This week in Flames — 3 Things We Know, 3 Things We Don’t

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A week-and-a-half ago, the Calgary Flames were open about how pivotal the stretch of games they were about to play was going to be for their season.

Starting with a home game against the Edmonton Oilers last Friday, the Flames had to play seven games in 11 days in four different cities. They were .500 going into the brutal run and didn’t want to be .500 coming out of it.

“I definitely think it’s a pivotal moment,” said Flames winger Milan Lucic back on Feb. 18. “You look at the standings and you look at what the next seven-game segment means for our team and our season (and) if we’re under .500 or keep playing .500 hockey, we’re going to have to win at a close to .750 or .800 winning-percentage rate to get ourselves in a playoff spot.

“This segment here right now is very pivotal.”

Well, through six of those seven games, the Flames have gone 2-3-1. Beat the Ottawa Senators on Monday and they’ll be just above .500.

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Context matters, though.

The Flames dropped the first two games of this stretch against the Oilers, but have largely been better since. They’ve jumped out to leads in three of their last four games and took five points out of a possible eight in their last four games on this road trip.

It’s not perfect, but it’s something. There are still a lot of questions about this team, there’s no question about that, but if you look closely there are reasons to believe they’re out of the funk that was plaguing them a week or two ago.

Here are three things we know, and three things we don’t about the Flames right now:

1. REST, FINALLY

The Flames are on the tail-end of a brutal stretch in their schedule that’s seen them play nine games in 15 nights. Anyone drawing conclusions from their tough showing Thursday night against the Senators needs to check themselves, honestly. The Flames had played the night before in Toronto and were playing their fifth game in seven nights. Of course, they looked bad.

Fortunately, things are about to slow down a little bit. The Flames play only six games in the next two weeks and don’t have to leave Alberta until March 19. Every team has a pretty crazy schedule in 2021, but at least the Flames are getting a bit of a reprieve over the next couple of weeks. Ideally, it’ll help down the stretch.

2. MANGIAPANE IS LEVELLING UP

Just about everyone was expecting Andrew Mangiapane to take a step forward with his play this year, and he hasn’t disappointed. It’s been overshadowed a little bit by the inconsistent play of the Flames as a whole, but his emergence as a goalscoring threat is noteworthy.

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Mangiapane has eight goals this season. Johnny Gaudreau is the only Flames player who has scored more. Mangiapane also didn’t score in the Flames’ first seven games of the season, but once he got hot, he stayed that way.

Mangiapane has also seen his usage go up as the season has progressed. In the first seven games of the season, he played more than 17 minutes in a game once. In the team’s most recent six-game stretch, his lowest minute total was 18:59 in the blowout loss to the Flames on Thursday.

The 24-year-old is taking the leap many expected him to, and that’s good news for the Flames.

3. THERE IS PROGRESS

If you judge by Twitter, even acknowledging that the Flames had a pretty decent week is akin to heresy for the segment of the fanbase that has decided this year’s team has no chance of going anywhere.

Those people are best to ignore.

The Flames have struggled with inconsistency this year, there’s no question about it, but if you allow for the fact that they were exhausted and had a bad game on Thursday, this was a good week.

They earned five points from a possible eight and a decent stretch of results would have them within striking distance of every team other than the Leafs.

Do they look like contenders? No. Are they showing signs of improvement? You bet. Can they still make a run at second place in the North Division? Absolutely.

Calgary Flames head coach Geoff Ward (center) on the bench against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Scotiabank Arena.
Calgary Flames head coach Geoff Ward (center) on the bench against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Scotiabank Arena. Photo by John E. Sokolowski /USA TODAY Sports

4. CAN THEY GET SOME REVENGE?

The Flames’ 7-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 20 was as ugly as it gets, but they will have the opportunity to go out and redeem themselves against their bitter provincial rivals this Saturday (March 6).

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There are two more games against the Senators before that, but it sort of feels like the matchup with the Oilers will be the test that tells us most about where the Flames are at right now. They should be expected to beat the Senators, but the Oilers manhandled them last time.

Realistically, the two Albertan teams face one another 7 more times between now and the end of the season. If the Flames are going to have any chance of leapfrogging the Oilers in the standings, those head-to-head matchups are going to be the key.

5. IS MARKSTROM READY?

The Flames placed Jacob Markstrom on injury reserve this week and he was ineligible to play against the Senators on Saturday. They’re hopeful that he’ll be available on Monday.

In Markstrom’s absence, David Rittich has played pretty well, all things considered. We’re giving him a pass for his performance against the Sens on Thursday because it was his third game in four nights and everybody was bad.

Rittich’s shown he can step in and win games for the Flames, but there’s no question they want a healthy Markstrom back as soon as possible.

6. BACK TO NORMAL?

On Saturday, Ward opted to go back to the line groupings the Flames used in the Edmonton Bubble last year.

That meant Elias Lindholm was back with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Mangiapane was with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. Sam Bennett, Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube were together.

Ultimately, the move worked pretty well and it will be interesting to see if the Flames stick with the lines. They know they work, and Ward has mostly been open about experimenting to see if there’s anything that works even better.

There might not be.

daustin@postmedia.com

www.twitter.com/DannyAustin_9

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