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Three questions facing Calgary Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Want to chew on more than three questions? Check these posts, too.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Is Bill Peters a better coach than Glen Gulutzan?

Your mileage will vary on Bill Peters, a coach who served as one of Mike Babcock’s assistants in Detroit before getting his first head gig with the Hurricanes.

On one hand, the Hurricanes were analytics darlings and seemed perpetually on the cusp of greater things. While talent on hand naturally helps to push the puck in the right direction, a coach’s systems also can make a big difference when it comes to dominating possession.

Still, there’s also a chicken-and-the-egg discussion regarding Peters’ work and the Hurricanes horrendous run of goaltending. How much of it is on the talent in net – let’s not forget that Scott Darling carried fantastic numbers into Carolina – versus possibly being a matter of his system putting goalies in a tough spot? Goalie nerds undoubtedly love chewing on those questions, whether there are concrete answers or not.

The bottom line is that the Hurricanes never made the playoffs under Peters’ watch, while the Flames frequently underwhelmed under Glen Gulutzan’s tutelage. Peters stands as Flames GM Brad Treliving’s second hire, so there’s a lot on the line.

2. Did the Flames improve this off-season?

As mentioned in this post, the Flames saw significant changes to their roster this summer – not just their coaching staff – with Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox traded away, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin coming back, and James Neal signed to a hefty contract. Naturally, there were also some tweaks in depth positions, while the Flames decided to stick with Mike Smith as their likely workhorse (more on that in a moment).

The question Brad Treliving’s job may ride on is: did the Flames get better? Is it possible they’re merely in the same position or even got worse? You’re likely to hear plenty of differing opinions across the hockey world.

To venture some guesses, the Flames should probably improve on offense. Barring Neal hitting age 30 hard, he’s pretty much a rich man’s version of Micheal Ferland, at least right now. Elias Lindholm is a 50-point-or-so guy, and that outlook could change dramatically if he lands with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

On paper, the Flames offense is more capable, and could possibly boast the depth they’ve sorely been lacking in their bottom-six. Of course, some of that depends upon how Peters deploys forwards, and how restricted they are in being creative versus playing it safe.

Calgary’s defense is another interesting riddle, as the analysis hinges on how you feel about Hanifin and Hamilton. If nothing else, Hanifin is much younger than Hamilton, and should be hungry to seek his first postseason berth.

And then there’s the goaltending …

3. What kind of goaltending will they get in 2018-19?

Considering his health challenges last season, it might be tempting to assume that the Flames would otherwise be in a great place with Mike Smith if you could merely turn injuries off like in “NHL 19.”

Let’s not forget that the towering 36-year-old has been through a lot during his career, and not just happy moments.

Smith began his career as a promising Stars backup before flubbing his first opportunity as No. 1 guy with the Lightning. After that, Smith’s lengthy stay with the Coyotes included a big contract, a Cinderella run to the 2012 Western Conference Final, and plenty of nights facing a barrage of shots on an aimless Arizona squad. Smith’s career and confidence was on the line at least once; as you may remember, he discussed his work with a sports psychologist in October 2015.

(Side note: it would actually be refreshing if more athletes, not just struggling ones, decided to address their mental health in similar ways. That might take some time, judging by the fact that Smith said he was initially “offended” by the Coyotes’ suggestion.)

It’s quite possible that Smith will carry over the best moments from 2017-18 (before the All-Star break, Smith generated a dazzling .926 save percentage in 41 games), and defy age by being a strong workhorse for Calgary.

The scary thing is that it sure seems like the Flames are essentially depending upon that to work out.

Granted, the Flames aren’t short on interesting goalie prospects, as Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons are all on the organizational radar. Gillies and Rittich received some NHL reps last season, for better and worse.

Are any of those goalies really ready if the bottom falls out for Smith? If not, would Treliving manage to pull off a trade that wouldn’t just pull the Flames deeper into the quicksand?

The good news is that the Flames boast a lot of talent. There’s an ideal scenario, one that’s not too far-fetched, where it all comes together for Calgary and they go from missing the playoffs to a deep run. That’s especially true if Treliving ends up being correct about Peters.

The Flames are swinging with power rather than accuracy here, though, as there are some considerable gambles taking place. We’ll find out next season if this team laughs its way to the bank or opens the door for even more instability.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: Montgomery’s firing; drafting the All-Decade Team

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Kathryn Tappen, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp discuss the surprise firing of Stars coach Jim Montgomery. The guys also give their takes on Gary Bettman’s four-point plan to handle abuse. Pierre McGuire sits down with Sabres coach Ralph Krueger to talk about his time in Europe and his path from the Premier League back to the NHL. Plus, Jones and Sharp reveal their top defensemen and goalies of the decade. Do you agree with them?

Start-0:45 Intros
0:45-7:25 Reaction to Dallas firing Jim Montgomery
7:25-14:10 Gary Bettman and the NHL’s 4-point plan
14:10-32:50 Pierre interviews Sabres coach Ralph Krueger
36:05-End The guys begin to draft their All-Decade Team

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

The Buzzer: Avalanche keep rolling; Capitals clip Bruins

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Three Stars

1. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals.

With only one goal in his previous 10 games, Oshie scored two beautiful goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 win against the Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey. The American forward recorded a power-play goal early in the second period to knot the score 1-1. Oshie rang a shot off the crossbar after a crafty deke and then found the loose puck behind Jaroslav Halak to pick up his 12th of the season. Then, Oshie scored the goal of the night when he avoided Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton and converted a breakaway opportunity to give Washington a 2-1 lead.

2. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche.

In his sixth game back since suffering a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for 16 games, Rantanen notched two goals to help the Colorado Avalanche earn a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Finnish forward tapped in a pretty pass from Nathan MacKinnon to extend the Avalanche advantage to 2-0 in the second period. In the third, Rantanen sealed the game after Nazem Kadri delivered a perfect pass. Colorado has kept pace in the competitive Central Division with Rantanen sidelined, but will now look to emerge as the class of the division with the return of its star forward.

3. Cayden Primeau, Montreal Canadiens.

The first NHL win for any goaltender is always a special moment. Primeau made 35 saves as the Montreal Canadiens skated to a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators.  Primeau, 20, was the No. 199 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and is the son of former NHL All-Star forward Keith Primeau. He was recalled from the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate on Tuesday after Montreal placed Keith Kinkaid on waivers.

Highlights of the Night

Oshie performed a nifty deke around a Bruins defender, then converted a breakaway while drawing a penalty.

Carter Hart submitted another candidate for the save of the year with this impressive glove save.

Factoids

  • Carlson (33 GP) required the fewest games by a defenseman to record his 45th point of a season since Al MacInnis in 1990-91 (32 GP w/ CGY). [NHL PR]
  • Carlson’s five game-winning goals (33 GP) are one shy of the Capitals single-season franchise record by defensemen (Kevin Hatcher: 6 in 83 GP, 1992-93). [NHL PR]

  • Only four goaltenders in Canadiens history recorded their first NHL win at a younger age than Primeau. [NHL PR]

  • Primeau is the second goalie in as many seasons to record his first NHL win prior to his 21st birthday. The other: Carter Hart on Dec. 18, 2018 w/ PHI (20 years, 127 days). [NHL PR]
  • Rantanen has collected 20 points in 15 or fewer games for the second time in his career [NHL PR].

Scores

Capitals 3, Bruins 2

Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Flyers 1

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rantanen’s goals help Avalanche defeat Flyers, extend point streak

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Mikko Rantanen scored twice and the Colorado Avalanche extended their point streak to eight games with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Matt Calvert also scored, and Pavel Francouz made 32 saves in Colorado’s seventh win over the past eight games.

Claude Giroux scored the lone Flyers goal late in the third period and Carter Hart made 25 saves, but the Flyers fell in regulation for only the second time in the previous 10 outings (7-2-1).

Francouz provides boost between the pipes

With Avalanche starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer sidelined with a lower-body injury, Francouz made his fourth straight appearance and collected his eighth win of the season with a strong performance against the Flyers.

After a rocky showing against the Flames earlier this week which resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss, Francouz bounced back and was a steadying force in the crease. Claude Giroux ended Francouz’s shutout bid late in the third period, but the Czech goalie held off a late push from Philadelphia.

After a second-round defeat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche have eyes on home-ice advantage in the 2020 postseason. If Francouz can provide consistent goaltending when called upon, they certainly have the star power up front to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Kadri acquisition paying early dividends

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic acquired Nazem Kadri this past summer to help the Avalanche become a deeper team with improved secondary scoring. With 21 points in 28 games this season, Kadri has added another element to Colorado’s dynamic offensive attack.

Early in the third period Wednesday, Kadri patiently waited behind the Flyers’ net until Rantanen skated into position to convert a one-timer to give Colorado a three-goal third-period lead.

The Avalanche’s top line is one of the most lethal trios in the NHL, but Colorado is that much more dangerous if Kadri continues to provide an extra boost.

Looking ahead for Flyers

The Flyers began a three-game road trip against Central Division opponents with a loss against the Avalanche, but cannot let one game ruin the momentum they have generated with strong play in recent weeks. The Flyers will travel to Minnesota and Winnipeg over the weekend and need to continue to secure points to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Oshie, Carlson lift Capitals over Bruins in mid-season test

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The 82-game regular season is a marathon for NHL teams, but at various points of the season you want to measure yourself up against a top team in your conference.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals defeated the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins 3-2 at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson scored the go-ahead goal 4:42 into the third period to help propel the Capitals. T.J. Oshie scored twice and Braden Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals collected their seventh win in the previous eight games.

David Pastrnak scored his NHL-leading 26th goal for Boston but the Bruins have dropped four consecutive games (0-3-1).

Oshie often overlooked

Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Carlson or Holtby, Oshie is often neglected when listing the Capitals’ star power.

Since being acquired in July of 2015, Oshie has been a consistent offensive threat for the Capitals in the previous four-plus seasons. He has averaged 25.5 goals and added his 12th and 13th of this season in stellar fashion on Wednesday.

Oshie made a quick deke to his forehand before ringing a shot off the crossbar, but then finished his own rebound to even the score early in the second period.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with a highlight-reel goal. The American forward danced around Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton before converting a nifty deke 3:30 after his first of the game.

While other players in Washington’s lineup receive credit for the Capitals’ strong play in recent years, Oshie should not be forgotten about as he has proven to be a key piece to the puzzle in Washington.

Pastrnak remains red-hot

The Czech winger has solidified himself as one the best pure goal scorers in the NHL today and recorded his 26th goal of the season on Wednesday. No. 88 is on pace for 67 goals this season and has helped the Boston Bruins secure a 10-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

Pastrnak tallied a short-side snipe to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead against the Capitals Wednesday. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy was able to complete a cross-ice pass because centerman Patrice Bergeron skated hard to the net in order to create an open passing lane.

If Pastrnak is able to continue this torrid pace, he could be in line to collect a lot of hardware at the NHL Awards show and help the Bruins collect a trophy they fell just short of last season.

Ovechkin’s office

The sign of dominance in any competitive sport is if you can continue to repeat an action while your opponent is aware of what is coming.

For Alex Ovechkin, his presence from the left circle throughout the course of his career has been spectacular. The captain of the Washington Capitals has recorded 299 of his 679 goals (44%) from the left circle or above. And since the 2012-13 season, 54% of his goals have come from that spot on the ice.

NHL teams will continue to game plan and know exactly where No. 8 will be on the ice, especially when Washington is on a power play, but his excellence from that area should be viewed in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky’s operation from behind the net.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.