After a miserable start to the new NHL season, the Calgary Flames are beginning to show some spark.
Playing in a Pacific Division that has seen an unexpectedly great start from the Vancouver Canucks and a surprisingly awful start from the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames are outside the playoff structure after 17 games played.
But, with a run of 4-1-2 in their last seven, including an impressive win over the Canucks, making the postseason still looks a realistic aim.
|To win Stanley Cup||+5000|
|To win Western Conference||+2500|
|To win Pacific Division||+2500|
|To make playoffs||+135|
After an encouraging 5-3 win at home to Winnipeg Jets to start the season, things went quickly downhill for the Flames.
They managed just one more win in their next nine outings and had five points to show from their first ten games. That included a 5-2 Heritage Classic defeat to an Edmonton Oilers team who had themselves lost their previous four going into the game.
For stretches of games at a time there wasn't much to like about the Flames' play. During a six-game losing streak between October 20 and November 1, Calgary scored nine goals while giving up 24.
New coach Ryan Huska introduced a zone defense system, which the players took time to adapt to.
Weak turnovers and defensive breakdowns were too often punished by opposition teams, but in recent matches they have been notably better.
In their last seven games, Calgary have outscored their opponents 26-21 while beating the Canucks, the Montreal Canadiens, the Nashville Predators, and the Seattle Kraken in that span.
Calgary's recent turnaround has coincided with Martin Pospisil's promotion to the big club.
It is a reach to claim the Pospisil caused the return to form, but the Slovak bruiser has certainly contributed plenty in his first seven NHL games.
As a player who has three times accumulated upwards of 100 penalty minutes in a season, including a whopping 253 in 49 games with the Sioux City Musketeers when he was 19, it is fair to suggest Pospisil was not hired for his silky puck-handling skills.
However, after three goals and three assists in six outings for the Wranglers, Calgary top brass clearly felty there was nothing to lose from giving him a shot, and Posipisil has delivered.
He scored in the first period of his NHL debut in a 6-3 win over division rivals Seattle Kraken that ended a six-game losing streak.
Pospisil has seen his ice time gradually increased since then, and he scored his third of the season with one of his six shots on goal in a shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night. He has five points in seven NHL games so far.
It's unlikely Pospisil's offensive contribution will continue at this rate, but he has also played his part as an agitator. He got under the skin of the Canucks in Calgary's 5-2 win over them and he is helping his team enjoy games more.
Lacking an obvious scoring threat, the Flames needed their top forwards to be at their best early in the season, particularly with the defense not contributing much.
But if anything the players they were relying on to provide goals were even worse than the D.
Veterans Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri would have been expected to lead the attack, but both had abysmal starts to the season.
In the six games prior to the win over Seattle, Huberdeau contributed one assist while earning a -11 rating. Meanwhile, Kadri's first eight games of the season also saw him provide a single assist, with a -10 rating in that time.
Kadri's form significantly picked up, starting with the outdoor loss to Edmonton in which he scored his first goal of the season.
In his last nine outings, Kadri has only twice failed to register either a goal or an assist, and he had two helpers in Saturday's game against the Isles.
Huberdeau is also finding his form, chipping in with a goal and two assists in his last two games. The former Florida Panthers star seems happier playing on a veterans line with captain Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman.
The Flames still have their issues, but their early struggles could be put down to teething troubles playing a new system. It is certainly true that as they have looked more settled the results have started to turn in their favour.
The Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are the clear class performers in the Pacific Division, but it could develop into a great scrap for the other playoff places.
Vancouver and Anaheim Ducks are beginning to regress after stellar starts, while Edmonton are beginning to improve after a disastrous first month-and-a-half and Seattle have looked like a bubble team, as they were expected to be.
One ace up the sleeves of the Flames is that their AHL affiliate the Calgary Wranglers have looked fantastic.
Pospisil's form is a positive sign that the young Wranglers stars are capable of cutting it in the NHL, and three Wranglers have at least 10 points in the team's first 14 games.
That will keep the veterans on their toes, while giving some handy options when injuries inevitably mount up later on in the season.
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