At the midway point of the season, the Calgary Flames sat with a record of 22-13-3-3. During the third quarter of the season, the team had a record of 8-10-2-0.
A far cry from the 13-5-2-0 record in the second quarter.
So who are the real Calgary Flames, anyway? Is it the team that went 13-5-2-0 or the team that went 8-10-2-0? Naturally, the answer is somewhere in the middle but is that team that lies somewhere in between the second quarter Flames and the third quarter Flames good enough to make the playoffs? As it stands, with the team one point ahead of the ninth-place Blues and two points behind the fifth-place Stars unless one of the five teams realistically competing for the final four playoff spots falls right off the map they will probably need to be three to five games over .500 to comfortably get into the postseason and put an end to the seven-year drought.
Trade deadline prediction
Two weeks from today the NHL will meet the trading deadline. Several of the teams the Flames are competing with for that last playoff spot have already made their moves to bolster their offence.
Darryl Sutter has plainly stated that the team can't "add a cent of payroll" but also noted that there's a definite need to acquire a power forward and a veteran defenceman. In the end, I believe the team will make a deal that does add more than a cent of payroll but it will likely involve salary heading in the other direction as well. Look for Lydman and a draft pick or second-tier prospect to be moved for a top-six forward and an older veteran defenceman. Just a hunch.
Keys for the next quarter
Back to the basics –
The reason the team was so successful in the first half – and particularly the second quarter of the season – was because they did a great job limiting opponents' chances. They also created a counterattack that resulted in a lot of goals off the rush, particularly by Shean Donovan. They need to get back to that style of play.
Weather the storm –
The schedule from now until mid-March looks ugly. Colorado twice, Detroit three times and Ottawa. In addition, the team has key match-ups with Nashville and St. Louis among others. The Flames need to battle in these games and get as many points as they can.
Upon returning from injury, Miikka Kiprusoff picked up right where he left off and he has at the very least given the Flames a chance to win every single game he has played in, which is all you can ask. He's going to need to continue playing at least that well throughout the fourth quarter.
Balanced offence –
We all know Jarome Iginla can score but this team has shown the most success when players such as Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas, Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan are firing on all cylinders. Donovan has one goal in his last 12 games, Gelinas has one in 11 and Conroy has three goals all season. It's no secret the team has struggled to score goals lately and the lack of secondary scoring is the biggest reason.
The biggest difference between the second and third quarter aside from the lengthy absence of Kiprusoff has been Stephane Yelle's injury. Yelle is one of the best shutdown centres in the league and if he can return healthy it will be a huge boost to Calgary's playoff chances.
Third Quarter MVP : Jarome Iginla
While Miikka Kiprusoff was far and away the team's MVP in the second quarter, Jarome Iginla's improved play won him the third quarter MVP by a similar landslide. Iginla had 13 goals and 4 assists for 17 points in the 21-game stretch and although he has cooled off of late – and who hasn't? – when the team has won it's mainly been because of his heroics. At one point earlier in the month he scored a goal in five straight games, four of which the Flames won.
Are playoffs in the cards?
The team is in a fortune position in that, barring a miraculous run by one of the Western Conference's bottom feeders, it's a five-team race for the final four playoff spots in the West.
How tight is the Western Conference? Currently, the Flames sit in eighth but only two points separates them from fifth-place Dallas. Calgary has a game in hand on each of the three teams ahead of them in the standings. However, they are only one point up on ninth-place St. Louis and a playoff position is far from a certainty.
So where will the Flames finish? Common logic may point at the inexperienced Flames faltering down the stretch, and certainly if the fourth quarter in any way mirrors the third quarter the team will be on the outside looking in for the seventh season in a row. That said I'm going to hold true to my pre-season prediction and state that the Flames will finish up in eighth and meet the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.