How does first place feel Flames fans?
Calgary is on a tear. A 6-2-2 mark in their past 10 games and a 10-2-2 record for the month of November, vaulted the Flames past the upstart Colorado Avalanche to first place in the Northwest Division and put more distance between themselves and the Vancouver Canucks, the team most figured Calgary would battle for the division crown.
Now I don’t want to douse any good feelings, but coach Brent Sutter and his charges do have some concerns: special teams.
Prior to Monday’s bout with the equally hot Nashville Predators, the Flames power play was ranked 19th and its penalty kill 18th. After a two-for-two performance with the man advantage and the successful kill of all three of the penalties they took, the Flames moved up to ninth on the power play Tuesday morning and 17th when a man down.
A perfect showing is a good sign for Calgary’s special teams, because the Flames are tempting fate and doomed to a post-season letdown if things don’t turn around. As the stats jump shows, it’s tight in the NHL. And that’s all the more reason to be wary of a troubling trend, namely that Sutter-coached teams in New Jersey the past two years weren't exactly special-teams standouts, either.
That’s rather shocking considering the pieces Sutter had to work with in New Jersey. And now in Calgary the same thing seems to be happening. Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen up front and Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf on the points should be a recipe for extra-man success. And Miikka Kiprusoff in goal, Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr clearing the crease, and proven penalty-killers Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy et al should also equal success when a man down.
But that just hasn't happened and may not any time soon. The power play actually got worse statistically during the second month of the season, falling 11 percentage points; and while the PK did jump a little, anything less than 80 percent is unacceptable and way off the league’s best.
Maybe these are two groups still finding their way in new systems. Maybe it’s a coach still trying to discover how best to use the assets he has. Or maybe it’s just been bad luck. But whatever the problem, it’d better get solved. Fast.
This article also appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.