Flames Miss Spark (And Goals) Tkachuk Provided
The Calgary Flames have been inconsistent and disappointing in many ways this season and one reason may be the spark they lost when Matthew Tkachuk forced his way out of town in the trade for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
Some days more than others, the Calgary Flames really seem to miss Matthew Tkachuk.
Or his type, at least.
As divisive as some believe the polarizing winger might have been as recently as a couple of years ago, you could almost always count on Tkachuk to bring a spark on nights no one else seemed to have one.
Outside of the scoring the Flames clearly lack — ranking 23rd in goals per game this season after finishing 11th with more than a half-goal per game last year — there was the eternal engine.
So engrained in the fabric of his personality, he was reportedly told by teammates to tone it down.
On nights like the Calgary Flames had against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, you wonder if that borderline belligerence Tkachuk brought to the team that has them performing with a consistent inconsistency.
Players won’t have the same energy levels every night. The dips are unavoidable over a lengthy season. But with a player like Tkachuk, you knew at least one player was ready to drag others into the fight.
That’s not to say Tkachuk’s absence is the reason for the Flames’ struggles to string together wins. Nazem Kadri is a gritty player with skill who has often led the charge this season.
But like his former Avalanche, a Stanley Cup winning season puts you in a bit of a physical and emotional deficit.
The Avs have been pushing through it as a team, earning a third straight win with Wednesday’s 4-1 decision in Calgary. Despite a number of injuries and departures, they still looked a class above the Flames, a team that’s still missing something.
“We’re still very much in the show-me stage,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said after the drubbing, which saw the Avs scored three times in the first 13 minutes.
“I have a pretty good idea of where our team is at. We’re in the middle of the pack, and we’re not in their class.”
It’s entirely possible the Flames are out of the playoff picture when they play again on Saturday — a matinee against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They held a narrow wildcard lead over the Avalanche, with the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues all knocking on that door, too.
Remember, the Flames dropped games to both the Blues and Predators during their five-game road trip last week.
With 36 games remaining, there are many questions.
The biggest, though, is whether the Flames are a middle of the pack team capable of becoming more, or fodder for a first-round exit — if they even qualify for the post-season.
And it doesn’t seem like they’re all that sure of that answer themselves.
“We’ve played 46 games now and we’re still looking for a really good game,” Flames centre Elias Lindholm said. “Yeah, it’s concerning.”
It’s hard to disagree with that.
The Flames’ longest winning streak this season is three. They’ve only done that twice. Once to start the season, starting with a win over the Avs, and once more in early December.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, they’ve only lost back-to-back games in regulation once since late November. Stringing together a 12-7-6 record since then, they’ve stayed in the hunt by virtue of the single points earned from overtime or shootout losses.
But that can only take them so far. Especially if they can’t find a way to ignite their powerplay — two units with lots of talent but no consistency and chemistry. It ranks 24th in the league.
Yet another area they miss Tkachuk, who had double-digit goal totals on the man-advantage.
You don’t really replace someone like that. And while you can point to the fact the Florida Panthers are another underachieving middle of the pack group this season — even with Tkachuk on their side now — there’s no denying the missing spark with this year’s Calgary Flames.