggled handling the puck, is missing the net often with his shot and he seems to have lost a step speed-wise and he wasn't that quick to begin with.

Runner-up: Jiri Hudler

With five goals and 22 points, he hasn't had nearly the impact of a year ago when he was in MVP talk with 31 goals and 76 points. Shut down with a groin issue, you wonder how long that's been lingering.

4. Unsung Hero

Winner: Deryk Engelland

Last year with Giordano hurt, Engelland was thrust into a top-four role for the final two months. It seems playing alongside Brodie during that time was great for him as he's come back this season and been a very steady presence. For the first six weeks, he was arguably the Flames most consistent defenceman.

Runner-up: Mikael Backlund

While he still finds himself in the coach's doghouse at times, he's been a reliable, checking centre behind Monahan and leads the team in SAT% Close (aka Corsi) despite a constant carousel of linemates.

5. Biggest Positive Storyline

Winner: Karri Ramo's resurgence

After starting on opening night, poor outings and bad goals resulted in Ramo being put on waivers, going unclaimed and demoted to the AHL. But a week later he was back and thanks in part to an adjustment in his style, he's been great and has taken over the No. 1 job with 26 starts in a 30-game span.

Runner-up: Flames domination in overtime

They haven't won in OT in over a month but it's only because they haven't played an OT game during that time. Their 8-1 record in games decided at 3-on-3 remains the best in the NHL (Chicago is 8-4).

6. Biggest Negative Storyline

Winner: Hamiton-Giordano flop as a pairing

Looked like a great fit on paper. Giordano, left-shooting Norris Trophy candidate alongside Hamilton, much-hyped right-shooting rising star kidnapped out of Boston. But on the ice, it was a disaster. No chemistry, the captain looked frustrated. Curiously, both have thrived since the split.

Runner-up: Lance Bouma injury woes

After busting out for 16 goals a year ago, Bouma was rewarded with a 3-year/$6.6 million deal. But injuries have ruined his year. He missed 30 games with a broken leg and is now out with a deep leg cut.

7. Most Thrilling Game

Winner: Dec. 1, 2015. Flames beat Dallas 4-3 (watch the highlights)

Trailing 3-0 after two periods to the NHL's best team at the time, Calgary roars back on goals by Backlund, Gaudreau and Hamilton with 2:18 left. It was a wild third period with the Flames outshooting the visitors 16-4. Calgary won the game in a shootout, Gaudreau with the deciding goal.

Runner-up: Dec. 4, 2015. Flames beat Boston 5-4 (watch the highlights)

With 75 combined shots, this game had it all. Flames blow 2-0 lead, give up late go-ahead goal on Brad Marchand's penalty shot, Hudler ties it with two seconds left. Gaudreau caps off hat-trick in OT.

8. Best Team Performance

Winner: Nov. 20, 2015. Flames beat Chicago 2-1 (watch the highlights)

Less than a week earlier, the Flames were schooled pretty good in losing 4-1 to the reigning Stanley Cup champs at the United Center. On this night, Calgary played a tremendous game, outshooting the Blackhawks 37-19 including 6-0 in a dominant overtime. The home side finally wins it on Gaudreau's goal.

Runner-up: Jan. 13, 2016. Flames beat Florida 6-0 (watch the highlights)

Panthers rolled into town as the NHL's hottest team (12-0-1 in last 13 games) but the Flames, led by Bennett's four goals, absolutely crushed them in a one-sided beatdown. Calgary held a 36-15 edge in shots.

9. Worst Team Performance

Winner: Dec. 29, 2015. Flames lose 1-0 to Anaheim

This game was all kinds of awful. It was boring as the Ducks clogged up the neutral zone and held Calgary to 14 shots (while only getting 21 themselves). The only goal was by Shawn Horcoff. The Flames power play was bad once again. And all of that against an Anaheim team that players and fans despise.

Runner-up: Oct. 30, 2015. Flames lose 6-2 to Montreal

In Joni Ortio's last start before being sent to the minors, the Canadiens -- with Carey Price backing up -- got a hat-trick from Dale Weise in steamrolling the Flames at home. Ortio gave up six on 31 shots.

10. Best Individual Performance

Winner: Jan. 13, 2016. Sam Bennett scores four against Florida

It was a historic night as Bennett, after breaking a 18-game goalless drought on Monday, recorded a first period hat-trick then scored again with 25 seconds left in the game to become the third-youngest player in NHL history to score four goals (and first Flame to score four since Jarome Iginla in 2003.)

Runner-up: Dec. 4, 2015. Johnny Gaudreau with four points against Boston.

It's always special when the former Boston College star plays Boston and what a night for Gaudreau as he caps off his hat-trick and first career four-point game with a beautiful goal 3:20 into overtime.

11. Best Goal

Winner: Nov. 20, 2015. Johnny Gaudreau in OT against Chicago (watch the goal)

Calgary was relentless on the attack in OT. After several close calls that had Saddledome patrons on the verge of erupting, Gaudreau finally ended it with a great individual effort. After his first shot was stopped, he stole the rebound from Brent Seabrook and made a slick move to beat Scott Darling.

Runner-up: Nov. 7, 2015. Sam Bennett against Pittsburgh (watch the goal)

Deep in the Flames end, Backlund wins the face-off, Frolik dishes it to Bennett inside Calgary's blue-line and he does the rest. After turning Ian Cole inside out, Bennett goes top shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury.

12. Worst Goal Against

Winner: Oct. 16, 2015. Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien (watch the goal)

An early season punch in the gut. Tied 1-1 with less than two minutes left at the noisy MTS Centre, the Flames looked poised to get to OT when a harmless-looking rush from Dustin Byfuglien down the sideboards resulted in a bad angle shot that somehow slipped past Ramo for the winning goal.

Runner-up: Dec. 1, 2015. Dallas' Mattias Janmark (watch the goal)

Down 2-0 after one, Calgary was pouring on the pressure and outplaying Dallas when Mattias Janmark's epic-wide wraparound left both Ramo and defenceman Ladislav Smid looking silly.

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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