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Flames hope additions lead to longer playoff run

Smith, Hamonic boost chances of getting past first round

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

The Calgary Flames aren't necessarily expecting to have another 17-point jump like the one that helped them qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, but expectations are certainly high.

The Flames will rely on steady improvement in all areas under second-year coach Glen Gulutzan to help push their playoff aspirations.

 

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They started trending that way last season, when they had 94 points and were the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. 

"I talked to (the players) a lot in the summer," general manager Brad Treliving said. "There is a vibe, I would say. There's a seriousness to it. They're always excitement at the start of the year. But there was a seriousness of, 'We like our team. We like our group.' It's time to get to work. There's a good vibe."

Here is a look at the five keys for the Flames, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

5 KEYS

1. Smith, Lack

The Flames enter the season with a different goaltending pair for a third consecutive season (Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller in 2015-16; Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson last season). It'll be Mike Smith's responsibility as the primary starter after playing six seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. The 35-year-old will be backed by a defense better than the one from his final season in Arizona, where he had a 2.92 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 55 games. Eddie Lack will be the backup.

2. Bounce back from Gaudreau, Monahan

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan led the Flames in scoring for a second straight season, but Gaudreau had 18 goals and 61 points in 72 games, down from an NHL career-high 30 goals and 78 points in 2015-16. Monahan matched his 27 goals from two seasons ago but finished with 58 points, the fewest since his rookie season of 2013-14.

Video: NYI@CGY: Monahan puts home Gaudreau's slick feed

3. Blue line cohesion

On paper, Calgary can boast one of the most impressive groups of defensemen after the additions of Travis Hamonic in a trade with the New York Islanders on June 24 and the signing of Michael Stone to a three-year contract on June 30. Dougie Hamilton and captain Mark Giordano didn't mesh when put together two seasons ago but rebounded to form one of the NHL's top pairs last season. It'll be the task of Hamonic and TJ Brodie to find chemistry, with Stone and a to-be-determined partner on the third pair.

4. Step forward for Bennett

Sam Bennett, 21, had fewer points in his second NHL season. As a rookie in 2015-16, the center had 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games but fell to 13 goals and 26 points in 81 games last season and couldn't elevate himself above the third line. The hope is that Bennett, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, can rebound to become a legitimate threat behind Monahan and Mikael Backlund.

Video: CGY@LAK: Bennett sweeps home one-timer for PPG

5. Better start

The Flames started 5-10-1 last season and were tied for 24th with 19 points at Thanksgiving. Granted, they rebounded to qualify for the playoffs, but it came on the strength of a 10-game winning streak from Feb. 21-March 13.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

No member of the Flames has more points than Gaudreau (204) since he became a full-time NHL player to start the 2014-15 season. In fact, only Monahan (85) has scored more than Gaudreau (73) during that span. Gaudreau, who turned 24 on Aug. 13, is Calgary's most dynamic catalyst.

Biggest battle

The Flames have as definite a top five on defense as any team in the NHL. The sixth and seventh spots are up for grabs. Matt Bartkowski, 29, holds the age and experience advantage with 235 NHL games played. Brett Kulak, 23, and Tyler Wotherspoon, 24, are potential candidates. Juuso Valimaki, the No. 16 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, could contend with a strong camp.

Most intriguing addition

Smith, who was acquired from the Coyotes on June 17, will be counted on to help stop the revolving door of goaltenders. He isn't coming off his strongest season, but the Coyotes allowed the second-most shots per game in the NHL (34.1). A lightened workload and improved defense could make an immediate difference.

Biggest potential surprise

It's been a long, patient wait for center Mark Jankowski. The 23-year-old, who was selected in the first round (No. 21) of the 2012 NHL Draft, turned pro last season with Stockton of the American Hockey League after four years at Providence College. He had 27 goals and 56 points in 64 games, and was named to the AHL all-rookie team. Jankowski (6-foot-4, 202 pounds) made his NHL debut last November and could slot into the bottom two lines.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Johnny Gaudreau -- Sean Monahan -- Micheal Ferland

Matthew Tkachuk -- Mikael Backlund -- Michael Frolik

Kris Versteeg -- Sam Bennett -- Troy Brouwer

Matt Stajan -- Mark Jankowski -- Curtis Lazar

Mark Giordano -- Dougie Hamilton

TJ Brodie -- Travis Hamonic

Brett Kulak -- Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Eddie Lack

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