The hottest team in the NHL right now is a rather unlikely one: the Calgary Flames. Is it time to take them seriously as contenders in the Western Conference?
The NHL’s regular season is probably the most arduous of the four major U.S. sports leagues. Don’t even talk to me about baseball and its 162 games because baseball players stand around 95 percent of the time. The NBA and NHL are both 82-game schedules, but hockey is much more physically demanding than basketball. If you are on the ice, you are on the move at all times. Plus, you have all that equipment on, etc.
Because the hockey season is so long, it’s never a good idea to overreact to any winning or losing streak. Even the best team is going to have a mini-skid and even the worst club is going to slap together 3-4 straight wins.
All teams in the NHL also get a bye week this season. The Calgary Flames probably wish their bye hadn’t arrived when it did as the Flames entered the break on a season-high seven-game winning streak to get a season-best nine games over .500 at 25-16-4. The Flames hadn’t won more than three straight before this run.
Most of the seven victories were over expected playoff teams: Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina. The last four were on the road – obviously, none more impressive than a 5-1 victory at the NHL-best Lightning. Bovada oddsmakers aren’t too impressed yet as the Flames are +1200 to win the West, better than only Edmonton (+1800), Colorado (+2800) and Vancouver (+5000). Calgary hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals since losing in seven games to the Lightning in 2004. Last season, the Flames were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Anaheim.
What should we think of the Flames coming out of their bye? The franchise record is 10 wins in a row. Last year’s team hit that mark as did the Atlanta Flames from Oct. 14 to Nov. 3, 1978, before moving to Calgary. After that streak a season ago, the Flames were 4-6 in their next 10 and then lost those four in a row against the Ducks in the playoffs.
Goaltender Mike Smith has been the No. 1 catalyst of this current run, in net for six of the seven wins. Smith has a 1.99 GAA and .941 save percentage during his six-game winning streak. He’s the team’s best in net since Miikka Kiprusoff’s second-to-last year in Calgary in 2012.
Star winger Johnny Gaudreau has two goals and 11 assists during his seven-game point streak. Johnny Hockey is among the NHL leaders with 54 points in the best start of his career and was named an All-Star again. The top line of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland has quietly become one of the most formidable in the NHL. The trio is the league’s third-most productive line with 24 goals scored when together on the ice.
The good news is that Calgary’s schedule out of the bye is home-heavy with six of seven at the Saddledome. Well, that should be good news, but the Flames are just 12-11-0 at home (5-18 ATS on the NHL odds) compared to 13-5-4 on the road (spectacular 17-5 ATS).
At BetOnline, Calgary is +3300 on the NHL futures odds to win the Stanley Cup. It only has once, in 1989. This writer believes Vegas will fade a bit, so the West is wide open.