If the Calgary Flames miss the playoffs or make it and then get beat out in the first round, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be their road performance that does them in.
For the second straight year, the Flames have been NHL road kill.
Last season the Flames finished eighth in the Western Conference despite having an outstanding 30-9-2 home record. It was their performance away from home, where they were 13-20-8, which was their downfall. It had a great deal to do with GM Darryl Sutter’s decision to replace coach Jim Playfair with Iron Mike Keenan.
Although the Flames have been a bit better on the road this season, they simply have not been good enough. Things looked rosy for the Flames Dec. 18 when they won their sixth straight road game, 3-1 in Columbus. It concluded an amazing six-game road trip, during which the Flames also won in Chicago, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and St. Louis.
But reality soon set in and the Flames have struggled on the road ever since. Heading into their final two games – both on the road – the Flames had dropped three of four away from the Saddledome and five of their past seven.
Once again, their home record wasn’t too bad at 21-11-9. Calgary had outscored the opposition 111-99 at home, but was outscored 119-104 on the road. Perhaps strangely, the Flames were slightly better with the man advantage when playing on the road with a 19 percent success rate compared to 14.6 at home. Their penalty-killing was slightly better at home, 83.8 percent compared to 79.2 on the road.
It is hard to believe a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate in Jarome Iginla, a world-class defenseman in Dion Phaneuf and a superb goaltender in Miikka Kiprusoff finds itself in this situation. One thing is certain, however, until the Flames figure out how to be more consistent away from home, they will not be a serious Stanley Cup threat.
All you have to do is look back to 2003-04, when the Flames finished sixth in the Western Conference, but went all the way to the Stanley Cup final, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. That season Calgary was 21-16-2-2 on the road – not great, but at least it was a winning record.