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Frontline Research: Calgary Flames

Do you know that the Flames haven’t won on opening night in eleven years? Eleven years! We asked MIke over at our SB Nation’s Matchsticks and Gasoline all about that, and more.

Calgary Flames v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Oilers are set to match up with the Flames tonight in this season’s first Battle of Alberta. Here to answer my questions about these Calgary Flames is Mike from our SB Nation sibling site about the Calgary Flames, Matchsticks and Gasoline.

Thanks go out to Mike for his time.

Let’s get crackin’.

Copper and Blue: The Flames have finished up one year of the Jacob Markstrom experience. After posting a .904 SV%, it’s fair to say that his first year could have gone a bit better. With Dan Vladar essentially replacing David Rittich, will the crease settle down a bit in 2021-22?

Mike @ M&G I want to say yes, especially because Vladar performed very well during his action in the preseason, but there is still a potential for chaos this year. Darryl Sutter is notorious for riding his starting goaltender hard as we saw in his first tenure with the Flames where Miikka Kiprusoff started 74-76 games for four straight seasons. He also relied heavily on Jonathan Quick during his time in Los Angeles, but that ultimately led to injuries for the goaltender. Markstrom is a goalie that has also had a penchant for injury in the past due to being overworked so the Flames will have to manage his time wisely but with a lot of back-to-backs on the schedule, it should be doable. I also think goaltending will benefit overall from not having to face one of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, or Kyle Connor in 52% of games like last year.

C&B: The Flames’ D has seen quite a makeover. Mark Giordano is now the captain of the Seattle Kraken, while Nikita Zadorov was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for a draft pick. Erik Gudbranson was a late signing this offseason. How confident are you with this D corps entering this season?

Mike @ M&G: Uhhhhhhh. Not very. Zadorov has a place at least in a Sutter lineup due to his penchant for physicality but I still can’t understand why the Flames thought it made any sense to bring in Gudbranson late in August at nearly $2M. In my opinion, Oliver Kylington, Connor Mackey, and Michael Stone are all better options than either of Zadorov or Gudbranson, but at least for now it seems the Flames have slotted them lower on the depth chart. Losing Giordano hurts, but it seemed like something that needed to happen for this group after another disappointing year last season. The defence core is definitely a weak spot in the lineup, and that’s still banking on Chris Tanev turning in another outstanding defensive season too.

C&B: Elias Lindholm is a dynamic player for the Calgary Flames. He’s shot the puck over 15% in his three years with the Flames, and I think this is a year he might really step up. On a trio with Johnny Gaudreau and everyone’s favourite Flame Matthew Tkachuk, what’s Lindholm’s ceiling this year?

Mike @ M&G If that trio ends up sticking together (which I hope they do) then I think Lindholm should easily eclipse 30 goals for the first time in his career and even have a very legitimate shot at 40. If last year was just a taste of Lindholm in a full-time centre role, then with a step forward he will unquestionably be a top line centre that the Flames desperately need. His right handed shot has also really given the Flames a lethal option from that side of the ice while on the man advantage. He has been superb at both ends of the ice for all three seasons in Calgary and really has become the Flames most integral player while still on amazing contract ($4.85M AAV) for two more years after this one.

C&B: Who’s a player that might have a breakout year for the Flames in 2021-22?

Mike @ M&G: One player to definitely watch would be Andrew Mangiapane. He finished last year on a roughly 25 goal, 50 point pace and was really excelling as the season progressed. He also lit it up with Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships and went on to be named Tournament MVP. This season he figures to get his first real shot at Top 6 minutes and PP minutes which he barely received last year.

On the blue line, I would be watching Rasmus Andersson this year as all signs are pointing to him opening the season on the top powerplay unit. He had a 30 point pace last year with limited ice time on the man advantage so I expect that number to rise this year with added exposure as he fills the gaps left by Mark Giordano. The biggest area of concern was his defensive play, but if you’re looking for a breakout offensive player this could be it.

C&B: Are the Flames a playoff club this season? Why, or why not?

Mike @ M&G: I do believe so, but I don’t believe they can get past the first round. I think they showed enough improvement statistically under Sutter that they can beat out the remaining teams in the weak Pacific Division. Most of their struggles last year were due to players falling short of expectations and previous performances, so any sort of regression to their average should be enough of a boost to sneak the team in. Blake Coleman will be a nice addition to the team, but again it will simply come down to existing players playing to their potential and some steps forward from younger players like Mangiapane or Dillon Dube.

C&B: Finally, the Flames have lost each of their last 11 season openers, a number they’d surely like to put to bed as soon as possible. Is Saturday night’s BOA the night it happens, or will they make it a perfect dozen?

Mike @ M&G: The Flames just don’t win on opening night. It just doesn’t happen, and of course they always schedule it against the Oilers so you guys get early bragging rights and a free two points. Not only have the Flames not won a Game 1 since 2010-11, they have only won twice on opening night going back to 1994-95!!! In that time they are 2-19-2-3 as they actually have more ties than wins on opening night in that span and ties haven’t existed for 16 seasons!

Thanks to Mike for his time.

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