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10 takeaways from October

by Jason Johnson / Calgary Flames

There's no doubt the Calgary Flames have surprised a lot of people with their start to the season.

The Flames are tied for second place in the Western Conference and were pegged to be at or near the bottom of the standings from the start of the season.

It's early, and there is still a lot of hockey to be played, but right now there is reason for optimism and the Flames have their fans excited for the future.

1. ROAD SUCCESS

After dropping the season opener to the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 8, the Flames embarked on a grueling six-game road trip which included some fierce opponents. After a convincing 5-2 win in Edmonton over the Oilers, the Flames looked lethargic in a 4-1 setback to the St. Louis Blues.

Calgary would follow up a few days later with one of their best performances of the young season with a 3-2 shootout win in Nashville. They were lucky to come away from Chicago with two points after being badly outshot and concluded the trip with a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

The Flames returned home with a respectable 4-2-0 road record.

2. SUSTAINED IDENTITY

The Flames garnered a reputation for being one of the hardest working teams in the league last season despite their lack of success.

It’s safe to say they have retained that stature.

There have only been a few periods this season where Calgary has been out-worked by their opponent. A telling sign as to where their mindset is moving forward into this season. Led by their captain, Mark Giordano – who is often the hardest working player on the ice – they young team has seemingly bought into the identity that coach Bob Hartley is trying to instil into his players.

3. DYNAMIC DUO

The defensive pairing of Giordano and TJ Brodie has emerged as one of the top duos in the NHL.

Giordano is showing no signs of slowing from his career year last season which was cut short due to injury. TJ Brodie, fresh off a new five-year contract extension, has already tied his career high in goals this season with four. Both blueliners are averaging almost 25-minutes of ice time per game and are often facing opposing team's top lines.

As of Friday, Brodie and Girodano were both tied for second in league scoring amongst defencman with nine points each. They are also both leading the Flames in that category. I can't recall the last time a pair of rearguards were leading the Flames in scoring.

4. JOHNNY HOCKEY

Johnny Gaudreau is bringing fans to their feet every time he touches the puck and has erased any doubt that he should be an everyday NHLer.

After a slow start, Gaudreau has emerged into one of Calgary's most dangerous offensive weapons. He went the first five games with a few flashes and some close calls but failed to register a point. Gaudreau even admitted himself that he was trying to adjust to the pro game and knew he needed to work on his play without the puck, particularly in his own end.

Harltey decided to scratch Gaudreau on Oct. 17 in Columbus.

Gaudreau responded.

He returned to the lineup the next game against the Jets and tallied his first goal of the season to go along with an assist. He now has six points in his last six games and is coming off of his strongest performance of the season Friday against the Nashville Predators. Gaudreau helped set-up the tying goal and would go on score the eventual game-winner. He also led all players in takeaways and was named the game's first star.

Johnny Hockey is looking like the player we all hoped he would be.

5. WIDEMAN'S RISE

Dennis Wideman has found his groove.

The blueliner struggled last season before being sidelined on Mar. 15 for the remainder of the year with a wrist injury.

Wideman has provided the Flames with some much needed secondary scoring from the back-end and his markers have been timely. He currently leads the league in goals by defenceman with five and is tied for the team lead with Mason Raymond. His new-found confidence is evident and his production been a welcome surprise.

6. THE COLBORNE IDENTITY

Joe Colborne has become a dependable pivot for the Flames.

The 24-year-old has yet to find the back of the net but has chipped in with eight assists -- leading the Flames in that category. Colborne is not a liability in the faceoff circle either, winning just over 50% of his draws.

He is currently on the shelf with a wrist ailment but is expected to get back into the lineup very soon.

Colborne has been solid in the shootout as well going 5-10 in the past two seasons.

7. KING OF THE HILLER

When Brad Treliving signed free agent Jonas Hiller on July 1, he was looking to shore-up the Flames goaltending.

It's unlikely he expected the type of performances the 32-year-old veteran has provided.

Not only has Hiller stolen several games for Calgary this season, he is one of the top goaltenders in the league in the early going. The only other goaltender with a better save percentage than Hiller is two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Hiller's record is 4-2-1 with a save percentage of .942 and a goals-against average of 1.82.

And it's not like it's coming easily.

Hiller has faced a ton of shots in several games and has had to make some spectacular saves. He has given the Flames a chance to win in every game his has played.

8. NET PRESENCE

The goaltending tandem of Hiller and Karri Ramo is paying off.

Hartley traded starting assignments for the two netminders for the first 11 games before he finally gave Hiller back-to-back starts. That's not a knock on Ramo at all. In fact, Ramo has made two highlight-reel saves this season has proven he is a dependable goaltender. His numbers are less spectacular that Hiller's, however, Hartley and Flames are more than comfortable with Ramo between the pipes.

So far they have developed into one of the strongest goaltending duos in the league and if it continues the strong outings continue the Flames will surprise a lot of teams.

9. DEPTH ON THE FARM

The Flames lost three of their four centres to injury this past week and had to summon some bodies from the Adirondack Flames.

Pivot Markus Granlund and winger Michael Ferland were summoned from the Adirondack Flames after losing Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond and Mikael Backlund. The Flames faced the red-hot Nashville Predators with a depleted lineup and didn't miss a beat.

Although Michal Ferland left the game with an injury in the late stages of the second period in his NHL debut, the rookie looked like he could adjust to the NHL quite quickly. Granlund -- who made an impression during his seven game stint last season -- also made an impact collecting an assist and developed some chemistry with Gaudreau.

If Calgary needs to dip into the Adirondack even further, the likes of Ben Hanowski, Ken Agostino, Sven Baertschi, Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Tyler Wotherspoon and Bill Arnold await.

The Flames have a lot of viable options this year, something that hasn't always been the case.

10. 'DOME COOKIN'

The success the Flames had on the road was carried over into their five-game homestand.

The Flames earned at least a point in all but one game in the recent home swing with a record of 2-1-2 and left for another five-game road trip with an exciting 4-3 win over the Predators.

There's been a buzz in the Scotiabank Saddledome all season and the Flames 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 28 was one of the most thrilling games in a long time.

The next block of games at the 'Dome will prove to be a big test for the Flames as they face a number of tough opponents including the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks.

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