Three surprises from the Calgary Flames so far
The Calgary Flames weren’t expected to be this good. Off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history, they’re chasing their own record of 11 games with at least a point. It’s been a combination of strong goaltending, a dominant top line and some key contributions from across the lineup on any given night to get here.
But there are more surprises than their current 7-1-3 record and impressive plus-18 goal differential.
Lucic is on pace for 30 goals this year
Winger Milan Lucic has four goals in 11 games, which puts him on pace for 30 this season. Even in his prime with the Boston Bruins, the power forward only hit that mark once – in the 2010-11 campaign.
That also happens to be the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.
It may not be sustainable, and we’re not suggesting that if Lucic somehow hits 30, the Calgary Flames will be lifting the silver chalice this spring. But even 15 goals from a guy in the bottom six of this lineup is going to make a difference for a team that tends to be top heavy on the scoring front.
The most interesting part of his success so far is that all four goals have come at even strength. Lucic has the same number of five-on-five goals this year as former Edmonton Oilers teammate Connor McDavid. In his last 20-goal season in 2016-17, more than half of Lucic’s goals were on the powerplay. Many set up by McDavid.
The big guy is frequently criticized in Calgary for taking a spot many would like to see Andrew Mangiapane occupy on the second powerplay unit, but the team likes his ability to screen the opposition goaltenders.
Gaudreau is thriving in Darryl Sutter’s system
Johnny Gaudreau had a special year in 2018-19, falling just short of his first 100-point season. He finished with career highs in goals (36), assists (63), and points (99) with a shooting percentage of 14.69.
That was with Bill Peters as head coach. When Sutter arrived last March, Gaudreau scored goals in his first two games after the hire. But he had just six points through his first 16 games with the new head coach.
(Technically, the first two games weren’t really even under Sutter because he wasn’t behind the bench the first two games while going through COVID protocols).
Gaudreau finished strong offensively and had four multi-point games in his last five games while united with Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm. But where the biggest difference has come this year has been Gaudreau’s tenacious play without the puck.
His backcheck is as relentless as Andrew Mangiapane’s forecheck and the puck just seems to follow Gaudreau around these days. He’s using his speed and puck skill to create plays out of nothing. That has helped make the Calgary Flames’ first line one the league’s best in many advanced stats categories. They are tops in expected goals for percentage and expected goals for, among those who’ve been together at least 70 minutes. They’re also the second-best line in expected goals against per 60 minutes.
All that to say that they have the puck a lot, create a lot of shot volume and scoring chances. And when they don’t have the puck, they go about getting it back as quickly as possible.
Gaudreau’s on pace to crack 100 this year after adding two goals and an assist in the win over the Rangers on Saturday. We don’t recommend betting against it.
Oliver Kylington has a six-game point streak for Flames
The Calgary Flames have a 10-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. One of the reasons the team is still streaking is because of another streak – this one by defenceman Oliver Kylington.
Kylington, arguably the most impressive individual story for the Flames this year, has a six-game point streak and has a goal and six assists in that span.
He went from playing 3:27 in the opener, to a healthy scratch, to tied with Rasmus Andersson as the top scoring defenceman on the roster.
Oh, and the 24-year-old Kylington leads all NHL defencemen in points per 60 minutes.
He’s become a critical piece of the top-four on the Flames blueline with his confidence growing every game. He’s going to be an interesting player to watch as a restricted free agent this summer. If he continues on this upward trajectory, he’s going to get a fat contract.
“He’s always had a lot of confidence. But it’s a matter of getting the opportunity. He’s been taking care of his opportunity,” said Andersson, who was taken seven spots ahead of Kylington in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
“I think he’s been really good for us, and I’m really happy to see him play that well. I’ve seen how much he’s worked and he’s an awesome guy, and you’re really happy to see when a guy like that gets the success he’s deserving.”