After taking a step backwards last season, the Calgary Flames have entered 2016-17 with renewed hope of moving forward.
Along with impressive young forward talent in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and rookie Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames put together an equally impressive defensive core which includes TJ Brodie, captain Mark Giordano, Nicklas Grossmann, and last season’s big acquisition Dougie Hamilton. They addressed league-worst goaltending (anemic team save percentage of .898) by making a trade with the St. Louis Blues for Brian Elliott and acquiring former Buffalo Sabre Chad Johnson in free agency.
Head coach Bob Hartley ultimately paid the price for last season’s disappointments, and enter Glen Gulutzan, in his second career head coaching opportunity, to take the helm. So far this season, the pace and energy from the Flames have provided for up and down games with chances abound for each team. In the early going, the Flames have outshot their opponents by more than six shots per game (33.75 to 27.25). Going forward, for the Flames to survive in the Western Conference, they will have to adapt to their new system and coach as they attempt to play a more possession-based game under Gulutzan.
Gulutzan has preached development, but with the roster as constructed, many in Calgary expect to see this team back where they were in 2014-15 when they reached the Western Conference second round. With the forward and blue line talent combined with the improvements in the crease, expectations are high for the Flames in the season ahead. If they can keep pucks out of their net, they will likely experience a season more closely mimicking 2014-15 instead of what they endured last season.
Things to Watch Tonight
- The Flames power play has been a dumpster fire so far. The team has only converted one of 16 (6.25%) power play opportunities thus far. You can bet this is something the Flames have focused on leading into tonight’s game.
- Chad Johnson was in net for the first victory of the season on Tuesday against his former Sabres teammates, but expect to see Brian Elliott back between the pipes tonight. Thus far the Flames have not begun the season particularly stingy, giving up an average of 4.25 goals per game in the first four games of the season (serious small sample size alert!).
- Former Hurricane Kris Versteeg caught on with the Flames during training camp, and he has actually seen time on the wing along side Gaudreau and Monahan in the early games. It will be interesting to see if this continues or if he is slotted down a bit in their lineup going forward.
- Special teams will play a very important role of tonight’s game. The Hurricanes have been hot to start the season on the power play, and the Flames have been below average on the penalty kill. Conversely, the Hurricanes have been excellent on the kill thus far, and the Flames struggles on the power play have already been documented. The Hurricanes will try to continue these trends, and if they do, they should have a good chance to pack away two points at night’s end.
Rosters and line projections will be available later this afternoon.