Question one: When do you think was the turning point for the Calgary Flames for them to sort of collapse and have those playoff hopes somewhat shattered?
The obvious answer here is the Mike Smith injury, but I’m going to go in a different direction. The 3-1 loss at home against the lowly New York Rangers, where they had 51 shots and Brett Kulak scored the only goal. At that point, the slide had started but was very minor. They were expected to come in and easily take care of business against a rebuilding team whose management had clearly waved the white flag on the season. They egregiously outplayed the rangers and got some of the patented Calgary Flames poor goaltending to boot.
It was the ultimate deflation and spearheaded an ugly trend of not being able to put away teams and collect points that desperately needed to be collected. To me, the Flames never looked the same after that and would seemingly give up whenever they would be down in a game and wouldn’t be able to score. They would press and generate offense (without scoring) for five to ten solid minutes at a time and then the opposing team would score and the flames would throw in the towel. Always the same old story.
The turning point was when Mike Smith went down. It seemed like the team was picking up momentum and when he went down the backups failed to pick up the slack.
Mike Smith getting injured and David Rittich not being able to hold down the fort in his absence was definitely the start of the collapse. He went from one of the best back-ups in the NHL to a goalie who couldn’t stop a beach ball. Smith coming back and post horrible efforts in 4 of his first 5 games after returning definitely didn’t help either.
The bye week. The Flames won seven consecutive games leading up to the league-mandated week off. Things were looking very good until the moment the puck dropped at their first game back on January 20th. That was the beginning of a six-loss run that included being crushed 7-4 at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was downhill(er) from there. Prior to the break, the team won about 55.5% of their games. Since then, it’s been a miserable 32%. Before the bye week, they converted on 18.4% of their PP attempts. After that, 12.8%. Ironically, their team possession numbers improved after the break. As did their PK%. Those were not enough to generate wins, however.
Mike Smith’s injury. No doubt about it. The tandem of Rittich and Jon Gillies couldn’t provide that All-Star netminding that Smith was playing at. The Flames may or may not have rushed Smith back a little earlier than they should have as well, but his injury was a turning point for this season.
I think there was a mix of all of these. Post-bye week, they just collapsed for some reason. Then Mike Smith got injured at the worst time, and while David Rittich was one of the best backups, it’s clear he’s not ready to be an NHL starter. But for me, I think the ultimate collapse was the game against the San Jose Sharks where the Flames lost 7-4.
They had split the last two games when Smith returned and he cost them the game against the New York Islanders then stole the game against the Edmonton Oilers. Then he collapsed again against the Sharks and the Calgary Flames weren’t able to recover and that started a seven-game losing streak. When they faced the Sharks, they were still in the running and had a chance of making it. But after that game, that’s when the team, especially goaltending, had the biggest collapse.