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Flames facing heightened expectations

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames were among the bigger surprises in the NHL last season.

In the second full season of a rebuild, the Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years and escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time since winning the Cup in 1989.

With last season's successes come heightened expectations this season.

"The message for our group is no different from last year when we said nobody is expecting a lot from us, we can't pay much attention to it," Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "The same has to hold true where people after last year may say the expectations have risen and the outside expectation for where this group will be is probably a lot different from a year ago."

Here are three questions facing the Flames this season:

Will the Flames regress in 2015-16? For the majority of last season, the Flames bucked the trend when it came to advanced analytics. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche did the same in previous seasons and found fleeting success in doing so. The Maple Leafs and Avalanche each followed their advanced stats-defying success by failing to reach the playoffs the following season. The continued development of young players Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, coupled with the additions of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, who boast strong possession numbers, will be Calgary's best means to counteract that.

Can Calgary's youth continue to improve? In Monahan's second season, his goal total rose from 22 to 31, and his points increased from 34 to 62. Gaudreau, a finalist for the Calder Trophy, had a 24-goal, 64-point season. Defenceman TJ Brodie, 25, scored an NHL career-high 41 points, and forward Lance Bouma, also 25, had new career marks with 16 goals and 34 points. Whether these totals are replicated or were a single-season aberration will go a long way in determining the Flames' fate this season.

What will happen with the goaltending? As it stands, Calgary will enter the season with the same goaltending combination they had last season: Karri Ramo, who re-signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1; and Jonas Hiller. Hiller, 33, was 26-19-4 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 52 games. It was Ramo, though, who finished the season when the Flames lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Second Round. In 34 regular-season games, the 29-year-old was 15-9-3 with a 2.60 GAA and .912 save percentage.

The added wrinkle is 24-year-old Joni Ortio, who played six games last season and will be in the mix as his contract converts into a one-way deal. The Flames have said in the past that carrying three goaltenders is far from ideal.

Author: Aaron Vickers | Correspondent

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