The Calgary Flames might be the best Western Conference team no one is talking about. Maybe that’s because Calgary is good at many things but doesn’t excel at any. The Flames don’t have a world-renowned superstar such as Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, nor do they have one of the best power-play or penalty-killing units. Yet under Coach Bill Peters’s watch, they have accumulated 93 points with 12 games remaining, just one point behind the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks.
Calgary’s offense took a few nights off this month, resulting in a four-game losing streak, and top-line stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan went cold after the all-star break, but both seem to be back on track. Gaudreau scored a hat trick — including the game-winning goal on a penalty shot — and added a trio of assists during Tuesday’s 9-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils, giving him the league’s first six-point game since Jamie Benn of Dallas did the same to the Flames in 2013. Monahan and linemate Elias Lindholm each chipped in a goal and three assists in the win, giving Peters the boost he needed from his top trio. As a group, Gaudreau, Monahan and Lindholm have produced 49 even-strength goals, the most of any forward line this season.
“Your best players have to be your best players,” Peters said. “They’re primarily guys that we count on each and every night to generate offense and they’ve got to end up on the scoresheet, they have to.”
Calgary’s second line is no slouch, either. Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik have scored 21 even-strength goals while allowing 11, and the Flames are ahead in overall scoring chances (161 to 129) when they share the ice.
The surprise hero of the group might be defenseman Mark Giordano. The 35-year-old blue-liner skates against top competition every night and is one of the best possession defensemen in the NHL. When he skates at even strength the Flames allow 23.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes, the 11th fewest scoring-chances-against among defensemen skating at least 1,000 minutes this season, through Wednesday’s games. He is adept at getting the puck in the net as well, tallying 65 points in 68 games, second only to former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. Giordano has already joined Hall of Famers Ray Bourque, Nicklas Lidstrom and Al MacInnis plus Sergei Zubov as the only defensemen to record 65 or more points in a season after their 35th birthday. A poll of 21 NHL.com writers voted Giordano the Norris Trophy favorite at the three-quarters point of the season last month.
“[Giordano is] right there,” Peters said to NHL.com’s David Satriano. “He probably flew under the radar here a little bit over the years, but he’s had lots of good years. . . . He’s having a fantastic year again right now.”
Calgary, like Giordano, may be flying under the radar to the public, but the smart money knows exactly how good the Flames are. The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has the Flames as the second choice to win the Stanley Cup this year (8 to 1 odds), tying them with the Sharks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and behind only the supercharged Tampa Bay Lightning.
Projections at Hockey Reference are just as bullish — no team in the West has a higher probability to win the Cup this year than the Flames (11 percent) and only the Lightning has a better chance at raising a championship banner in the East (18 percent).