It's been quite easy to focus on the negatives in the 1st quarter of the Calgary Flames season. For starters, Jarome Iginla hasn't scored at home for the entire season. Craig Conroy has exactly one goal in 21 games. And Roman Turek is winless and likely won't see the ice again until 2004. As a result, the Flames have just 48 goals in their first 21 games, and 9 of those have come in the past two contests.
But somehow, some way, this team has found a way to win. It may shock some NHL fans, and even some Flames fans, that this team actually has a winning record (9-8-1-3). They've accomplished this through some late-game heroics, and a stingy team defense that has allowed just 478 shots on goal, lowest in the league.
If you're a "glass is half-full" type of person, you can look likely look forward to more contributions from Iginla & Conroy and the return of Roman Turek, which may give the team three legitimate NHL goaltenders for the first time since… well… it's been a while.
Although it's hard to ignore Steven Reinprecht and his near point-per-game pace, there has been one player whose unexpected efforts night-in and night-out have really made helped the Flames keep pace in the tough Western Conference. Rookie Matthew Lombardi has been the team's biggest surprise of the season. His emergence has given the team another legitimate scoring threat and has given fans hope that maybe, just maybe, a Calgary Flames prospect can actually play on the top two lines in the NHL. His defensive skills, save for an occasionally lapse, have been outstanding as well. He's second on the team in +/-, and has been effective at killing penalties.
While you could make a case for the any of three Calgary blueliners (Warrener, Regehr, or Lydman), it's tough to overlook the courage and determination of Jamie McLennan, who has filled in heroically during Roman Turek's absence. Let's not forget that the 32 year-old is coming off a two-win season and one of the worst training camps in recent memory. Yes, much of McLennan's success has been as a result of the Flames' excellent team defense. However, he has consistently kept games close and has been between the pipes for seven victories in the early season. Without McLennan's solid goaltending, the Flames would be out of playoff contention already. That alone, is enough to garner him the Defensive MVP award.
With his contract expiring and two goaltenders ahead of him on the depth chart, McLennan's future in Calgary is cloudy at best. However, if the Flames happen to make the playoffs this season, they'll owe a lot to McLennan, who has courageously held the fort for the team in the early going.