After failing home-ice exams against the Ducks (1-0 loss on Tuesday) and Kings (4-1 loss on Thursday), Calgary has shown that it is not yet ready to graduate to Stanley Cup contender.
But with the Ducks surging now and looking like a team a couple weeks away from assuming second place in the division -- quite possibly for good, what are the odds of Calgary toppling the Ducks should they finish third in the Pacific and face Anaheim in a best-of-seven? From what we saw last May, to what we've seen in two games against them this year, the odds are not good enough for it to make business sense to keep players like Hudler and Russell in the hopes that they might make the difference.
"When Micheal is skating, he's dominant," said Hartley after last night's game. "And we're starting to see that consistency. He's a very young player and there's going to be growing pains just like any other young player. But he's physical, he goes hard to the net, plus he has great abilities with the puck. Tonight, he had a few great chances."
The breakaway Bennett got less than 30 seconds into last night's game typified how it's been going though. Got in on Jonathan Quick so fast that he ran out of real estate on an attempted deke as Quick -- one of the NHL's best goalies -- defended him well. Against the Ducks, Bennett put the potential tying goal off the crossbar in the third period.
Bennett may not have the size or strength that Monahan has but he plays 10 times bigger. Consider this. In 13 December games, Monahan was credited with two hits. Over that same period, Bennett had 31 hits including 14 in this last four-game homestand. Bennett is not afraid to play 'big boy' hockey and seems to really enjoy it. That is huge. He's out there wallpapering guys of all sizes and creating momentum in games where goals are hard to come by. Those are qualities that I think will eventually elevate him to being this team's top line centre.
The last couple games has taught us that Calgary does not have the horses yet to reasonably assume that they could get past both the Kings and Ducks in the playoffs. It could happen. Heck, anything can happen. But to borrow a phrase from former GM Jay Feaster, intellectual honesty has to enter the equation and based on the last 72 hours, the Flames are not yet ready to compete with Los Angeles and Anaheim and be able to beat them four times in the span of seven games.
Unload players that are not part of the future picture, increase the ice time of young players like Bennett and Ferland that will be, expand the roles and responsibilities of players like Markus Granlund that you're not sure about yet and give auditions to players you need to make decisions on. For the latter, I'm talking specifically about a guy like Jakub Nakladal, the 28-year-old Czech brought to North America on a one-year deal, who is a pending UFA stuck in Stockton, despite Heat coach Ryan Huska saying he's been good.
If there was anything learned in these last two games, the future is not as far away as it once was -- the Flames weren't blown out by the Ducks or Kings, but it's also not here yet. The future is still to come and continuing to build towards that future should be the top priority.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Checking in on Stockton: Coach Huska Provides the 411 on Five Forward Prospects - In part 2 of my check-in on the Stockton Heat, coach Ryan Huska brings us up to speed on the play so far of five of the Flames top forward prospects including Emile Poirier. (Dec. 29, 2015)
- Revealing the Point of Origin of Johnny Gaudreau's Competitive Fire - The emphatic pumping of both arms after a big goal, his steely look of intensity that could melt the ice. I asked Gaudreau where his insatiable competitiveness comes from. (Dec. 27, 2015)
- Checking in on Stockton: Coach Huska Provides the 411 on Five D Prospects - Flames bolstered their blueline depth last summer. In part 1 of my prospect update, I checked in with the Flames AHL coach to see how the organization's D prospects are doing. (Dec. 26, 2015)
- Joe Who? After Adjusting for Era, Gaudreau Tops List of Best Career Starts - After Johnny Gaudreau's 100th point, the top 25 fastest Flames to 100 points as well as how many games it would have taken had they played in Joe Nieuwendyk's era. (Dec. 22, 2015)