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Game Notes: Calgary Flames @ Edmonton Oilers — Game 2

Buckle up, friends. It’s the first Battle of Alberta of 2021-22.

We’ve seen a lot of different versions of the Calgary Flames over the past few seasons. What can we expect this year?

1. The 2014-15 season was the first of Johnny Gaudreau’s NHL career. He broke into the league that season with 24 goals and 64 points and helped the Flames end a five-year playoff drought. Despite boasting some of the worst underlying numbers in the league, the Flames made the playoffs and beat the Canucks in the first round.

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2. The Flames predictably crashed back to earth in 2015-16. While Gaudreau established himself as one of the league’s best producers with a 30-goal and 78-point season, Calgary’s goaltending tanked and their depth scorers who rode high shooting percentages the year before fell back to earth. The team went from 97 points in the standings to 77 and wound up selecting Matthew Tkachuk with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.

3. Fast forward to 2018-19 and the Flames put together one of their best seasons in franchise history. After spending 2016-17 and 2017-18 as a middling club, the Flames broke out with a 50-25-7 record. That team featured the second-best offence in the league. Gaudreau scored a career-high 99 points, three different players eclipsed the 30-goal plateau, and 11 different players scored at least 10 goals. The Flames would wind up losing to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche in the first round.

4. Yet again, the Flames took a step back. That deep, potent offence regressed and finished 20th in the league in goals as depth scoring from the likes of Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski, and Sam Bennett disappeared. Mark Giordano, who scored 17 goals in his Norris Trophy season in 2018-19, also regressed to just five goals in 2019-20. Calgary was on the bubble of playoff teams when the NHL was paused due to COVID-19 and they won their play-in series over the Jets in the summer.

5. The Flames made a big free-agent splash in 2020, inking Jacob Markstrom to a six-year contract. The hope among Flames fans was that Markstrom would provide the same elite goaltending he did in Vancouver and that the offence would bounce back to something close to where it was in 2018-19. Neither of those things happened.

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Markstrom was mediocre in his first season as a Flame, posting a .904 save percentage in 43 games, while the team again finished 20th in the league in goals. Bringing back Darryl Sutter for another tour of duty also didn’t change anything, as the team went 15-15-0 with him behind the bench after going 11-12-3 before he arrived.

6. Here we are now. The Flames have taken a step backwards in back-to-back seasons since finishing at the top of the Western Conference. Will that trend continue this year? Or will the Flames bounce back?

Calgary suffered a big loss over the summer, as captain Mark Giordano was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft. The team made a nice addition by inking back-to-back Stanley Cup winner, Blake Coleman, to a multi-year deal in free agency, but the pair of defenders they signed, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zaitsev, won’t compensate for the loss of Giordano.

7. Calgary’s best bet to replace Giordano is internal. Former No. 5 overall pick Noah Hanifin had a good season for the Flames in 2021, as he and Chris Tanev posted a 22-to-18 goal differential over 617 even-strength minutes. It’s fair to assume Hanifin can take Giordano’s spot on the top pair, but that leaves Calgary looking to fill Hanifin’s second pairing minutes with either Zadorov, a bottom-pairing guy, or Juuso Valimaki, who has 73 games of NHL experience.

As of right now, it’ll be Zadorov playing with Rasmus Andersson on the second pair while Valimaki plays with Gudbranson on the third pair.

8. Also, speaking of Calgary’s big free-agent addition, Coleman won’t be in the lineup for the team’s season opener against Edmonton on Saturday night because he got suspended for boarding Winnipeg Jets forward Jansen Harkins during the preseason. With Coleman out, the Flames were using defenceman Oliver Kylington as a forward on the fourth line.

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9. Key to Calgary bouncing back will be the play of Markstrom, who, as I mentioned earlier, wasn’t all that great in his debut season with the Flames. Calgary will need to get more offence, but they’ll also need Markstrom to be as good as he was with the Canucks when he was routinely posting a save percentage above .910.

If the Flames struggle early and aren’t in the mix when the calendar changes to 2022, we’ll start to hear talk about Gaudreau moving on really heat up. Gaudreau is a free agent at the end of this season (Sean Monahan is one year behind him) and, if the Flames aren’t competitive and there’s no contract extension, moving him ahead of the trade deadline might be the play.

10. Given all of the fireworks in 2019-20, it was pretty surprising that the 2021 Battle of Alberta was so subdued. These teams squared off 10 times and the thought was some serious bad blood would develop over the course of the shortened season. Instead, the games felt a lot less lively than in recent years, possibly because there weren’t fans in the stadium. It’ll be interesting to see if a rocking crowd in Edmonton can bring some life back to this battle.

The Oilers won last season’s Battle of Alberta 6-to-4 and they went 1-2-1 in 2019-20.

11. One final note that’s pretty funny… The Flames are chasing history. If they lose on Saturday night, it’ll mark 11 season-opening losses in a row. The last time Calgary won a season-opener was in 2009 when Miikka Kiprusoff was in net and Brandon Prust scored the game-winner. The 11-straight season-opening losses is an NHL record by a wide margin and it’s only two shy of tying the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Browns, who had 13-consecutive season-opening losses from 2001-2013 and 2005-2017 respectively.

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