CALGARY, AB -- Though the sample size is small, the Calgary Flames power play has been just that in the opening week of the season.
After functioning at a 17.7 per cent clip last year – 13th in the National Hockey League – the Flames have found the back of the net at more than double that pace early on this season.
Through the first three games, the Homes By Avi power play has packed a more potent punch. Clicking at a 36.4 per cent clip - including 50 per cent at Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary’s special teams unit currently sits fifth in the league and has accounted for more than half the goals the Flames have scored this season.
Those manning the special teams unit have several theories as to why Calgary has found some early-season success, including the help of some added personnel in Dennis Wideman.
“I think Wideman brings it home,” said Lee Stempniak, whose goal at 12:21 of the first period against the San Jose Sharks Sunday doubled as both Calgary’s first goal of the season and first power play marker of the year.
“He’s got a big shot there and not many guys walk the blueline like he does. He has a great ability to spread guys out and find those seams and he’s got the threat to shoot it. That’s been a big help for us.”
Mikael Backlund, who has also found the back of the net in special teams action, has seen first-hand the dimension Wideman’s play has added to the power play.
“He brings a lot of patience with the puck and he makes good passes and has a bomb shot,” Backlund said. “He’s been good for us so far and we’re excited to have him.”
Equally impressive this season has been the contribution of Curtis Glencross, the man tasked with standing in front of the goal while Wideman unloads his blasts from the point. The two-time 20-goal scorer already has a pair of power play goals this year.
“Net presence is huge,” Stempniak said. “It’s tough to beat goalies when it’s just straight shots. The net presence makes a big difference and he’s doing a great job. He has a great stick. He’s getting his stick on a lot of pucks there.”
But it’s not just Glencross and Wideman contributing to the cause in the eyes of coach Bob Hartley. Both five-man sets have done a great job working as one cohesive unit, driving the early season successes.
“We have some skilled guys that are making great decisions that are working well as a block of five,” Hartley said. “Our d-men, when we shoot, we’re putting pucks at the net. The best way to kill off in hockey is to miss the net and I feel like we’ve been real good at putting pucks at the net and generating rebounds, generating screens, tips, and I think that’s the easiest way to score goals in the NHL these days.”
Bouwmeester, one of those defencemen tasked with putting the puck on the opposing goal, agrees with Hartley’s assessment.
“The goals we have scored, it has been a couple of tips going in,” said Bouwmeester, who recorded 10 of his 29 points last season on the power play. “Its just guys around the net. Look at most power plays now, the ones that are successful are the ones are the ones getting shots and getting guys around the net, creating scrambles and rebound opportunities. That was kind of the focus.”
Without that traffic, the team won’t be successful, said the six-foot-four rearguard.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, any goalie when you shoot it from the blueline, nine times out of 10 make all those saves,” Bouwmeester said. “It creates some confusion and draws guys – defencemen, defenders – have to pay attention to that guy and it sometimes will suck guys out of position and create openings for other shots.”
Those opportunities have allowed the Flames’ power play to jump out to a hot start.
And have powered Calgary’s offence in this young season.