Four things to watch on the Calgary Flames’ five-game road trip

Oct 11, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

After securing two points against the Winnipeg Jets in their home/season opener thanks to outstanding work in the cage by Jacob Markstrom and timely goals from the top line, the Calgary Flames are set to open up their inaugural road trip of the 2023-24 campaign. We still don’t have an idea of what Ryan Huska’s Flames team truly is yet, but perhaps we’ll have a better sense of that by the time they’re back in Alberta to host the Rangers on the 22nd of October. Here’s what to keep an eye on during this five-game road trip that kicks off today in Pittsburgh.

The Calgary Flames schedule

If the Flames are going to be a playoff team in the spring, this is the type of road trip that needs to be capitalized on. With ten possible points up for grabs, six is the minimum they should come away with, but eight is what I’d expect from a team that wants to contend more meaningfully than they did last year. None of the five teams the Flames will be visiting on this trip made the playoffs last year and all have weaknesses the Flames should be able to expose.

Calgary Flames goaltending

The Flames were outplayed in their season-opener, but were gifted an opportunity to win by a version of Jacob Markstrom we missed dearly. Facing an xGA of 5.06, Markstrom allowed three goals on 37 shots.

Markstrom’s performance was a breath of fresh air, but frankly, unless it’s repeatable, it means next to nothing in the grand scheme of the 82-game slog. Key to watch on this road trip will be whether Markstrom’s opening night performance is a sign of confidence he can build on by stringing a few solid performances together or a single-game flash in the pan.

I’m rooting for the latter, but with this team, I know not to count my chickens before they hatch.

Continuing on the goaltending front, I’d expect Dan Vladar to get his first start of the season, probably in the back half of the Flames’ first back-to-back on October 20th against Johnny Hockey and the Jackets in Columbus. I’m maintaining my bold prediction that we will see Vladar shipped out this season to make room for top prospect Dustin Wolf, so I’ll be watching closely, hoping for a solid performance from Vladar in order to boost his trade value – I’d rather not see him plucked off waivers for nothing, although at some point that might be the best way to get Wolf into some NHL games and open up $2.2 million in cap space.

Defensive zone coverage, turnovers, and neutral zone transitions

The Flames have joined the majority of the NHL by adopting a “zone” coverage system in their defensive end. As such, Flames players are learning a new way to protect their own end of the ice when they do not have the puck. Without going into detail, switching D-zone coverage systems is not a simple switch. It impacts how and who you check, where you’re positioned, and what breakout opportunities might look like when puck possession is regained below your own blue.

On this road trip, I’m not expecting the Flames to be sudden wizards in their own end, but I would be shocked if we didn’t see a team that gets more comfortable and confident in the D-zone each night. The guys will have a lot of time to spend together away from the rink, days off in between games for practices, and five opportunities to execute against opponents not among the league’s top offensive threats.

If you’re not familiar with zone defence, I’l have an article on it and the differences, pros, and cons of it versus man-to-man coverage (which Darryl Sutter employed with the Flames).

Against the Jets, the Flames made 15 giveaways (compared to Winnipeg’s five), most of which were in the neutral zone. Play should have been transitioning to an attack with pace, but rather put the Flames on their heels far too often. If the Flames want to have a successful road trip, they’ll have to limit turnovers – something that should come with higher comfortability with new systems and emerging chemistry among line mates and D partners.

Top line Andrew Mangiapane

We know Huska and Savard are sticking to the idea of Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm as first line anchors. The question has been who fills the spot on the right side. We’ve seen Yegor Sharangovich, Dillon Dubé, and Mangiapane all get opportunities. Mangiapane put up three points once moved off of Backlund’s and onto Lindholm’s line partway through the season-opener (yes, one was an empty net goal) and appears to be the best (only?) option for that role at the moment. I would love to see Mangiapane return to form with another 35-goal season on a healthy shoulder, so I’ll be watching intently to see if he can find chemistry with 10 and 28.

Matt Coronato to score his first NHL point

Matt Coronato is going to score his first NHL point on this road trip. He’ll likely spend the bulk of his five-on-five ice time in a top-six offensive role alongside Nazem Kadri and continue to get opportunities on the top power play unit. It’s just a matter of time before he taps one in or rifles one home from his sniper’s perch.

Yes, the season is young, but it’s young for every other team in the league, too. These road trip points are valuable and the Calgary Flames better be hungry to feast on teams they’re as good or better than. Goaltending, taking care of their zone and the puck in transition, 88, and 27 are all ingredients in the recipe to pay attention to.

Next. 12 bold Calgary Flames predictions for the 2023-24 season. dark