Monthly Record: 5-5-2-0 12 points
Predicting the first month of the season for the Calgary Flames should be a slam dunk.
The 3-8-1 October of last year has been all too common for some six years with Pierre Page's 7-4-2 early season start in 1996-97 the only exception.
Let's face it, the Flames have been way too predictable for too many years.
The contrarian in me would have been broke and on skid row by now if this were for real and I had been betting against the grain.
Making our task more difficult is the fact the Flames typically play over their heads against the league powerhouses then give the season away against their alleged weaker sisters.
Another mitigating factor – there isn't a single team in the league that hasn't stated at least once already that they need to get off to a great start.
Somewhere, someone is going to be hugely disappointed.
The most interesting date this month will be the Oct. 22 encounter in St. Louis where you know the matchup is probably going to be Roman Turek versus Fred Brathwaite.
My prediction is the Flames will start the year off fast with a 2-0-1 record before losing three straight on the road in Detroit, Nashville and Dallas. Calgary will then beat Val Bure and Jason Weimer with Florida before going into a pattern of winning one for each time it loses. Beating Brian Sutter's Hawks twice will be the difference. Or maybe it will be those two losses to Nashville.
In other words, a 5-5-2 October.
The toughest game to predict – or maybe it's the easiest – will be the first home date with Sutter's Hawks. In the past, the Flames have been a characterless doormat for discarded players and coaches returning to the Saddledome. We'll try an experiment with this game and predict that new coach Greg Gilbert will inject some pride into the Flames for at least this one contest.
Predictions: It will be off to the races for Olympic hopefuls Jarome Iginla and Derek Morris and both will be determined to make strong impressions with Iginla netting seven goals in his first 10 games. . . . . Chuck Kobasew will be signed in time for the season and will have a productive October with four goals and two assists, helping Rob Niedermayer get off to a fast seven point start. Kobasew will fade later in the year. . . . . . Oleg Saprykin will start the year in St. John. . . . . . Rico Fata will clear waivers and Jukka Hentunen will never see Calgary again.
Monthly Record: 4-4-3-1 12 points
"After a summer of criticism, the Flames went out and acquired a new goaltender and proved critics wrong with a winning pre-season record. If they can continue their success in October, they should be able to compete for a playoff spot."
Sound familiar? It should, because it's happened in each of the last three seasons. Of course, the Flames have not got off to a good start in the past few seasons, and have found themselves several points out of the playoff race come November.
"Yeah… but this season will be different! ". Another familiar phrase in Calgary, although it is certainly an accurate statement. Calgary could have as many as 10 new opening day starters this season, and many of the 'ghosts of the past' have been shipped out of town.
Realistically, the Flames have a good chance to get off to a decent start. Their first three games are at home, and two are against non-playoff teams. In fact, only five of their twelve games in October are against 2001 playoff teams, making for a very winnable month.
Three reunions of sorts in the month: Brian Sutter and Phil Housley return to Calgary on the 8th; Val Bure, Jason Wiemer, and Bill Lindsay pay a visit on the 18th, and Romen Turek will return to St. Louis on the 22nd.
I'm going to predict a .500 record in October with 4 wins, 4 losses, 3 ties, and an overtime loss. It's hardly a successful month, but it's much better than in past years. The Flames don't have the advantage of playing anyone in the 2nd game of a back-to-back, so there won't be any 'easy' wins. The Flames are still learning a new system with several new teammates, so that will cost them a few games in the early going.
A couple of side predictions: I think the Flames will score 5 goals per game in back to back wins over the Panthers and the Leafs on the 18th and the 20th, and I think that Chuck Kobasew will have at least one goal and an assist on October 22nd in St. Louis… his 9th (and possibly last) NHL game of the season.
Monthly Record: 5-4-2-1 13 points
A winning record in October?
How can that be possible? Blind optimism? Denial? Or a writer so close to a hockey situation that he can't possibly muster up any objectivity for fear of pulling something between his ears? Fear not ... I have reasons. Honestly.
The Flames have a few things on their side this month.
1) Schedule: To say that any team that has missed the playoffs for five straight years has an easy October would be foolish, and likely a little laughable. The downtrodden shouldn't be looking down their collective nose at any opponent. However ... compared to say last season where the Flames had to face the Red Wings, and Avalanche to start the season perhaps a contest with Edmonton is best. An emotional game that could swing the whole month. Win it and the Flames have a heaping portion of momentum. Lose it and ... well ...
2) Continuity: The Flames, as offensively challenged as they may seem, are all pulling on the same rope. It appears that Greg Gilbert has installed a fairly sound defensive system, and most if not all are firmly on board and buying in - a rare occurrence in Calgary last season. Many will submit that talent is required to win in the National Hockey League, and this is true, but if you don't have the talent you do possess on the same page ... lights out. This new found "one-ness" should help to avoid a total collapse in October this season.
3) Murphy's Law: Being Irish, this is my ace in the hole. The Flames have had a long run of bad luck, in addition to some bad hockey teams. As poor an argument that it may appear, it's has to be their turn to be fortuitous in October. The Vancouver Canucks made the playoffs on the strength of a sound October and November, and the Flames could do the same by catching some rebuilt teams looking past them while they adjust to their new lineups.
Predictions: Chuck Kobasew will score in one of his first two games, but then go on a skid that will land him in Kelowna before the Flames play their eighth game. ... Oleg Saprykin will take his place for a pair of contests before being shipped to Saint John in exchange for Jukka Hentunen. ... The Flames will split their two monthly revenge dates against the Blackhawks and Panthers. ... The 5-4-2-1 record will come on the strength of some uncharacteristically sound special teams in Calgary. ... Rob Niedermayer will lead the Flames in assists in October. ... Jarome Iginla will lead in goals.