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10 takeaways from November

by Jason Johnson / Calgary Flames

Well, here we are. It's Dec. 1 and the Calgary Flames are not only still turning heads but making believers out of a lot of people who wrote them off before Johnny Gaudreau scored his second career NHL goal and Jonas Hiller collected his first win as a Flame.

Calgary is currently up to their necks in a battle near the top of the Western Conference with some of the league's biggest players. They've been there right from the start of the season and don't seem to be going anywhere. For the time being, anyway.

1. THIRD EYE BLIND

If you 're playing the Flames, you had better make sure you don't have the lead going into the third period.

The Flames have staged some remarkable comebacks this season, most notable erasing a two-goal deficit with less than three minutes left in the third period to tie the game against the New Jersey and then stealing an extra point in a shootout. The Devils didn't know what hit them. It wasn't the first time, either. They staged a third period rally against the Anaheim Ducks. And the Washington Capitals. And the Florida Panthers. They came close against the Chicago Blackhawks and fell just short of breaking the Disneyland curse in Anaheim with a late game rally.

Calgary is the best third period team in the NHL and they have the stats to back it up. They have scored the most third period goals with 35. Even more telling is holding down a record of 5-7-0 when trailing after two periods. They haven't had much trouble hanging on to leads, either, with a record of 7-0-0 when leading after two periods, something that was a major issue last season.

2. BOUNCING BACK

The Flames have yet to endure a losing streak in the 2014-15 NHL season. That's impressive considering they are almost one third of the way though with 25 games played. In all eight losses they have followed up with a strong performance resulting in a win with the exception of a shootout setback to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 28.

Calgary's record in November was 9-4-0 and in each of the four losses they rebounded with big wins. If that trend continues you can bet this team has a great shot at being playoff bound.

3. HUD-WINKED

Jiri Hudler has quietly emerged as the Flames top forward, especially in the last few weeks.

The 30-year-old is currently riding a four-game point streak and has collected 16 points in his last 13 games. Hudler leads the Flames in goals with 11 and amongst the league leaders in shooting percentage converting on 28.2 percent of his shots. He is a clear leader in the locker room, especially with his linemates, Johnny Gaudreau and Markus Granlund.

Hudler has incredible puck control skills and shows great patience. He is a key reason why the Flames have had some success on the power play this season, 10th in the league at 21.2 percent.

4. RAM-TASTIC

Karri Ramo started off the season strong but had trouble getting a start due to the extremely strong play of Jonas Hiller. Ramo finally got a chance in Floria and struggled, allowing four goals on 22 shots before he was pulled. Since then, the 28-year-old has responded. Ramo has gone 4-0 in his last four starts, surrendering just six goals on 112 shots for a .946 save percentage and two shutouts. In fact, he is still riding a shutout streak (oops) which is at 129:34.

It's expected Ramo will continue as the starter until Bob Hartley has a good reason to go back to Hiller.

Either way, the Flames are quite comfortable with their goaltending situation.

5. TJ MAX

If you didn't know who TJ Brodie was prior to the start of the season, you do now.

The 24-year-old has emerged as one of the best young defencemen in the NHL and is garnering league-wide recognition.

After an impressive 2013-14 season where he put up a career high four goals and 31 points, Brodie already has six goals and 21 points in just 25 games this season. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Brodie logs 25+ minutes of ice every game -- against top players -- and is still a plus-16. He is second in scoring amongst blueliners in the NHL behind his partner, Mark Giordano.

The duo of Brodie and Giordano is giving opposing teams fits trying to defend the pair as they both posses such strong skating abilities and are always a threat to score.

It seems like Brodie is just getting going and it's scary to think how good he will be.

6. GO JOHNNY GO

Everybody watched with interest after Johny Gaudreau caught his stride after going pointless in his first five outings this season. The 21-year-old rookie finished strong in October with six points in 11 games but didn't see much more than 15 minutes of ice each night.

Gaudreau had two of his best games of the season to kick-off November with an assist against the Canadiens and a two-point effort against the Nashville Predators.

It's been much of the same ever since.

Hartley increased Gaudreau's ice time, topping out with over 24 minutes against the Devils and using him in key situations. If the Flames are down, he's on the ice. His dynamic play-making abilities have also earned him a regular spot on the power play.

After a slow start, Johnny Hockey has 17 points in his last 19 games and is in the Calder Trophy conversation. This is a kid who has earned his ice and is getting better all the time. Calgary

Fans have a lot to be excited about with #13.

7. ADIRONDACK AWAKENING

The Adirondack Flames struggled to open the 2014-15 season. The Flames' AHL affiliate started with a less-than-impressive 1-5-1 record.

New city, new coaching staff, new players, new systems.

After suffering a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Rochester Americans, the Baby Flames would go on to win 11 of their next 12 games and put together a nine-game winning streak to climb into seventh place in the Western Conference. What made the run even more special was the fact they were without most of their top players in that stretch. Michael Ferland, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris and Corban Knight all spent time with the big club while the Adirondack Flames just kept winning.

Even more reason for optimism for Flames fans with the likes of Bill Arnold, Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon and Joni Ortio playing a big part in that team's success.

8. POST-SEASON POSSIBILITIES

It has yet to be determined if the Flames will be contending for a playoff spot come March but they are certainly making a compelling case with each game they play.

It's not unreasonable to think the Flames can play well enough to keep themselves in the ultra-competitive race in the Western Conference. With their current record of 15-8-2, good enough for third in the Pacific Division, just a single point behind both Vancouver and Anaheim and 5th in the Western Conference.

The glaring difference between this Flames team and some of the teams in the past is work ethic.

It's not impossible, but difficult to think that with the leadership group, depth, coaching and goaltending that they could completely fall out of the race.

Let's not forget this has been going on since January. The Flames' record since the infamous line brawl in Vancouver last season is 34-22-2, which is a 99 point pace.

Either way, it looks like Flames fans will likely be watching meaningful hockey for a while.

9. INJURY ADVERSITY

It's hard to believe the Flames experienced the success they did with four of their top forwards sidelined with injuries. It's been 15 games since Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne and Mason Raymond have played.

That's about to change.

With the exception of Backlund, the other three forwards are expected to return to the lineup very soon. They have been skating daily at the Scotiabank Saddleodme during the latest Flames road swing. Backlund's timeline is unknown. After undergoing an abdominal procedure, it could be a while before he returns.

With Colborne, Stajan and Raymond back, the Flames management will be faced with some tough decisions. The players who have been summoned from Adirondack have been exceptional and some of them will have to be returned.

It's unclear at this point what is going to happen but it is a testament the organizational depth which is a very good problem to have.

10. HANGIN' WITH THE BIG BOYS

Throughout the month of October, the Flames earned some wins against opponents who weren't in the playoff picture last season and a few that were. They also struggled in games against Chicago, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

Questions were raised about Calgary being able to compete against some of the top teams in the West.

The Flames provided some answers.

The come-from-behind win against the Ducks, the shutout victory in San Jose, a bounce or two away from another win over the Ducks, and, although they lost, a very entertaining tilt against the Blackhawks that could have gone either proved that this team can hang with the best.

December will be, yet again, another stiff test as they battle the Pittsburgh Penguins, Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in a two-week span. We will see once again if the Flames are up to the task.

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