What’s behind the Calgary Flames’ hot start?
Matthew DeMille, Contributor
Monumental. A word that sums up the Calgary Flames’ first three regular season games to a tee. It started with a win over reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Colorado Avalanche, during their season opener. The win was soon followed with victories over top-tier division rivals, the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. For some, the 3-0 start is not worth bragging about, especially when 79 more games are still on the docket for the team. But for the Flames and their fanbase, it’s almost legendary.
The last time Calgary started the season on a winning note, let alone three straight games was the 2009-2010 season. As a matter of fact, the ‘09-’10 crew nabbed victories in their first four games of the season en route to a 42-30-10 record that saw them five points outside of a playoff spot. For the present tense Flames, they hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
Although, the winning record is not the main point of focus for the fanbase. What’s more impressive are the teams the Flames defeated. Colorado, Edmonton and Vegas are all genuine threats in the Western Conference and any of the three have the potential to make a deep run in the playoffs. With the Flames beating the three powerhouses in back-to-back-to-back fashion, they have proven that they are the top dogs of the West.
Each of the three games tested the Flames in different areas of their games, as every victory presented new and unique roadblocks that the team had to maneuver around.
Bringing their ‘A-game’ against Colorado
Facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions directly out of the gate is daunting for any team in the National Hockey League (NHL), even the Flames. In retrospect however, it was a blessing in disguise. In theory, playing the number one ranked team demands each opposing skater and team to bring their ‘A-Game’ if they have any hope of winning. Following a quick goal by the Avalanche, 1:39 into the first, the Flames retaliated back, and hard.
Goals from five different Flames saw the home team up by a score of 5-1 early into the third frame. A late game push from Nathan MacKinnon and company pulled the game close, but it wasn’t enough. The Flames proved they are not only capable of going toe-to-toe with the best of the best, but can come out on top.
Darryl’s defense shines in Edmonton
Remember when I mentioned playing the Avalanche was a blessing in disguise? This is why. Fresh from a major win over Colorado, it was evident that the Flames’ confidence heading into their game against Edmonton was at an all-time high. The first period saw the Flames take a commanding lead over the Oilers while keeping Connor McDavid off the scoresheet.
While it is possible to keep the four-time Art Ross and two-time Hart Trophy winner at bay for spurts, he will eventually find the back of the net. This theory was proven in the second, as McDavid and the Oilers pushed to even the score. Nevertheless, the Flames stood tall against their Albertan rivals and ran Darryl Sutter’s system of shutdown defense to perfection.
Find-a-way Flames strike versus Vegas
In their third game, this time against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Flames found yet another totally different way to win a hockey game. A very slow start and defensive zone lapses would put the team back a pair of goals after the first. But just when we thought the Flames’ winning ways had come to a stop, two quick goals by Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli in the second brought life back to their teammates.
Veteran forward, Mikael Backlund, would give the Flames their third consecutive win, netting his second of the season with less than five minutes remaining in the third. The victory over the Golden Knights was neither easy nor pretty. Instead, it was a grueling game that forced the Flames to grind out whatever scoring chances they could muster. Net front battles and a wee bit of ‘puck luck’ was the difference maker in this one.
Following their game against Vegas on Oct. 18, the Flames are just one of five teams in the NHL who remain undefeated. The Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues make up the other perfect clubs.
While the most demanding part of the schedule has already passed for the Flames, the road ahead isn’t smoothly paved. At least not yet.