Flames turning season around under interim GM Jay Feaster

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Mark Twain may have had hockey and the Calgary Flames in mind when he said, “The reports of (my) death were an exaggeration.” Even though the Flames were left for dead around Christmas, they’ve completely turned things around and have not only disassociated themselves from the Oilers, but they’ve become a good bet to emerge as a playoff team come April. So what is the difference?

Jay Feaster.

The Flames have won their last three games and five of their last six going into tonight’s game in Phoenix. Since Feaster took over the GM position on an interim basis on December 28th, the Flames have a sparkling 20-6-6 record for 46 points in 32 games. Contrast that to the 35 points the Flames had earned under the Darryl Sutter’s 37 games at the beginning of the year. What does that mean? They used to look like a rebuilding team like Florida Panthers; now they’re the Vancouver Canucks. They’ve gone from a team that fans thought should be rebuilding to a team who is competing for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. How did this happen?

There’s been some speculation that the Flames just needed someone else in the GMs chair. In Darryl Sutter, they had a strong personality who—well, has a strong personality. Just like a coaching change can change the atmosphere around a team, it looks like Jay Feaster’s (temporary) persona is wearing off on his team. Then again, winning is fun. So which is it—did the winning cause the improved atmosphere or did the improved atmosphere lead to the wins?

No matter which side of the question you fall on, it’s hard to argue against Feaster and the team’s performance since he took over. It also helps that his best players have been playing extremely well since he took over (that will make anyone look like a genius). Last week, Jarome Iginla became the 5th player in NHL history to score 30 goals in 10 straight seasons. Miikka Kiprusoff has survived a rocky start to the season and is tied with Carey Price with the most wins in the league (32). The rest of the team has been keeping pace and people have been making awful “red-hot Flames” puns for the better part of two months.

One of the secrets to Calgary’s success has been focusing on the here-and-now. Trying to make up that much ground in a short time span can be a daunting task, so they chose to go with a focused attack during their assent in the standings. Feaster relayed their strategy to Adrian Dater at SI.com:

“Our coach (Brent Sutter) put out a challenge to our team before a December 23 game in Dallas. It was: ‘Let’s win two out of three from here on out. Just focus on three-game blocks at a time.’ Since he put that challenge out there, our record is 21-6-6. When you take it out of the realm of ‘Boy, look at all these teams we’re chasing and have to climb over’, that new outlook kind of made it seem less daunting in the bigger picture. Let’s just look at now as a three-game playoff, and you have to win two out of three.”

Sometimes a team will flip a switch and we never really find an adequate explanation. In this case, we have a pretty clear separation between the embarrassing version of the team that started the season and the dangerous version of the team that is tearing through the Western Conference.

Calgary Flames President and CEO Ken King agreed with Jay Feaster before promoting him in December that the GM position would be on an interim basis for the rest of the year and they’d revisit the position at the end of the season. If the team keeps it up, the Flames organization may as well order that nameplate for Feaster’s office. He might be in Alberta for a while.

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: