Around American Thanksgiving is considered to be an unofficial milestone in the NHL. Historically, about ¾ of teams in a playoff spot at American Thanksgiving end up making the playoffs in April. That’s good news for the Calgary Flames.
One quarter of the way through the season, it’s time to stop using the “it’s still early” excuse and start forming real opinions. Time to candidly look at the state of your team and make tough decisions, like coach firings or trades.
Via Globe and Mail:
"“I want to be a team that gets off to a good start, sustains that quality start, and has a playoff spot wrapped up and you’re fighting for home ice.”"
So far, and to his credit, Bill Peters has more or less gotten what he wanted. The Calgary Flames have had a good start, sliding into a playoff spot early and holding onto it, even leading the Pacific Division at times. There’s room for improvement, but this team looks faster and more complete than it has in recent memory, goaltending aside.
This leaves a pleasantly surprised group of fans, myself included, asking: What changed?
Night and Day
Compare the final quarter of last season with the first quarter of this season. In March and April, we were pulling our hair out, watching a team so unable to string wins together that we began to wonder what they had done to infuriate the hockey gods.
That feels like a lifetime ago.
The roster has changed dramatically since then, sure. But it’s more than that. The Calgary Flames seem to have found the right combination of intangibles, that “je ne sais quoi” that was missing last year.
Their strong home record, positive goal differential, and ability to bounce back after a setback all stand in stark contrast to the team we used to know.
You may recall that the media narrative in the home stretch of 2017-18 was that the Flames were talented enough to be competitive, but lacked “character.” Since nobody, including Brad Treliving, could put their finger on what was missing, character was just an umbrella term used by the media to describe it.
I haven’t heard a word of criticism about their character in the past two months.
Did the Calgary Flames somehow manage to fix their alleged character issues in a single summer? Or did they simply acquire enough new talent to cover up the problems everyone was talking about last season?
I would argue that it’s mostly the former.
We may never know specifically what changed in the Calgary Flames’ mental game this summer, or how they managed to improve it. But you don’t have to be a sports psychologist to see, clear as day, that it has improved.
The best term I can think of to describe this change is resiliency.
The players don’t get flustered after a loss. They maintain composure when the team is down a goal or two. They have out-shot their opponents in 18 of 24 games this year. Skaters who are “snake bitten” aren’t giving up as easily. Sending prayers to James Neal.
For example, last year, it was theorized that they played poorly at the Saddledome because of the increased pressure to impress hometown fans. That doesn’t seem to be a problem right now. It’s about resiliency, their ability to cope with the pressure and stay loose. This is what was missing last season.
It’s a weird feeling, as a fan, to not be worried all the time. To sit back and say to yourself “They can do this. They can overcome. They can bounce back.”
Credit Where It’s Due
I think most of the credit for building resiliency on this team belongs to Bill Peters. His willingness to move players up and down the roster based on performance and chemistry seems to have injected some grit and urgency into their game. They know full well that to get the best linemates and optimal ice time, they need to be motivated.
It’s so much better than trying to force people into roles that are a bad fit. Last season was a time of square pegs and round holes.
Peters has shown a little resiliency of his own by taking a puck to the face and returning to the bench in a hurry, stitches and all. Way to lead by example, Bill. You’ve turned many former skeptics, myself included, into believers.
Brad Treliving deserves a little credit too. This Calgary Flames roster, more than I have seen in a long time, appears to just get along. Whether by coincidence or sheer genius, I think Treliving has put together a group that has good chemistry, and plays loose, because they know they’re among friends.
Just look at Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin, described by their teammates as nigh inseparable. Or TJ Brodie’s revival after being reunited with his pal Mark Giordano. Or rookies Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki who have shown good chemistry on the third pair. These people are more than just teammates.
No more conversations about lack of character. No more whispers of locker room issues. This team can finally just focus on hockey.