The Calgary Flames have five games left on the docket and then the team is going to go their separate ways until training camp in September. But these games could be pretty useful for the coaching staff as they try to lay a foundation for next season.
Here are three ways the Flames could try to improve over their last five games.
Better starts and resiliency
The Flames have been either really good or really not in most of their games this season and that trend has continued under Darryl Sutter. They’ve scored first 13 out of 25 games and won 10 of those games; in the 12 games they’ve allowed the first goal against, they’ve won once. Similarly, they’re winless when trailing after the first and second periods under Sutter.
Simply put, they’re an above-average defensive team under Sutter that unfortunately (a) gives up goals at bad times and (b) can’t bounce back after they get down in games very often.
Better special teams
In an ideal world, a hockey team would be great at both sides of special teams: power plays and penalty kills. You’d probably settle for being good at one and average at the other one. Under Sutter, the Flames are 21st in power play conversions (15.6%) and 19th at killing penalties (80.6%).
With the Flames on the outside of the playoff picture, perhaps we see new faces on either side of special teams. Under Sutter, we’ve seen a few regular faces on special teams:
Power play only: Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Rasmus Andersson, Milan Lucic, Dillon Dube
Penalty kill only: Chris Tanev, Derek Ryan, Joakim Nordstrom, Michael Stone
Both sides: Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin (pre-injury)
Juuso Valimaki on the power play could be an interesting look.
Season series improvements
One of the big reasons why the Flames aren’t in a playoff spot is because they lost too many season series against North Division opponents. They won their series against Montreal and are leading Vancouver, but have lost the other four series. Speaking on Thursday, Sutter discussed his team’s need to improve in this regard.
I think there’s definitely thresholds and targets that players have to hit here whether they’re older players or young players. And I’ll demand it of them. Like when you go back to [Wednesday] night, I was disappointed, we had a chance to tie the season series with Winnipeg. We had a chance to do that in Edmonton, also tie the season series and we didn’t. It just tells you that there’s still so much growth and learning to be done here in terms of winning big games and winning series and all that. So there’s a lot that can be accomplished over these games.
For you draft honks hoping for the Flames to get a better pick this year, they could win their season series over Vancouver with just two wins in their four remaining meetings with the Canucks.
These next few games aren’t necessarily about winning or losing, but it’s unlikely that the team will be satisfied by rattling off a series of “productive” losses. They still care very much about the club not getting used to losses of any kind.