The New Year started off the same way the old one finished. The Flames were kicking sand in the face of the rest of the league; their confidence was soaring as they were competing and executing at a top level.
The injuries and inconsistency that eventually did the team in began to creep into the picture beginning in February, and despite the positive results from the trades made at the deadline, as bodies continued to drop the Flames continually found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. By the home stretch the injuries had decimated the Flames, and they lost their hold on the Northwest Division to the surging Vancouver Canucks. The playoffs were, of course, brief and disappointing, but hopefully the taste of defeat, along with the success the team did achieve, will drive the Flames when they begin to prepare for 2009/10.January (8-3-0)
The fantastic play that finished 2008 when the Flames found the formula for a foundation of success, followed into 2009, as the team continued a streak where they won 14 of 18. Throughout January the team was especially strong at home, where they only lost once in seven games. Unfortunately the back to backs continued to haunt the team, but that was the only blemish on an otherwise dominant month.
"We’ve been playing pretty well all the way from Kipper to the first, second and to the fourth (lines)," said Andre Roy. "Everybody has been contributing in different games, but I think we still have a lot of work to do and just keep playing hard every game."Mike Cammalleri
had an especially strong month, scoring a career high 11 goals and enjoying an eight-game scoring streak.
"Obviously, it's going in for me right now and it feels pretty good when the puck's going in like that," said Cammalleri. "It definitely adds to the confidence level, and the stick feels pretty comfortable in your hands."
Daymond Langkow also hit his stride, with a seven-game point streak and three multi-point games in January. The team finished the month in a similar fashion to the way they began it, playing winning hockey, and firmly atop the division.Highlights:Jan. 3-
Craig Conroy gets his 500th career point on an assist on the game winning goal in a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators with only 24 seconds left in the game. Jan. 6- Jarome Iginla
celebrates his 900th career game with a 5-2 win over the Sharks.February (7-4-2)
February did not begin especially romantically for the Flames, as they dropped their first four games, their longest losing streak of the season. The run may have been a precursor to the erratic play that plagued the Flames down the stretch, as the team could not rev up their power play when they were looking for scoring.
"Our power play couldn’t generate the offence that probably would have made a difference for us," said Keenan following the fourth loss to the Ducks. "We are going to have to work on two things that will make our power play more successful. One is structure of it and two is we have to work on our work."
The group managed to overcome the tough start to February, regroup, and get points in every game for the rest of the month, winning seven to only two overtime losses with four of the wins coming on the road. But the injuries also began to mount for the Flames, as Rene Bourque went down for the remainder of the season with a high-ankle sprain. Highlights:Feb. 19-
Frustrating evening for Rene Bourque, who scored his career-high 21st goal of the season, but then unfortunately went down for the regular season with a high-ankle sprain, in a Flames 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild. Feb. 24-
Eric Nystrom played in his 100th career game in the Flames' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.March (6-9-0)
March was an especially difficult month, the Flames started off with a frustrating 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The evening was significant however as Jarome Iginla
tallied two goals and three assists to claim the franchises all time points record from Theoren Fleury.
"I was excited to get it at home. I wasn't too picky about it being a real nice one. It was cool to get it on Conroy's," Iginla said. "Unfortunately the night didn't go the way we wanted, we let it get away from us. Looking back on it down the road, it's still going to be a great night."
The team immediately embarked on a seven game, cross-continent pilgrimage while the Brier invaded the Saddledome for two weeks. At the same time, March 4 was the day of the NHL Trade Deadline, and General Manager Darryl Sutter made the biggest impact of the day with two significant deals. The first was with the Phoenix Coyotes for long-desired centre Olli Jokinen
, which unfortunately cost the Flames Mattew Lombardi and Brandon Prust. The second was with the Colorado Avalanche for Jordan Leopold, the former Flames defenseman who made a significant contribution to the Flames' 2004 run. The players joined the team March 5 in Philadelphia against the Flyers, where Jokinen scored two goals, including the game winner, in Calgary's 5-1 win. Jokinen enjoyed the fastest start ever for a Flame, with eight goals, and ten points in six games.
Tragically, the road trip went downhill once the plane left the city of brotherly love, as the Flames proceeded to lose four of their last five games out east. The erratic play continued for the rest of the month, as the group managed only three wins to four losses. Highlights:Mar. 1- Jarome Iginla
officially achieves immortality by setting the Flames' all time franchise point record in the Flames' 8-6 loss to the Lightning.Mar. 3-
Huge night for David Moss
, who scored his first career hat trick, including the game winning goal, in a 6-3 Calgary win over the Ottawa Senators.April (3-3-0)
The Flames came into the final few games of the season with a number of issues haunting them, their once formidable lead in the division was all but squandered, and the remaining handful of games were spent in thick competition for playoff seeding.
The biggest concern was the power play, which went 0 for 43 in the last 10 games of the season.
Another problem plaguing the club was the seemingly never-ending injuries that simply overwhelmed the team by the end of the season. In a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars, both Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich
went down in the same penalty kill with injuries. Regehr was lost for the season with a serious knee injury, and Sarich missed the remainder of the regular season, but managed a heroic return for the playoffs, playing on a broken foot.
The injuries in concert with salary cap concerns left the Flames with only 15 skaters, in addition to the goaltenders, for the final two games of the season. The last time a team had only 15 skaters in an NHL game was January 23, 1986 when the St. Louis Blues defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 despite only having three lines on offense and defence.
As if that wasn't enough, team had to play their final six in three sets of back-to back games, and they still had not managed a win in the second game at that point.
But when the Flames clicked they were difficult foes, teams in the western conference playoff picture cringed at the prospect of a seven game playoff series with them, this kept the team excited about the prospect of the upcoming playoffs.
“It’s a great opportunity for us… these are the type of games you want to play. It’s a great time of year and a great tune-up for the playoffs, and we’re looking forward to it,” said Iginla. “There’s pressure, but it’s a good thing, it’s been a good thing for our team… this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The team could not capitalize and claim the division in the last few games of the regular season, and on the final day the Canucks inched by the Flames, taking the division title, and the third seed in the west. The Flames fell to the fifth seed, and had to face the Blackhawks in Chicago. Highlights:Apr. 2-
Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich
went down with injuries during the same penalty kill. Regehr never returned while Sarich came back hampered for the playoffs.Apr. 11-
In the final game of the season, backup goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney got his first career NHL win with a strong performance against the Edmonton Oilers.The Playoffs (2-4)
Drawing the number five seed in the west meant that the Flames did not get home-ice advantage; they went to Chicago having gone 0-4 against the Blackhawks in the regular season. The Flames had the opportunity to win both of the first two games in the windy city, but returned home down 0-2. The 'Dome provided the lift the Flames needed as they held serve soundly in Calgary. But the team came out flat in Game 5, and found themselves down 3-0 mere moments into Game 6. The Hawks won the series in six, and the Flames season ended with shock and letdown.Going Forward
The Flames have a seemingly bright future, the young players got valuable experience playing key roles down the stretch, and the preformed admirably. Many of the new blood raised their ceiling or sped up their clock with their sound play, and another summer of training, practice, and contemplation can only benefit them. There are also prospects like Mikael Backlund
who may be ready to make the leap in 2009/10. Sutter expects to keep the core intact
, but you can expect a couple of tweaks to keep up with a western conference that seems to get rougher every year and a division that is the toughest in hockey.