After recently attending two Calgary Flames games – including the home opening 5-4 defeat to the 3-3-0 Vancouver Canucks – the city of the 1989 Stanley Cup champions has been set alight at the prospect of the vibrant and fearless new-look outfit.
The Flames, through the first five games of the season, remain undefeated in regulation and boast a 3-0-2 record, which is good for a share – with five other teams – of second place in the Western Conference. But we all know the standings at this inchoate stage of a campaign are about as meaningless as an NHL All-Star game.
Sure, there is bound to be teething pains for this crew of energetic spark plugs. So first, let’s run through the grim and gloomy: Calgary, allowing 17 against, is profusely bleeding goals and is sixth worst in the NHL with a 3.20 goals against average; a squeamish 66.7 per cent penalty kill success rate is good for fourth worst and in both losses the Flames have squandered multiple goal leads, maybe the most glaring of follies.
Lucky for Flames fanatics, the good most definitely outweighs the bad. Playing with enterprise, confidence and a youthful exuberance has seen a brand of hockey unfamiliar to Calgarians. Scoring in prolific fashion, Calgary sits in sixth spot on the NHL table with 3.60 goals per game. More impressive, though, is how threatening and venomous the team looks on attack thanks to a refreshing can-do attitude from the players and coaching staff alike.
And Flames supporters are absolutely loving it. The Scotiabank Saddledome’s atmosphere reached a fever pitch for the home opener versus the arch-nemesis Vancouver. Most fans get ramped up for home openers, but the ambiance inside the ‘Dome exceeded all expectations. Finally, the proverbial sixth man played its part.
Head coach Bob Hartley has implemented compulsory team skates on game-day mornings, nullifying any chance complacency has of setting in. Rookie Sean Monahan, who turned 19 on Oct. 12 (Happy birthday you old geezer), has started like a flame on an accelerant with four goals and two assists in his first five games in the big show. Heaven forbid the organization sends its sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft back down to the juniors after his nine-game threshold. The squad doesn’t have enough depth to contemplate that scenario.
Most rousing is the camaraderie showcased by this upstart unit. Players are fighting for one another and their on-ice performances prove that. Few analysts and broadcasters have given the Flames any chance of making the playoffs.
And while the improbable feat may still just be out of Calgary’s grasp, I bet would-be experts may hold their tongues for a little while longer. The lion’s share of pundits, due to Calgary’s obvious inexperience, still expect the Flames to be doused and starved of oxygen in games to come.
But an impressionable team swelling with confidence and having everything to play for may yet raise some eyebrows in press boxes and locker rooms across the league.