It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Calgary Flames
About six weeks ago, Calgary was dead in the water. The team hit rock-bottom in mid-December, coming off three straight losses and sitting at 14-18-3. With only rival Edmonton below them in the standings, it looked as if the Flames were headed for one of their worst seasons since before the lockout, and a tumultuous one at that.
Don’t look now, but that same team is hard-charging and knocking on the door of a playoff spot.
Throughout the first half of the season, rumors were swirling about the possibility of Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and others being dealt away to begin a rebuilding process. ‘Acting’ GM Jay Feaster may want to hold off on any trading plans he had.
Thanks to a current five-game win streak, the Flames sit just three points back of eighth-seeded San Jose. They are getting stellar play from Miikka Kiprusoff, the defense is holding their own, and the offense is chipping in when needed. But the biggest factor in their unexpected surge has been consistency.
“We’ve been getting a lot more consistent efforts from everyone on our team,” Regehr told RLD yesterday. “I think we’ve been a lot more responsible in the way that we’ve played. A big part of today’s game is special teams – our penalty kill has improved and the power play has capitalized in key opportunities.”
Since Dec. 23, Calgary is a rock-solid 11-3-3. In that time, the improving penalty kill that Regehr mentioned is a very respectable 38-for-44 (86.3%). This stretch started with a late comeback win in Dallas that was decided in a shootout. Their most recent win – last night in Nashville – was done in similar fashion.
They’ve fought hard to get to a point where they are within striking distance of a playoff spot. Now the biggest challenge for this team will be maintaining their recent success to stay in the hunt.
Just five points separate Calgary (12th) and Nashville (4th); though they are at the bottom of the nine-team pack, Brent Sutter’s club is right there.
“It’s extremely important that we continue to play well,” Regehr said. “It doesn’t matter which teams we’re playing – we need to keep getting points.”
“Most games we play, we’re playing teams ahead of us in the standings,” said Rene Bourque, who netted the shootout winner last night. “You go on a slide, you can take yourself out of the picture; you go on a streak, you can climb up pretty quick. They’re all big points.”
In their five-game win streak, the Flames have taken down three teams – Nashville twice, plus Vancouver and Dallas; along with St. Louis, who they are trying to stay ahead of in this crazy playoff race.
“We’ve been playing a lot better hockey for 20 to 25 games now; we’re starting to get a lot more results,” Captain Jarome Iginla said. “Every game just gets more important from here on out.”
Iginla has been the offensive catalyst in Calgary for many years, but he struggled early with just two goals in the first 15 games. Some thought a trade was in his future, others felt he was an aging winger that was past his prime. Neither were true.
“I think at the start it was really our whole team – we were pressing,” Iginla said. “We got off to a tough start and everyone starts pushing and trying too hard. We were under pressure and everyone wants to be a difference and you start thinking too much. I know I did, but I think it was really our whole team. Fortunately for myself, things started turning around.”
Boy, did things ever turn around for Iginla. The captain has gotten back on track, racking up 20 goals and 39 points and in the last 37 games. During this streak, he has three goals and five points.
“For him, he’s playing well when he’s moving his feet and finding those holes to get the opportunity to get that shot off and go to the net,” Regehr said. “I think that’s what he’s been doing. Usually when he’s scoring and playing well, our team is winning.”
Calgary’s captain also got a vote of confidence (for lack of a better term) from Feaster, who recently said he was not going to trade Iginla.
Aside from Iginla, Alex Tanguay has arguably been Calgary’s most consistent producer. He has 38 points on the year (on pace for his highest total since 2006-07) and rarely gets stuck in a drought.
Perhaps most importantly, Kiprusoff has looked like his old self these last couple of weeks. During this win streak, ‘Kipper’ has been there in the key moments to shut the door on the opposition. He also boasts a .944 save percentage in his last four games, including a great 41-save performance in Vancouver before the break.
Kiprusoff, who is on pace for his least amount of starts since the lockout, looks like a recharged and refreshed goaltender for the stretch run. Can he carry the Flames to an unlikely playoff berth?
Like I mentioned earlier, the difficult task is just ahead of them – continuing to rack up points and stay in the playoff mix.
“It’s going to be a heckuva race with so many teams so close to each other,” Iginla said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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