CALGARY - Contrary to what may be your first guess, the Calgary Flames are not the lowest scoring team in the NHL.
They’re 28th, ahead of the New York Islanders and the Anaheim Ducks. How’s that for a surprise considering the Ducks boast the reigning goal-scoring champ in Corey Perry along with Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan?
So based on their lack of offensive prowess, it should not come as a shock the Flames are outside of a playoff spot, sitting 13th in the Western Conference, albeit just three points outside the top eight.
Now for another surprise: Just ahead of the Flames in offensive production is the Minnesota Wild. Yep, the Wild, currently tied for third spot in the Western Conference and riding a five-game winning streak, have scored just one more goal than the flickering Flames having played just as many games. (The difference is Guillaume Latendresse’s empty-net goal to seal Minny’s 3-0 win over the Flames Tuesday night.)
To add even more proof you can win without making goal lights flash like a pinball machine, the Edmonton Oilers are currently second overall in the Western Conference and leading the Northwest Division despite having scored just two more goals than the Flames in the same number of tilts.
Granted, the Oilers and the Wild are the top two defensive teams so far this season, surrendering less than two goals per game. But the facts show how thin of a line it is between success and failure in the NHL.
That’s why the last thing the Flames need to do right now is panic and deviate from the plan, both on the ice and in the GM’s office.
This is a team which can’t afford to mortgage any more future in the hopes of finding a short-term boost. If any potential trade works for the longterm, that’s great.
Likewise, it’s important to stick with the program laid out by the coaches.
If the Wild can be a competitive team with their roster, likewise said of the Dallas Stars, the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flames have enough within their locker room to battle for a playoff spot.
The key will be finding that certain something within themselves while staying within the system.
In some ways, the Flames are on the right track to be in the playoff mix. Defensively, they’ve taken a big step forward from last season, sitting just outside the top 10 in the standings due to an improved commitment to defence and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff looking more like the netminder of a couple of seasons ago.
When it comes to scoring chances, the Flames have also done a solid job of generating opportunities, too. Sure, it hasn’t been a consistent thing — not only from game to game but within games — but this is a club which has created opportunities to score more often.
OK, they’re not generating enough during powerplay chances on home ice, but the Flames were by far the better team during much of their 41-shot performance in Tuesday’s loss.
What this season will come down to is if this Flames can start scoring more goals with all those opportunities (“With the chances we’ve had, we feel we’re owed a couple. Hopefully, those bounces will come for us next game,” said left winger Alex Tanguay) and also stay enough of the course to get through the tough times.
The question in my mind is which is more likely to happen: The Flames will start scoring and at least be in the mix for a playoff spot or the players will panic and deviate from the gameplan.
As easy as it is to assume the Flames will continue to struggle, especially coming off a shutout loss, the past history of so many players insists things will turn around.
Jarome Iginla may not be a 40-goal scorer again this season, but 30 isn’t too much to ask, while a slew of players such as Tanguay, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen should reach or surpass the 20-goal mark.
More alarming is the number of players who admit to becoming “antsy” when the team’s struggling — something obvious to all watching the Wild loss when the powerplay took to the ice — or got caught thinking too much instead of going with their instinct.
Becoming paralyzed by the moment is supposed to happen to young and inexperienced squads. It shouldn’t happen to a Flames team filled with veterans.
As Tanguay pointed out, he and his teammates need to embrace their opportunity instead of fretting about potential disappointment.
“You look at the standings, we’re not too far off,” Tanguay added. “Vancouver’s still playing .500. There’s a bunch of teams playing .500. If we play good hockey — do our thing like we did in the first period (Tuesday) — I feel we’ll be right in that mix.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak