Is Calgary the all defence and no offence team of their first 19 games or the all offence and no defence team we've seen in their last two starts?
It's impossible not to ask that question given Calgary through much of the first quarter of the schedule was eighth defensively and hovering 29th in a 30 team league on offence.
After playing run and gun with Colorado and Vancouver in their final two games, however, the Flames dropped to 19th defensively and moved up to 21st in terms of goals scored per game.
Night and day.
In leaping to number one overall in the league in fewest shots allowed, it's fair to say Calgary's defensive game has been as effective as it possibly could be, a remarkable turnaround from previous years when anything could happen in the Flames end of the ice and frequently did. Better defensive play quite obviously allows Calgary to compete for a win in any game it might be playing, the first necessary step for most teams which have pretensions of gaining a playoff spot when the calendar flips to April.
About the twelve game mark in the schedule, the Flames suddenly started getting offence from their defencemen, with young Jordan Leopold leading the way. It's not an unusual site these days to see Leopold or any other Calgary defenseman circling behind the opposition net after pinching in from the blueline.
The impact of overhauling Calgary's third and fourth lines late last year and through the off-season shouldn't be underestimated. Players like the surprising Shean Donovan, Krzysztof Oliwa and Blair Betts had as much of an impact on Calgary's record as those in an offensive role like newcomers Steve Reinprecht or Matthew Lombardi.
There could be plenty of debate as to whether or not Calgary's goaltending is helping or hurting. Prior to his last start, Jamie McLennan, with a 7-5-0-1 record, a 1.94 goals against average and .908 save percentage, had held the fort in the absence of injured number one starter Roman Turek while newcomer Miikka Kiprusoff was also sharp in his first two appearances. Yet Calgary's team defensive prowess has been so profound this season that some would argue McLennan has actually cost the offensively challenged Flames points in spite of his stats.
It's hard to believe, but you have to put Calgary's power play among aspects of their game helping them rather than hurting. Results matter and the fact Calgary sits 10th overall with the man advantage seems astonishing given the number of extra man situations where a lack of imagination and general incompetence seems to be the rule. Yet. . . . . . they're 10th so slap them on the back for that.
WHAT'S NOT WORKING
It doesn't matter if you don't want to bring money into the picture or not because no matter how you cut it, consideration of Jarome Iginla's four goals, with none on home ice, will invariably boil down to the question of: "What are we paying this guy for?"
Iginla gets the big bucks because of the expectation he'll produce at a far greater clip than his current pace of 16 goals and 58 points. His lack of finish early this season has been a factor in Calgary's record, that's the simple bottom-line truth. "Jarome has got to finish," says coach/GM Darryl Sutter, offering little sympathy for his $7.5 million man. In the NHL, it's all about results.
Calgary's overall offensive game, in spite of the last two contests, has also been problematic. You know you're in trouble when you're 29th in league offence and you hear the repeated observation that the opposition goalie is better than your own netminder. Every night. At some point you have to look at that and concede a relationship might exist between the opposing goalie being a star and your own stone hands.
Lastly, the penalty kill, as usual, is truly killing them, which, unfortunately, is a customary situation. Through a myriad number of GM's, coaches and assorted personnel, nothing much has changed for Calgary's penalty killing and that might be one of the great puzzles in the NHL given the consistency of the disaster in spite of all the variables involved. Calgary is 26th in the league when defending a man down.
DEFENSIVE MVP IN THE LAST QUARTER - It's not an easy task selecting a defensive MVP for the Flames given Sutter's world of very specific roles for every player. It would be easy to point to an ice time monster like Robyn Regehr or the stealthy physical play of Rhett Warrener as well as the offensive chops of Jordan Leopold. In spite of being maligned in many quarters, however, there stands Toni Lydman, armed with a large new three year contract from GM Sutter, second on the Flames in ice time at 21:54, second among defencemen in points and leading all Calgary players in plus minus with a positive four rating. If Leopold continues to progress, this might be the last time Lydman wins this award.
OFFENSIVE MVP IN THE LAST QUARTER - There wasn't much going on for the Flames offensively until Steve Reinprecht brought his Colorado swaggering confidence into the lineup and immediately produced. He's been more than an able replacement for Chris Drury and consistently one of the better Flames on a night in and night out basis. Honourable mentions to Matthew Lombardi, Leopold and the surprising Donovan.
KEYS FOR NEXT QUARTER - At 9-8-1-3 Calgary is off to a serviceable if not consistent beginning, clouded perhaps by the wild last few games. In building towards a playoff spot in the next quarter, the Flames will need to see McLennan and Kiprusoff providing some stable goaltending until Roman Turek can return while Calgary could desperately use one of Jarome Iginla's patented hot streaks where he scores in 16 or 20 consecutive games. Overall, they need to continue their outstanding play away from the puck, the key to keeping Calgary among league leaders in stingy defence.
WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO DO TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? Coach Sutter has been pretty plain on this matter - Calgary has to be top ten defensively, with goaltenders producing a .910 save percentage while finishing top 15 offensively or between 200 and 205 goals scored.