Flames have run out of time

Heading into tonight’s battle of Alberta the Flames have simply run out of options. They either win out, or they start the golf season early, and even then it probably won't be enough.

How did it all come to this?

On March 9th, after a 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars, the Flames were sitting in a tie for fourth place and everyone in Calgary was talking about possibly getting home ice advantage in the first round, and not missing the dance entirely.

The team was playing great. Spirits were high. It was a double-rainbow-across-the-sky kind of moment.

Then, it all came crashing down four times faster than it took to begin.

In a nutshell: They were shut out by the Coyotes the following night. They gave up a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes to the Canucks at home to lose 4-3 two nights later. They lost to the Coyotes AGAIN three nights later – another 4-3 regulation loss. They salvaged some hope by beating up on the hapless Avs 5-2 before heading out on that all important California road trip. Down 3-0 in the first 6 minutes to the Ducks before storming back to lead 4-3 with two and a half minutes left. Untimely penalty = tying goal and eventually an overtime loss. Up the road the next night in LA the PP goes ZERO for SIX and the Flames lose in the shootout. Wednesday night, the Sharks smelt blood in the water and destroyed the Flames –don’t let the 6-3 score fool you.

Losses in six of seven in the most crucial time of year.

The Flames went 5/22 on the powerplay in that seven game stretch – a reasonable 22.7% clip and clearly not the issue. Here is the issue though: 13/19 on the penalty kill. 68%. That’s a C+ at best. C’s may get degrees but they don’t get you wins in the NHL. The loss of Brendan Morrison, and then David Moss has proved critical for this team. It has left a significant gap up the middle of the line-up that this team has been unable to account for. Ironically enough, the Flames, at the start of the season, had too many pivots to start the season that Moss played a lot of time on the wing, as did Stajan. Now, Glencross has tried time at center, as has Tanguay and a plethora of other players.

Now, I’m not blaming the Flames missing the playoffs simply on the injuries and this bad string of games. I think you can look back at the first three months of the season and pick out any number of poor efforts to find blame.

And for this reason, the Ducks game last Sunday becomes such a microcosm of what this entire Flames season was about. They fell behind 3-0 in six minutes only to storm back with four unanswered goals but then trip up in the end and miss their chance at two valuable points.

Once thought to be out of the running, only to charge back like Charlie Sheen on a fierce bender, but then fall short right at the end when it matters most. Painful. Exciting. Gut-wrenching. Not boring, that’s for sure.

If there is a silver lining in any of this, it is the fact that the Flames have been able to give their young prospects/rookies some much needed playing time. Mikael Backlund has grown into an NHL calibre player this season. He has tallied nine goals and eleven assists in limited playing time and he has shown he has an offensive flare (see: opening goal against Vancouver two weeks ago). I can only hope that next season he gets the opportunity to center the number one line next fall with Iginla.

Lance Bouma and Greg Nemisz have gotten time in crucial NHL games. Bouma more so than Nemisz, but both players are very important to this franchise going forward.

The Flames need a miracle to make the playoffs. Sounds a lot like what we were saying back in December when the Flames were languishing away in 14th place and eyeing up a top pick in the draft. The only difference is that the Flames have simply run out of games.

Two straight years without the playoffs. Two straight years without the playoffs under Brent Sutter.

Could one Sutter follow the other Sutter out the door this off-season? I think it’s definitely a conversation that must be had amongst Flames management. You have to think once Feaster is officially given the reigns to this team that he will want to bring in some of his own guys.

Just a thought, but I don’t think I’m too off base here.

Here are some stats about the next six games and the prior seven that effectively killed the Flames season.

11-6-3 against the remaining teams this season
0-0-3 against the Ducks - losing two games in overtime and one in a shootout
4-1 against the Avs
1-4 against the Canucks
3-0 against the Blues
3-1 against the Oilers

Last seven games stats:

PP: 5/22
PK: 13/19
19 GF = 2.71 GF
25 GA = 3.57 GAA
Lost 6 of 7 (1-4-2)