Calgary Flames road trip couldn’t come at a better time

Sports

After losing five of six at home since Jan. 20, heading out on the road for a six-game trip is the perfect tonic for the Calgary Flames. 

The importance of beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday should not be overstated. It was, in a way, a peace-offering for Calgary’s fans, who, over the last three weeks, watched helplessly as their beloved team dropped into 10th place in the Western Conference.

Sean Monahan’s overtime winner on Saturday will restore belief in the locker room, injecting confidence as the boys depart for the second half of the back-to-back with Chicago.

In a recent interview, Glen Gulutzan said his team doesn’t mind playing on the road. His answer is a candidate for biggest understatement of the year. He does, however, get points for modesty.

Calgary Flames’ impressive road record

The Flames head to the Windy City with the third best away record (13-5-5) in the league in terms of winning percentage, trailing only Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston. Eight games above .500, the Flames have won four of their last five away encounters.

Maybe suffering from holding their sticks too tightly at home, Gulutzan’s team can get back to basics during the forthcoming trip.

Winning four of six would be a successful stint, particularly considering the Flames have to play on back-to-back nights against two teams – the Rangers (17-9-3) and Devils (15-8-3) – that are tough to beat at home.

After that the Flames play the Islanders, Bruins and Predators before returning home on Feb. 17. As you can see, none of those games are of an easy variety, with the final two offering especially difficult tests.

But don’t put anything past the Flames, who have proven time and again to be worthy of their road warriors moniker. It’s crucial to sweep the mini-series against the Blackhawks, the worst of the six at home (12-10-3).

Mike Smith, with a league-leading .948 road save percentage, has been lights-out in unfriendly confines all season, and Gulutzan’s men support their all-star netminder proficiently on the road, locking it down in their own end.

In five recent away games, the Flames have conceded only nine goals, which equates to 1.8 goals against per game. In comparison, the Bruins, who concede 2.38 goals on average, lay claim to the league’s stingiest defence this season.

Those paltry numbers combined with Calgary’s propensity for finding the back of the net bode well for the current road trip.

The Flames have scored 3.8 goals per game in the last five away outings, which, albeit over a small sample size, tops the Lightning’s league-best 3.56 per game.

If they can maintain those impressive numbers at either end of the ice, the Flames will further cement their status as one of the league’s most dangerous road teams.

(This piece originally featured on Flame for Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Calgary Flames’ Mike Smith hopes to start enjoying some home cooking

Sports

Mike Smith, looking for a bounce-back game, is hoping to reproduce his impeccable away form when the Calgary Flames host the Blackhawks tonight. 

Overall, Smith has enjoyed a stellar season between the pipes. He’s unarguably one of the team’s most consistent performers and rarely takes a night off, with the exception of a frustrating evening against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

A large discrepancy, however, does exist between Smith’s home and away outings.

The 35-year-old has a .948 save percentage away from home, the best of any NHL netminder in unfriendly environs.

He is the embodiment of a road warrior, going 9-3-3 in 15 away starts. Smith’s paltry 1.83 goals against average (GAA) in road games would, in isolation, put him behind only Carter Hutton (1.70 overall GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (1.79 overall GAA).

Smith hasn’t been able to match those otherworldly numbers in front of Flames’ faithful at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The contrast is stark, with Smith’s save percentage dropping almost five percent, to .905. His GAA swells on home ice to 2.89, a large enough gulf to warrant further inquest.

What’s wrong with Smith’s Calgary Flames home cooking?

Firstly, the sample size probably has something to do with the existing chasm between Smith’s home and away performances. He’s played in 28 games at home, while only making 15 road starts.

That caveat isn’t reason enough to explain his drop in form at the Dome, though. While not nearly as demanding as Montreal fans, Flames’ faithful have high expectations of their number one netminder. But Smith’s expects just as much from himself, if not more, than the exacting Calgary crowd.

Plus, you wouldn’t expect a wily, well-versed veteran like Smith to succumb to pressure, no matter how immense. You can’t put it down to bad fortune either, as the gulf in numbers is too big to substantiate that reasoning.

That leaves me with one clear-cut explanation: Smith is only as good as the support his team offers in front of him. Calgary, as a collective, have been poor in what are supposed to be friendly confines. The Flames have a grotesque 12-13-3 home record, the fourth worst in the Western Conference.

For Smith to assimilate unconditionally to life in Calgary, his team must improve markedly at the Dome, making their relatively new netminder feel more at home.

Until that happens, Smith won’t be able to enjoy and appreciate the home cooking Calgary has to offer.

(This piece originally featured no Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHL Back to the Futures: Wingman discusses the Jets’ Cup chances

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The Winnipeg Jets are ascending to new heights in the Western Conference, currently sitting in second place behind the upstart Las Vegas Golden Knights.

They sit atop the Central Division, ahead of the 2016-17 Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators. And all this without their first-line centre Mark Scheifele, who has been out of the lineup for over a month with an upper body injury.

Blake Wheeler has dominated in Scheifele’s absence, the American transitioning to centre seamlessly. He is 11th in league scoring and is the most integral member of this high-flying Jets unit.

Wheeler bullied the Flames last week in a 2-1, the sturdy centre scoring the shootout winner in Calgary on a dandy deke which wrong-footed Mike Smith.

Patrik Laine is also playing well, but maybe the most pleasantly surprising factor to the Jets’ success is the play of Connor Hellebuyck. The American netminder is seventh in the league with a .924 save percentage.

Bodog currently has the Jets pegged at +1600 to win the Stanley Cup and are the most likely Canadian team to win it all this season. Watch out for the Jets, who are dominant on home ice, once they get Scheifele back on the ice.

No wonder opposing players hate travelling to Winnipeg. It’s not just the cold, bitter weather that is unwelcoming in Manitoba’s capital.

Nathan MacKinnon: Canadian of the Week (COW)

The Canadian of the Week, #COW, goes to Nathan MacKinnon, who helped the Avalanche to a nine-game winning streak, the best in the league this season. He scored two game-winning goals and has been instrumental in Colorado’s unlikely success story. The Canadian is second in league scoring and has benefited massively from the departure of Matt Duchene, who is enduring an endless real-life nightmare since going to Ottawa.

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If the top five pound-for-pound UFC fighters were NHLers, who would they be?

Opinion, Sports

Comparisons between professional hockey players and mixed martial artists aren’t often made, but there are more similarities among the top five UFC fighters and current NHLers than you might realize.  

Can you envision Conor McGregor or Daniel Cormier strapping on a pair of skates and hitting the open ice? Nor can I.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t share some skills and character traits of prominent NHLers.

Altogether dubious of their skating abilities, I’m going to focus on attributes that are necessary, transferrable and advantageous assets across both sports from the top five pound-for-pound fighters. The fighter rankings are provided by UFC.ca

5. Daniel Cormier would be Jarome Iginla

Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and free agent Jarome Iginla share numerous commonalities: both, at one time or another, were at the peak of their sports.

Unlike Iginla, Cormier is still at the top of his sport, looking ahead to defending his title against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220 on Jan. 20. However, that could change in the blink of an eye if the Swiss challenger upends Cormier in Boston on Saturday. The pair of powerhouses are of almost identical builds, with Iginla two inches taller and five pounds heavier than Cormier.

They are highly respected in their respective sports, both of whom usually avoid running their mouths, preferring their skills do the talking. The wily veterans are only two years apart, with Iginla, 40, two years Cormier’s elder.

And both have represented their nation at the Olympics. More forebodingly, If Cormier loses his belt on Saturday, his career, like Iginla’s, will take a downward turn.

4. Max Holloway would be Patrick Kane

American idols – please, excuse the pun – Patrick Kane and Max Holloway are dominant forces in their corresponding sports. Both are relentless in attack and lethal finishers.

Kane has won three Stanley Cups and Holloway is the undisputed featherweight champion. They share the same height and are ranked first in their specific fields: Kane sits atop EA’s NHL 2018 right winger rankings, while Holloway, until March at the very soonest, rests on his pedestal as the featherweight’s apex predator.

3. Georges St-Pierre would be Sidney Crosby

Two of the most decorated Canadian athletes, Sidney Crosby and Georges St-Pierre are idolized and lionized in the Great White North. Crosby has won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins and two Olympic golds, while St-Pierre is one of the only UFC fighters to win belts in different weight classes. St-Pierre is unbeaten in 13 bouts and Crosby has won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Physically, there’s not too much to choose between the two legends. Crosby weighs 15 pounds more than St-Pierre while both are 5 ft 11 in.

While St-Pierre’s nickname is Captain Canada, Crosby is Canada’s captain. The uncanny list of similarities doesn’t end there, as both superstars have been plagued by a litany of injuries throughout their illustrious careers.

Finally, they way they present themselves maybe their most impressive shared trait. True ambassadors of their respective sports, the venerable duo are well spoken, humble and forever respectful, the polar opposite of the following featured pair.

2. Conor McGregor would be Brad Marchand

The bad boys of both sports certainly know how to backup their bellicose trash talking. Conor McGregor and Brad Marchand have reached the pinnacle of their sports, and both are controversial figures who draw a large, cult following.

Marchand has won the Stanley Cup and Olympics; McGregor is the only UFC fighter to hold two titles, featherweight and lightweight, simultaneously. The polarizing stars stand at 5 ft 9 in, and both are 29 years old. And it goes without saying that The Notorious and The Nose Face Killah love an old fashioned, no-holds-barred street brawl.

1. Demetrious Johnson would be Johnny Gaudreau

Despite defending his flyweight title a record 11 times, the top ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC is under hyped, still fighting under the radar. He is indisputably the most talented fighter in the UFC, continuously showcasing his exceptional agility, quickness, creativity and technique.

All of the aforementioned attributes apply to Johnny Gaudreau, who plies his trade for the Calgary Flames. The diminutive left winger certainly hasn’t enjoyed the unparalleled success of his UFC counterpart, but Johnny Hockey is blessed with a comparably impressive skill set.

The 24-year-old is also undervalued, but that’s slowly changing as Gaudreau’s unique, highlight-reel playing style can only be passed over for so long. Sound like a certain UFC flyweight champion?

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Wynn Nightlife)

Wingman’s NHL Back to the Futures: Calgary Flames odds to win the Stanley Cup

Videos

In Canada Sports Betting’s second NHL Back to the Futures segment, the Wingman focusses on Canadian ongoings, with a particular focus on the Calgary Flames. 

The Wingman also presents the first award for Canadian of the Week, or #COW. The Canadian of the Week is a prize given to our home and native land’s most recent standout performer.

You’ll have to watch the segment to find out who wins the first award of its kind, but Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Bernier are all in the running after exceptional weeks.

The Wingman then delves into which Canadian teams have a viable shot of winning the 2018 Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, four Canadian outfits – Canucks, Oilers, Senators, Canadiens – are all but out of futures contention.

That leaves the Maple Leafs, Jets and Flames vying for the Holy Grail, and Canadian supremacy. Headlining Calgary for this edition, the Wingman goes into what chance the Flames have of making a playoff run, where they’ve been successful and what needs to improve in the latter stages of the season.

Are the Flames viable Stanley Cup underdog picks?

He surmises that the Flames are a superb underdog futures pick if Mike Smith continues standing on his head, particularly in unfriendly confines. Calgary’s number one has the best save percentage (.945) on the road in the NHL and was just named one of the league’s stars of the week.

Teammate Johnny Gaudreau, who led the league with eight points in four games, also earned the plaudit, joining Smith as a star of the week.

Defenceman Dougie Hamilton is tearing through the opposition like a sharp skate rips apart soft ice. A major part of Calgary’s recent success, Hamilton has scored three game winners during the current winning streak.

If Hamilton and Gaudreau, both of whom endured a miserable series against Anaheim in the 2016-17 playoffs, maintain their current level of play, Calgary is an excellent outsider pick going into the postseason.

Even more important, though, is Smith’s performances between the pipes. Brian Elliott failed the organization by conceding suspect goals at the most inopportune times in the four-game Anaheim sweep.

Smith was acquired from Phoenix to ensure stability at the most important position, and the veteran is thus far exceeding expectations.

He could turn out to be the piece of the puzzle Calgary has been searching for since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.

If so, the Flames could make an improbable run, one that resembles their 2004 journey to the Stanley Cup Final, hopefully though with an altogether different outcome.

 

If Donald Trump is a “stable genius”, then I still have a shot at the NHL

Opinion, Sports

Donald Trump, by claiming he’s a “stable genius” in one of his latest Twitter tirades, provided hope for everyone who thought their unfulfilled dreams were dead and buried. 

I’m not going to dive into the far-reaching political implications or the absurdity of his irresponsible, petulant Tourette-style tweets.

Instead, I’m going to focus on a silver lining, the fact that Trump’s comical defence of his questionable mental state has instilled me with the belief that it’s not too late to fulfil my childhood dream of making the NHL.

Sure, I’m two months shy of my 35th birthday, a touch too old by most sane people’s reckoning. Rustiness might also be a slightly hamstringing factor, as I haven’t laced up my skates for almost a decade.

But, like Trump, my mental stability is beyond reproach, so the physical impediments are mere blips to overcome on my journey to NHL glory.

It’s going to be a long, arduous journey but I’m up for the challenge. I must be strategic, though. Figuring that knocking on Brad Treliving’s door, or showing up to the Saddledome with a pair of skates in hand wouldn’t render desirable results, I’ve ruminated ad nauseam about how best to make an unforgettable impression.

To begin what will assuredly be a lengthy, gruelling training regime, I’ve decided to start on the mental side of things. To become an NHLer, I must think like one, and to do that there is only one place to start: EA Sports’ NHL 2018.

NHL 2018 Training Camp

To loosen up and learn the basics, after a decade hiatus from playing EA’s hockey series, I suited up and hit the ice for training camp. I’d like to say it was akin to riding a bike, but that would be bald-faced lie; there were, admittedly, a few teething problems, namely learning how to tie-up an opponent on the draw. It’s slightly embarrassing, I know.

And don’t get me started on the dekes.

After a few slight hiccups, I proficiently passed all training camp requirements. Confidence brimming, it was time to showcase my newfound talent by pitting my skills against an online opponent.

My first NHL 2018 online test

I realized quickly that, like the real thing, there is absolutely no tolerance for off-puck hits. A constant stream to the penalty box eventually ended up costing me, as my opponent, the name of whom I don’t recall, scored on one of his numerous man advantages.

That halted my original game plan, inspired by the brutes and enforcers in Slap Shot, the 1977 cult hockey classic.

But I was confident that training camp fitted me with the skills needed to compete in the online NHL 2018 world without running roughshod. I was sorely mistaken. Thoroughly outplayed for the lion’s share of the game, I managed to somehow score the equalizer. The goal, as you can imagine, wasn’t pretty, but they all count.

Mike Smith, the Flames’ starting goaltender, kept me in the game, not too dissimilar to the situation on the road in Calgary’s current NHL campaign.

Going to overtime

Tied at one, I managed to take Anaheim to overtime. Like an out-of-shape athlete coming out of retirement, I started to prematurely fatigue. My sore fingers were the most immediate concern. Like an NHLer playing through injury in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I battled on, the prospect of glory increasing my pain threshold.

More surprisingly than some of Trumps’s most ridiculous tweets, I potted the winner in double overtime. I leapt off the couch, celebrating like I’d won the Stanley Cup.

After some time to reflect, I’m deathly scared of putting my 1-0 record on the line. I know a loss isn’t far away, but quitting isn’t an option.

If I’m going to eventually make the NHL, I must re-enter NHL 2018’s online universe and take on all comers.

My NHL 2018 username is New_Age_Journo, so please have mercy if we happen to meet head-to-head online.

Just keep in mind that I’m NHL-bound and on a transcendent journey, largely in part because of a single, utterly laughable Trump tweet.

(Feature photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Don’t underestimate the important benefits of gaming

Opinion, Sports

Everyone should devote some time to playing video games, as the list of benefits is as long as Sydney Crosby’s career accomplishments.

It is, of course, imperative to strike a delicate balance between gaming and participating in more traditional hobbies, sports and other recreational activities.

Negative publicity about the potential addictiveness of video games, akin to the tone of most Montreal Canadiens game reports so far this season, has recently taken precedence, the resulting hysteria unfairly stigmatizing some gamers.

But make no mistake, gaming is good for cognitive development; it’s also good for the soul.

The cognitive benefits of playing video games

Engadget, in an enlightening piece published in September, focussed on eight cognitive benefits associated with kids playing video games. Those benefits range from improvement in coordination and multitasking skills to memory enhancement.

While comprehensive, the list certainly isn’t exhaustive.

I remember how effectively playing EA’s NHL and FIFA series garnered – and refined – my competitive nature.

Whether you like to admit it, the world is more competitive than ever before.

Electronic Arts’ (EA) FIFA and NHL labels, along with participating in those sports’ real-life applications, helped ready me to fight tooth and nail for everything I have since strived for.

Playing video games – part of my pre-game ritual

The aforementioned EA labels also add insight and perspective into how best to position yourself in practical sports situations. I can, having avidly played soccer and hockey, back up that assertion. Delving into a few NHL or FIFA games before taking to the pitch or ice prepared me mentally for the challenges that lay ahead.

It allowed me, like a harbinger, to envision situations that could arise against forthcoming opponents. Playing EA’s NHL before strapping on skates was part of my pre-game ritual, the called-upon motor functions sharpening my reaction time and focus.

EA’s Special Effect Program

To further underpin the intrinsic benefit of video games, I turn swiftly to EA’s SpecialEffect program.

A team of therapists and technology specialists dedicate their time to creating bespoke control systems which facilitate disabled gamers with the tools required to proficiently play the games they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Video games – a way of life

To many, video games aren’t merely seen as a hobby or activity to pass time. Gaming is way of life, a means to sharpen and accentuate ones skill set. Video games can also increase quality of life and build bridges between cultures.

They don’t discriminate and are all-inclusive, embodying many values upstanding citizens pride themselves on.

It’s those tactic perks that fly under the radar, underrated and unheralded.

So grab a controller and dive into the game you’re most passionate about, if not for the reasons I’ve mentioned, than for pure unadulterated fun.

Just remember the old adage “everything in moderation” when playing your favourite game on your preferred console or device.

(Feature image by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Bud Light)

Calgary Flames firing on all cylinders despite Bruins loss

Sports

The Flames fell a victory shy of winning a franchise-record 11 consecutive games in a 5-2 defeat to the Bruins, but the result isn’t dampening the team’s soaring spirit.

There is tremendous optimism in Calgary, even in the aftermath of their recent 5-2 loss.

The Flames tied a franchise record with 10 wins on the bounce when they defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout on Monday. The Flames weren’t even in Calgary the last time a 10-game-winning streak was strung together.

The last time such a streak was achieved was in 1978, when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Flames.

Sure, lengthy winning streaks are more commonplace in today’s NHL, but this upstart Flames unit should be exceedingly proud of what they accomplished.

Had it not been for a rusty Chad Johnson, who started in place of the unwell Brian Elliott, I could be talking about history being made in Calgary last night. Johnson, prior to the Bruins defeat, last started in a 4-2 win in Florida on Feb. 24.

That’s a long time to sit on the pine. And boy oh boy did it show. It was as if Johnson had awoken from an extended winter hibernation.

He was culpable for two of Boston’s goals, the first of which was scored by David Pastrnak. Pastrnak burst down the wing and snuck an innocuous shot through Johnson’s five-hole.

The second came from a center ice backhand dump in. Johnson flubbed his attempt to control and Brad Marchand, the league’s hottest scorer, was the lucky recipient of the netminder’s unintentional generosity.

You’re only as good as your weakest link

The Flames, barring last night’s disappointing result, have a lot to be excited about. There is a multitude of reasons for the Flames recent success, none of which are more important than Brian Elliott’s transformation.

Elliott endured a rough start to his Calgary career, losing his first three starts in a Flames uniform. Things didn’t get much better for the 31-year-old netminder, who went on an eight-game losing streak in the inchoate stage of the season. Elliott had an unenviable 8-13-2 record to start his Flames tenure.

But anyone who understands hockey had reason to believe Elliott would turn it around. And turn it around he did. Elliott has won nine on the bounce and is 13-1-1, enjoying a .936 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA in his last 15 decisions.

Those numbers put him among the NHL’s élite netminders.

But Elliott’s success is just one of the innumerable reasons why the Flames have the best record, 15-2-1, in the last 18 games.

Rewind back to Jan. 24 when the Flames were embarrassed in a 5-1 trouncing away to Montreal. Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was not amused, his comments in the aftermath underpinning what he thought of his team’s anemic display.

“We were pathetic,” Gulutzan said in the post-game press conference.

“It was a pathetic display, No bite-back. No kick-back. Just accept it, right down. Our top guys didn’t do anything.

“We need somebody to step up.”

His words had their desired effect and galvanized the entire Flames squad. Since that defeat, the Flames are 15-3-1.

The Flames’ young offensive core

The Flames young, dynamic offensive core might be the most promising feature of this current, trailblazing team. Calgary’s offensive core is the second youngest in the league. At an average age of just over 25 years, the Flames, if they can keep this lively and energized unit intact, have a prodigious future to look forward to.

Johnny Gaudreau had a frustrating start to the 2016-17 season, the highest paid Flames player endured a run of just one goal in 20 games.

Gulutzan at one point demoted the diminutive star to the fourth line. But like most of his teammates, Gaudreau is back on the right track. A nightmare to play against, Gaudreau is once again at his elusive best, playing like a firefly possessed.

The Flames are enjoying balanced scoring from all four lines, but the Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland line have picked up the most slack. They’re once again the team’s top line, both in name and practice.

And let’s not forget about the Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik triumvirate. If not for this line carrying the team during the nascent part of the season, the Flames wouldn’t be in the playoff place they find themselves in.

The Michael Stone acquisition

Calgary’s general manager should also take a bow for his part in strengthening the squad.

In an astute piece of business, Brad Treliving masterminded the deal that brought defenceman Michael Stone to Calgary for third and fifth-round draft picks.

As if the Flames needed another Michael on the team. But this Michael has paid immediate dividends.

Stone has yet to lose since arriving in Calgary, the 26-year-old is 8-0 while patrolling the Flames’ blue line. He has missed the last three games due to an upper body injury, so the entire city awaits his return with bated breath.

With the playoffs less than a month away, this team have come into their own at the opportune time. You’d be hard pressed to find a Western Conference team excited about a prospective first-round matchup with the Flames.

Channeling their boundless energy and honing in on their fearless bravado, this team is firing on all cylinders.

Flames fans are starved for success as they haven’t seen their beloved team lift Lord Stanley for almost 30 years.

But the current excitement in the city is palpable, and it’s seems like the start of something special in Calgary.

Other NHL teams would be best served to stand up and take notice.

(This piece originally appeared on Flame for Thought.Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Calgary abuzz at prospect of new-look Flames

Sports

After recently attending two Calgary Flames games – including the home opening 5-4 defeat to the 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 dark and gloomy: Calgary, allowing 17 against, is profusely bleeding goals, having the sixth worst 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. 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.

And Flames supporters are absolutely loving it. The Scotiabank Saddledome’s atmosphere reached fever pitch for the home opener versus the arch-nemesis Canucks. 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, nullifying any chance of complacency. 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.

(Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Calgary Flames hit rock bottom with woeful away showings

Sports

Columbus, by drubbing the Flames 5-1, dealt Calgary their ninth consecutive road loss, the second worst away record (3-9-2) in the league. 

Losses to Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, Anaheim, Colorado, Minnesota, Phoenix and back-to-back defeats to the Kings have all but negated any Flames’ playoff aspirations. The team has offered little hope to Flames’ faithful, being outscored 38-15 during the franchise’s longest road losing skid.

Outshooting their opponents in only two games, while allowing four goals or more in seven of nine encounters leaves a casual onlooker stammering in disbelief. Bleeding goals away from the friendly confines of the Saddledome, however, is nothing foreign for Bob Hartley’s inherited squad, whose 52 conceded road goals is the league’s fourth most.

Only lowly Nashville trumps Calgary in the Western Conference, having allowed 57 away tallies. The aforementioned stat is somewhat misleading, though, as the Flames have played four less away games than their Music City counterparts.

Only the Colorado Avalanche, with two road victories, have amassed fewer road wins in the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign.

Even Calgary’s recent dominant home form – six wins on the skip – is not enough to offset the club’s abysmal away showings.

Unless Calgary strings together a Penguins-like winning streak (I’m not sure stranger things have happened), Mikka Kiprusoff and company will invariably find themselves with another extended offseason.

Many questions remain unanswered, two of which are bound to ignite heated debate in forthcoming weeks: What team, other than Calgary, will Jerome Iginla suit up for come deadline day? And, when will fickle Flames fans (you know who you are) fall off the chuckwagon and become disillusioned with their faltering franchise?

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)