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Flames held back by goaltending, road woes

Thursday, 04.18.2013 / 4:20 PM
Dave Lozo  - NHL.com Staff Writer

For the third straight season, the Calgary Flames will not be participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They were mathematically eliminated Wednesday night when the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Anaheim Ducks in overtime. It was the expected outcome for the Flames after they became sellers at the trade deadline, parting ways with long-time captain Jarome Iginla and No. 1 defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

This season will also end a run of 90-point seasons (or in this case, a pace for a 90-point season over 82 games) that began in 2003-04. Only two other teams have reached at least 90 points every season since 2003-04 -- the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings.

How did the Flames come up short? What reasons are there for optimism next season? Let’s take a look:

1. This was inevitable

The Flames finished ninth in the West last season with 90 points, but their minus-18 goal differential was a sign the team was beginning to decline. The Flames were near-misses the previous two seasons, but 2011-12 seemed to be the obvious time to start rebuilding. An aging Jarome Iginla was their game-breaker, they lacked a true No. 1 defenseman and 36-year-old goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff had a sharp decline after a terrific 2011-12 season. The rebuild began in earnest at the Trade Deadline, but the writing was on the wall for this team for at least a season.

2. Competition got better

The Northwest Division has sent one team to the playoffs the past two seasons -- the Vancouver Canucks. While the Canucks beat up on the division, the Flames picked up a lion’s share of their points against inferior foes last year. In 2011-12, the Flames went 8-3-1 against the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers. This year, with the Wild signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the summer and the youthful Oilers continuing to improve, the Flames went just 3-3-1 against them. As a whole, the Flames went 15-6-3 against the Northwest last season; this year, they are just 6-8-3.

3. Goaltending

Not only has Kiprusoff turned in a disastrous season statistically -- he is 6-13-2 with a 3.61 goals-against average and .872 save percentage -- but he missed a month with a knee injury that didn’t help his overall play, either. In his absence, no one stepped up. Joey MacDonald went 7-7-1 with a 2.91 GAA and .900 save percentage while Leland Irving went 2-1-1 with a 3.33 GAA and .883 save percentage with a chance to lay claim to the starting job. On a team struggling as badly as the Flames did all season, it’s not fair to blame everything on the goalies, but they didn’t do enough to bail the club out.

4. No possession, no hitting

Corsi is a statistic that, essentially, measures puck possession. When it comes to Corsi, the Flames are one of the worst teams in the League -- as of Tuesday, they were tied for last with the Florida Panthers. A side effect of having the puck far less than your opponent is usually an abundance of hits, because if a team has the puck, it isn’t doing any hitting. But the Flames were ranked 27th in hits entering Thursday.

5. Road to oblivion

The Flames have been above average at home -- they are 11-9-2 -- but have been a mess away from the Scotiabank Saddledome. Since a 3-1-1 start on the road, the Flames are 2-12-1 outside of Calgary. At one point, they lost 13 consecutive road games by a 51-20 aggregate score. Even when the Flames missed the postseason the previous two seasons, they were always an average team on the road. Their dropoff in that area this season is one of the biggest reasons it will be three straight years without a playoff berth.

Here are reasons for optimism on The Red Mile:

1. A potential top-two pick

It’s pretty much agreed by experts that defenseman Seth Jones and forward Nathan MacKinnon are the top two prospects in the 2013 NHL Draft. Whether they are ready to make an immediate impact in 2013-14 or need another year to develop, Jones or MacKinnon would instantly become the Flames’ top prospect. The Flames will probably need to lose four of their final five to have a chance at Jones or MacKinnon, but they could be building blocks for the immediate and long-term future.

2. Sven Bartschi

If the Flames don’t land Jones or MacKinnon, there are a few other elite prospects in the 2013 draft that will round out the top five picks, and Calgary will be able to build with the 20-year-old Bartschi. The Flames’ first-round pick in 2011 was called up following the trades of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester and has two goals in two games after three scoreless efforts. He has been a force with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, and it seems the Flames are now ready for him to become a full-time player in the NHL.

3. Not a total rebuild

Even with the Iginla era coming to an end and Bouwmeester gone, general manager Jay Feaster said his team isn’t going into a complete rebuild mode. That could mean the Flames will look to sign a free agent or two to help in the short term while younger players get their feet wet. It’s tough times in Calgary to be sure, but no one thought the Columbus Blue Jackets would be contending for a postseason spot after trading Rick Nash for prospects. Maybe the Flames can find some of that magic in 2013-14.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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