I was sitting on my couch Saturday night, it was nearing midnight and I was watching Big Bang Theory. I had a nice evening snack of some sandwich meat and chocolate chips (I know, strange combo but that's what I pulled out of the fridge). Then my dog came out of the bedroom as she usually does late at night just to check on me. It was a nice way to end an evening and frankly, it was needed.
Why was it needed? Well if you're asking that question then you were already able to erase the absolute shellacking the Calgary Flames dealt with at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers and more specifically Connor McDavid, and for that I am jealous. I am not even going to go into the details of that game because it hurt on so many levels. I planned on writing an article about the players that stepped up after being called out by head coach Geoff Ward following the loss to Vancouver. But at this point, it doesn't even matter. The team has lost three straight and they must regroup as they start a five-game road trip in Ontario. So with that, let's look ahead to what could easily be viewed as the trip that could make or break the Flames season.
Everything starts with two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just what the doctor ordered - the best team in the North Division and in the league.
You could say the struggles for the Flames this season started with the Leafs. Calgary opened the season with five out of a possible six points and then had five days off. Following that break they faced Toronto twice, losing both games by one goal each.These games also kick-started Auston Matthews's season as he tallied three points (2G, 1A) in those two matchups. Following those games, the Flames have stumbled through the schedule with the inability to put together a solid 60 minutes and the only thing that has been consistent is their mediocrity.
Now, as I mentioned it is no easy task to face the top team in the NHL in the hopes of snapping a losing streak but this could also be the perfect test to show that they aren't nearly as bad as their record has shown through 18 games. These are the games where you buckle down to prove people wrong and trust me a lot of Flames fans would love to be proved wrong right now. This is their chance to turn the tables on the Leafs from earlier in the season and win a few games back. The crazy part is if they win these next two games they could be right back in the playoff picture, with a little help from other teams of course.
Calgary enters this game just four points back of fourth place Montreal - who has been on a bit of a slide lately as well.
Now do I think they need to win both games against Toronto, no. But I think they need at least one win and they need to show some serious fight. Maybe there will be some anger from the last time these two met, due to the little scuffle between Matthew Tkachuk and Jake Muzzin.
Following the two-game set with the buds, Calgary will head to the nation's capital and face the lowly Ottawa Senators for four straight games, however, that fourth game will be back at the Saddledome. The Senators are in a completely different situation compared to the Leafs. The Sens sit at the bottom of the entire league and only have five wins to their name. But that being said, these are games that should not be taken lightly. Yes, Ottawa is bad, but they also have some young talent that could hurt the Flames if they don't take this team seriously, specifically the younger Tkachuk, Brady, and the newest German star to join the league, Tim Stützle. There is also the solid defensive presence of Thomas Chabot on the back end. It doesn't matter if Ottawa has a bad record because they are still an NHL team with high calibre players that could burn you if you aren't ready. In the same sense that Calgary needs to improve their gameplay to compete with Toronto, they also can't play down to Ottawa's level. This has been a problem for this team in the past and they end up finding themselves struggling against teams they should be walking over.
If there is one thing Calgary should take from their gut-punching loss to Edmonton on Saturday and bring to Ottawa, and this road trip in general, is their shot total.
Calgary had 44 shots against the Oilers. According to Natural Stat Trick, 31 of those shots came at even strength and Calgary had 17 high danger chances at five-on-five. If those types of plays continue, especially against a team like Ottawa that has had porous goaltending so far this season, then Calgary has a solid chance of securing eight points over four games against the Senators. To some, it might seem too early to categorize these games as make or break, but right now Calgary is struggling to keep their head above water and if they fail to have a winning record over their next five to six games then it might be too difficult to keep afloat much longer. And if the Flames get doused this season, fans could see some major changes in the near future.
Only time will tell what comes from this, but Monday is the first step for Calgary to get back on track. Check back next week to read an evaluation of this Ontario battle and where it leaves the Flames for the rest of the season.