Did I get you attention? Seriously though, you have to admit the Flames are the talk of the League right now. Everything about them is a feel-good story.
I continue to worry about when the other shoe drops; yet there are no reports about the shoe dropping. The Flames are still winning, and the world has not ended. Heaven knows, they have enough excuses for there world to end. Think of the player’s injuries alone. What players, you ask? Matt Stajan, Joe Colbourne, and Mikael Backlund… of course, I have not even mentioned our biggest injury yet. That, in my opinion, is Mason Raymond. With five goals, he was the leading scorer before he was injured.
So how have the Flames overcome all odds to remain in the playoff hunt? Not only do they remain, but they have exceled to one of elite teams in the League. I have heard so many people ask how they are doing it. By mirrors? Does Bob Hartley have voodoo dolls of all the other thirty teams? Do the players all carry around a rabbit’s foot?
Here are some of my thoughts on the Flames’ surprisingly fast start this season.
1. Bob Hartley
Bob is one of the best coaches in the League. He is getting the best out of every player on the Flames roster. Right from the start, the players knew what exactly was expected of them. Not only do they know what it is expected, he puts them in positions where they will succeed. He knows exactly who he wants on the ice and when.
He is especially very good with out young players. He does not throw them out in the wind. He brings them in slowly, giving them each a little more responsibility, until they reach their potential. Case in point: benching Johnny Hockey a game, so he can see the game from the press box. From that moment, Johnny was a shoe-in for the Calder trophy.
The second reason is really also the third reason at the same time.
2. Jonas Hiller
Probably the steal of the free agency draft. Simply put, Jonas has been outstanding in every sense of the word. He has been a rock all season so far. He is so cool in net, rarely does he allow himself to get out of position. He does this by playing deep in his net. I think this gives him a better view of where all the action is. He uses his size to his advantage in finding out where the puck is. He has been very successful in finding the puck when the net seems to be getting crowded. Most goalies come out to cover the angle, but with Hiller, he seems to be able to cover more of the net by staying deep. His style helps with his ability to control the rebounds, which helps him cover most of the net.
3. Mark Giordano + TJ Brodie = best combo in the league.
Mark and TJ have been the talk of the League. Mark is Mr. Consistent. Everyone knows his offensive ability. His rushes into the offensive zone are epic. Case in point: on Lance Bouma’s goal, Gio got the perfect pass after he got around PK. But do you notice he kills penalties just as much as power plays? He is first to block a shot as well as to take a shot. He is one of most complete defensemen in the League right now.
TJ is growing to be one of the best in the League in his own right. His strength is his speed. He glides through the zone and yet he can get back to cover up in his own zone. You remember his play in the defensive zone in the Habs game? The blocking of the pass in his own end and the perfect backhand pass to Goudreau? I do not know too many defensemen who could have made that pass. TJ has learned from the best (Gio) how to handle the pressure and get the puck up to the forwards.
4. Defence pinching in
Another key point in the success of the Flames is the ability of the Defense to pitch in with the offence. Hartley has given them a green light to jump in the play anytime. This is true with all the top four. Russell and Wideman have also been known to jump in. Their ability to jump in at the perfect time has been key. This also has to do with the netminding of Hiller; knowing he has their backs if they do jump in.
5. Johnny Goudreau + Shawn Monahan: blessed beyond their years
The Flames fans have not been this excited about a rookie since the Newy days. Mr. Hockey, the name by which Goudreau is known, has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He has the ability to do things with a puck that I did not know were possible. He has been one of the most consistent Flames this season. The biggest compliment I can give him is his skill at staying calm no matter what the situation is. For example, in the Panthers game he set up Monahan for the fifth goal. How many players do you know that could make that blinding pass? The Flames have him on the ice in the last minute to score the empty net goal. The kid has so much composure, you would swear that he has been in the League for ten years, yet he is only twenty-two.
So far, the sophomore jinx has not happened. With three of our centers out, Shawn has stepped up to the plate as our number one Center. His six goals lead the team in scoring. He is a leader who has at times been Mr. Clutch. I have noticed this season that he has gotten stronger. He has a more complete game this season.
Obviously, I do not know if the Flames are going to keep up this pace all season. But what I am saying right now is that they are playing like a playoff team. They are finding new ways to win instead of finding ways to stay in the game. Every player on this team knows his role and is doing his best to fulfill it. It is a credit to how they are coached, and a credit to them for executing. Right now, they are gaining confidence that they can compete, and that can just as big as winning itself. As long as Hartley continues to get these players believing in themselves, who knows? Maybe a miracle on the red mile can still happen.