Earlier this year we looked at the change in the Flames' schedule and the impact that the increase in back-to-back series might have on the Flames playoff hopes.
For thirty contests this season the Flames have faced teams on back-to-back nights, amounting to a possible 60 points. Fighting through injuries and matchups that were mostly staged away from the Saddledome, the Cow-town boys have turned an important corner this year, illustrating better depth, better coaching and certainly better execution when facing better-rested rivals.
Struggling to find a system and adopt a consistent style of play, the Flames skated to an abysmal 4-11-3-2 in the 2002-2003 campaign for a total of 13/40, or about 33%. Although that sounds punishing enough, it is important to note that under Darryl Sutter they improved to a 39% clip, versus the 17% clip they chipped along at under the Gilbert and MacNeil tandem.
At a 39% winning percentage this year, the Flames would have scraped up 20 points over the course of this season in these games. Under that 17% figure, a mere 9 points.
L 1-2 Oct 24 St Louis Blues
W 4-2 Oct 25 @Edmonton Oilers
L 2-4 Oct 28 @Colorado Avalanche
OTL 3-4 Oct 29 @Dallas Stars
W 6-2 Nov 12 @Chicago Blackhawks
L 1-4 Nov 13 @Nashville Predators
W 4-1 Dec 4 @Vancouver Canucks
W 2-1 Dec 5 Minnesota Wild
W 5-0 Dec 18 @Boston Bruins
W 2-1 Dec 19 @Columbus Blue Jackets
W 2-1 Dec 28 @Edmonton Oilers
T 2-2 Dec 29 Minnesota Wild
W 5-0 Jan 5 @New York Rangers
W 3-2 Jan 6 @New York Islanders
L 1-4 Jan 13 @Toronto Maple Leafs
T 3-3 Jan 14 @Washington Capitals
W 5-1 Jan 19 @Anaheim Mighty Ducks
L 1-4 Jan 20 @Los Angeles Kings
W 2-1 Jan 27 @Phoenix Coyotes
L 1-4 Jan 28 @San Jose Sharks
W 5-2 Feb 10 Atlanta Thrashers
W 3-2 Feb 11 @Vancouver Canucks
L 1-2 Feb 21 @Ottawa Senators
L 1-2 Feb 22 @New Jersey Devils
W 4-2 Mar 2 @St Louis Blues
L 1-2 Mar 3 @Detroit Red Wings
T 4-4 Mar 13 @Nashville Predators
W 3-0 Mar 14 @St Louis Blues
W 4-0 Mar 24 @Phoenix Coyotes
L 2-3 Mar 25 @San Jose Sharks
Shockingly, the Flames have literally and thoroughly embarrassed those numbers in back-to-back series this season, chiming in with an incredible 0.600 winning percentage and gobbling up 36 points. That puts the Flames 16 points better than last year's estimated success rate in similar matchups.
December proved to be the Flames time to shine as they burned through their opponents and came away with 11/12 points. Teams in that stretch included conference rivals such as Vancouver, Edmonton and Minnesota, all important four point games.
Concern was earlier expressed for the month of January, where the Flames would not only face four double-night doses of gameplay, but also face some pretty tough teams in the mix. Throttled with injury and airplaning through a tiring road schedule, the Flames came up big in the Big Apple state and were able to hold on for a 4-3-1 record overall in that wintry month.
October was the low-point of the season for the Flames, where they were only able to capture 3 of a possible 8 points. This was the only month of the season where they were unable to escape with a crucial .500 mark and sacrificed those points to fellow conference members.
Sixteen points is what many expected the Flames would need to make the big dance this year, jumping to a comfortable seed in the bottom half of their conference.
Sixteen points is exactly the improvement the Flames were able to deliver in this absurd number of back-to-back games that they had to perform in.
First game performance: 10-4-1-0 (70%)
Last game performance: 6-6-2-1 (50%)
Series Sweeps: 4 (VAN/MIN, BOS/CLS, NYR/NYI, ATL/VAN)
Series Lost: 1 (OTT/NJ, although COL/DAL was L/OTL too)
It's going to be tight down the stretch, but we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the skaters were able to get points that, only one season ago, were seemingly out of reach.
Was it the management? The new jersey? Perhaps the addition of certain defensemen, rookie talent stepping up, or even a new goaltender? No one will know for sure if a single change pushed them over the edge, but the sum of those parts (and perhaps Flames management reading my previous article) has allowed the team to improve a statistic that, last year, damned them to playoff oblivion.
This was a new season, however, and the Flames have found offensive gains and defensive strengths, outscoring their opposition 83-62.
Although not yet a clinch, the playoffs are certainly within reach. Streaking down the stretch with a 60% gun in their belts is exactly what was prescribed earlier this year; the Flames have given their fans precisely what the doctor ordered.