Among the many reasons, one stands out as the biggest as to why the Calgary Flames aren’t taking part in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They weren’t good enough against the teams that are.
Winning less than half of their games against the Western Conference’s elite eight this season, there’s no reason for the Flames to figure they truly belong among them this spring.
Taking just nine of their
34 games against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames found themselves 10th in the conference at the end of the regular-season for a reason.
While they went 23-7 against conference rivals who also ended up below the playoff cut-off line, that .767 winning percentage simply couldn’t offset their abysmal .397 performance against those top teams — and that includes the nine points they earned for overtime and shootout losses.
Not helping matters is the fact they went .500 against the Eastern Conference elite with a 4-4-1 record against the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers.
A remarkable run from late-December to March brought them to the brink of making it into the post-season, but it was akin to putting lipstick on a pig — masking another disappointing season.
Looking even more closely at the turnaround offers a more realistic review of the Flames’ 2010-11 campaign.
Although they racked up
22 wins from Dec. 23 to
March 9 before the wheels finally fell off on the drive, only six of those came against teams that qualified for the post-season in either conference. And half of those six came against the Nashville Predators, who didn’t manage a single victory against the Flames all season long.
So while they can claim to be among the best of the NHL’s non-playoff teams, the Flames still have plenty of work to do to get back into the hunt for a Stanley Cup.
Acting GM Jay Feaster admitted as much in his year-end address, and head coach Brent Sutter also said he realizes it will be a long summer of planning and executing in order to get his team to where they all want it to be.
Just look at where things came unglued near the end of the season. The Flames stumbled down the stretch with a pair of losses to the Coyotes, another two to the Ducks, and one each to the Canucks, Kings and Sharks from March 10-30.
It’s no coincidence those teams are all still playing.
Many of the comments from the players earlier this week as they packed up their personal items and dispersed for the summer were about how their slow start hurt them, or that injuries to David Moss and Brendan Morrison led to their downfall in March.
But the fact remains the team wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs for a second straight season.
And if something substantial doesn’t take place this summer, there’s little reason to believe they’ll do any better against the top dogs next fall.