The Calgary Flames are officially in a slump. Following their 5-1 loss in Montreal on Tuesday night, the Flames have now lost four straight and eight of their last 11. With one more game before the All-Star Break and just four games between now and Feb. 13, Calgary is in a pretty pivotal part of their schedule. There’s no question this team is struggling right now, but three things concern me more than anything else.
The Flames have been protecting a playoff spot for the better part of the last two months, which is an accomplishment, especially considering the start to their season. That said, Calgary’s playoff position has been tenuous for quite some time due to their higher number of games played.
Competing teams have held games in hand basically all season but, thanks to this 3-7-1 stretch of late, they’re becoming much more of a concern. Back in November we took a look at the Western Conference standings and their projected points and things didn’t look rosy for the Flames. Two months later, they look slightly better, but Calgary’s point projection still has them on the outside looking in.
What might be the scariest part about these projected standings is how little things have changed. If you go back and reference the article I linked to above, you’ll see the eight teams in the playoffs hasn’t changed, only their order. That fact just further illustrates how hard it is to play from behind in this league, which the Flames have essentially been doing from day one.
Again, projected finishes are not iron clad and there is much that can change. That said, it’s clear Calgary needs to snap out of this slump soon and, more importantly, get on a meaningful roll in the near future if they’re going to want to be a playoff team.
From Nov. 15 through Dec. 10, the Flames were getting elite level goaltending from Chad Johnson. Since that point, though, Johnson has come back to reality a little bit while Brian Elliott hasn’t been able to gain any traction in the opportunities he’s been given. In fact, during this rough 11 game stretch when things have really fallen off, Calgary has gotten some of the worst goaltending in the league when you take a look at team metrics.
There have been a lot of issues during this 11 game slump, but goaltending has been at the top of the list. In fact, since Johnson’s epic run in November and December, the Flames have struggled to get number one stuff from either of their guys.
Between Nov. 15 and Dec. 10, Johnson started 13 of 15 games for Calgary, went 11-2-0, and posted a sparkling 0.946 save percentage. Since that point, though, the Flames have played 20 games and neither Johnson nor Elliott have gotten the job done on a consistent basis.
Maybe I’m still being blinded by Johnson’s stellar month earlier this season, but I still haven’t thrown in the towel on him. Heck, I even wrote about a potential contract extension a few weeks ago. In saying that, though, I fully realize Johnson, just like Elliott, needs to be significantly better for Calgary to turn things around.
Gaudreau has one goal and four points in his last 14 games. He’s dropped to sixth on the team in scoring and he’s been generally ineffective for much of this stretch, especially by his standards. Two years ago, or even last year, this would be unfortunate but chalked up to a young player still growing. While that might still be the case, he’s also now the team’s highest paid player, so slumps like this become magnified much more, justifiably so.
I hate using phrases like “your best players need to be your best players”, but it’s absolutely valid in this case. Gaudreau is being paid like this team’s best player and, as we’ve seen for more than two years, he is Calgary’s most dynamic and impactful offensive player. He just isn’t playing like it during this 14 game stretch, as illustrated below.
Gaudreau is still getting fed plenty of offensive high ground but he really isn’t doing anything with it right now. While some want to point to linemates like Sam Bennett or Alex Chiasson, I know what I’ve seen with my own eyes, too. Gaudreau looks frustrated, he looks like he’s trying to do too much, and he’s been a liability defensively far too often.
By no means have I changed my opinion on Gaudreau. He is still one of the NHL’s most dynamic players and he remains one of the most important pieces on this team. Gaudreau just isn’t playing very well right now and that needs to change. If the Flames want to turn this around and be a playoff team come April, Gaudreau has to be a driving force.