When it comes to the NHL teams in Canada, people only seem to really pay attention to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and the Winnipeg Jets.
This is very understandable. The Leafs are one of the league’s top teams this year while the Jets are coming off a season in which they went to the Western Conference Finals.
What’s more if that even the Canadiens are playing well. They were not expected to do much coming into the season, but as of this writing, the Habs are in the first wild-card spot with 33 points.
With that said, however, there is another Canadian NHL club that is having an outstanding season. In fact, they are currently leading their division and are only a few points behind the West’s best teams.
I am talking about the Calgary Flames. After having a disappointing finish to their season last year, the Flames are on track to get back into the playoffs after missing out last season.
As of this writing, the Flames are first in the Pacific Division with 36 points. In a division that has the likes of the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and the streaking Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights, that’s impressive.
For this Flames’ hockey club, it starts with their high flying offense. The team is currently sixth in the league in goals scored with 100 goals in 28 games, which is good for close to four goals per game.
Going into their game against the Minnesota Wild on December 6, the team has four players with at least 30 points. In fact, these four players have combined for 130 points.
Leading the way for the Flames is 25-year-old Johnny Gaudreau. “Johnny Hockey” currently has 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists in 28 games) and is showing the rest of the league that when he is on his game, he is one of the best players in the sport.
Right behind Gaudreau are Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk. Monahan, 24, is currently second on the team with 33 points (17 goals and 16 assists) while Tkachuk is third on the club with 32 points (13 goals and 19 assists).
In looking at the three players mentioned above, they are all young, fast, and are extremely talented forwards. They are leading this club’s offense and have shown no signs of slowing down.
Believe it or not, this team has been pretty good defensively as well. The Flames are 12th in the league in goals allowed as they have allowed 81 goals in 28 games.
The Flames’ defense has some firepower, speed, and great puck-handling ability. While they still give up a lot of quality scoring chances, the team has done a much better job of protecting their netminders this season.
Speaking of goaltending, Mike Smith has not been the main man between the pipes for this hockey club. Going into their game against the Wild on December 6, Smith, 36, is 9-7-1 with a 3.11 goals against average, a .884 save percentage and one shutout.
Smith has allowed a lot of soft goals this season, has been caught out of position far too many times and has not played like the goaltender he was at the beginning of last season. While there is still a lot of time to turn it around, he needs to get his game back on track if he wants to help get his team back into the playoffs.
While Smith has struggled, his so-called back-up, David Rittich has been more than solid. Rittich, 26, is currently 8-2-1 with a 2.39 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and one shutout. The Flames are lucky that he has been good because if he wasn’t, I don’t think we’d be talking about them being first in their division.
Lastly, new head coach Bill Peters has done a great job with this club. He is allowing his best players to be creative, while also making sure that they play well on the other side of the puck as well. The team, at least in the early going, seems to have bought into his system and that is another reason why they have been playing so well lately.
The NHL season is obviously a long haul, but if the Flames can continue to play this way and be consistent for the rest of the season, they could definitely find themselves as a team to be reckoned with come April.
Photo: Sporting News