The Calgary Flames are suddenly hot. What's changed?

More scoring from up and down the lineup, combined with Jacob Markstrom’s play, is paying off for the Flames

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Something appears to be clicking for the Calgary Flames.

Or maybe it’s that a lot of things are clicking at the same time.

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But the Flames are suddenly on a hot streak and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With six wins in their last eight games dating back to their New Year’s Eve defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Flames have kept themselves in the playoff hunt.

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Whether you want them pushing for a post-season spot or believe they’d be better off tanking and getting the highest draft pick possible, you’ve got to admit it’s been a lot of fun.

The Flames have found their scoring touch, are getting bes in class goaltending and look like a way better team than anyone was giving them credit for being a month or two ago.

Could they be a playoff team? Despite their recent hot streak, they’re still on the outside looking in. It doesn’t help that the two teams directly in front of them in the wild-card race are the Seattle Kraken and Edmonton Oilers, who happen to have won nine and 10 games in a row, respectively.

But the Flames can’t control that, and what they can control, they’re doing a pretty nice job with.

So why are they suddenly looking like a formidable opponent? Here are five reasons:

  1. SCORING EARLY AND OFTEN

This is something that was brought up again and again in the Flames’ post-game media scrums after they beat the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night — it really helps when you score first.

Earlier in the season, the Flames developed a reputation for being very good at comebacks. They’ve won nine games when their opponent scores first, and only five teams around the league have won more when they’re in that situation.

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But that’s not necessarily a great recipe for sustained success over a full season. It’s fun for fans at home, but it’s way harder to overturn a lead than it is to protect one.

Over this eight-game stretch, the Flames have scored first five times. They’ve won four of those games, which is no coincidence.

The Flames are 11-6-3 this season when they score first, which is only the 25th-best mark around the NHL.

But they’re getting better at coming out of the gate and jumping to leads.

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  1. IT’S COMING FROM EVERYWHERE

Blake Coleman is rightfully hogging the headlines right now.

The 32-year-old Flames forward is on an absolute heater and has 13 points in the Flames’ last eight games dating back to New Year’s Eve. Only superstar Elias Petterson of the Vancouver Canucks and Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers have more over that period.

But make no mistake, the Flames are taking a scoring-by-committee approach.

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Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund
Calgary Flames forward Blake Coleman celebrates his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights with Mikael Backlund at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. David Becker/The Associated Press

The team has eight forwards with at least five points over the last eight games, as well as defencemen Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin and MacKenzie Weegar, who have six apiece.

Nazem Kadri has nine points. He’s on the Flames’ second line, if we can still call it that. Yegor Sharangovich has six goals and two assists. He’s on the first line. Andrew Mangiapane has eight, too, playing on what is ostensibly the “third line” with Coleman and Mikael Backlund, who has contributed eight points.

There’s scoring coming from up and down the lineup. The fourth liners haven’t produced much, but otherwise the Flames are coming at teams in waves.

  1. SPECIAL TEAMS

Over the entire season, the Flames have the fourth-worst power-play in the NHL and are converting at a rate of 13.4%.

Over the past eight games, the Flames are scoring on 20% of their power-plays, the 17th best rate in the league. Still not amazing, but a lot better.

Let’s keep going.

Over the entire season, the Flames have the NHL’s fifth-best penalty kill, at 84.2%. Pretty good, but they’ve been better over their last eight games, killing off 87.0% of their opponents’ man-advantage opportunities.

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It’s pretty obvious to say that special teams play matters, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The Flames have been improving at taking advantage when their opponents have a man in the box, and have been stingy when they’ve got a guy in the sin-bin themselves.

  1. MARKSTROM

Over the past month or so, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to make an argument that Jacob Markstrom has been the best goalie in the NHL.

His season totals may not have him in the top 10 in the league in terms of save percentage or goals-against-average, but anyone who watched the Flames early knows he was bombarded with shots from high-danger areas as his teammates figured out the new zone defence system that was implemented.

Markstrom has played 10 games in the last month, though. Among goaltenders who have played at least eight games in that stretch, Markstrom’s .936 save percentage is third in the league. His .202 goals-against-average is fifth, and he’s also won seven games.

Jacob Markstrom
Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Calgary Flames takes a break during a stop in play in the second period of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on January 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Flames defeated the Golden Knights 3-1. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“When you see him the way he’s been over the last little while, you know that not many shots are going to get past him,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska after Saturday night’s 3-1 win. “Unfortunately, we made a few mistakes on the goal we ended up giving up and he almost made that save, which is crazy to think about, but he was excellent for us tonight.”

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Whether or not you think he’s been the very best in the NHL over the past month, he’s been among the elite of the elite.

  1. GUYS BACK ON TRACK

This is somewhat related to the second point, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the renewed production of both Huberdeau and Mangiapane.

Both guys were the target of a lot of — deserved — criticism as they struggled through the first two-and-a-half months of the season.

But when the Flames coaching staff changed up the lines and put Huberdeau back with Sharangovich and Elias Lindholm, as well as returning Mangiapane to a line with Backlund and Coleman, it worked wonders.

Huberdeau has eight points in his last eight games. That’s more than a third of his season total of 23. That means he was averaging 0.43 points per game through the first 35 games of the season; he’s averaging a point a game in the eight games since. The math’s easy there, it’s a major improvement.

Mangiapane has come alive since the line change prior to New Year’s Eve, too. He’s on a point-a-game pace since, after being good for half-a-point per game in his previous 34 games.

Those two are important pieces for the Flames, and having them find their games has been huge.

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X: @DannyAustin_9

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