Mike Babcock just finished up. Now on the 18th tee deck? Bill Peters.
It feels unjust to even consider the Calgary Flames coach’s job in jeopardy considering he just got the gig last year, in which he took Calgary from out of the playoffs to first place in the Western Conference, but something has to give right now. The Flames’ freefall got bad enough to reach the players-only-meeting juncture after Thursday’s 5-0 defeat to the St. Louis Blues.
The loss was Calgary’s sixth straight. Any losing streak is worrisome, but the nature of this one has been particularly alarming. They’ve been outscored 23-5. Does mean Peters in in trouble? Not necessarily. TSN’s Bob McKenzie said this week that, while players may be “grumbling” about Peters, there’s absolutely no coaching change imminent, and that GM Brad Treliving may go the trade route to try and dig the Flames out of their hole. Then again, the team has since dropped two more games.
If the problem isn’t Peters, what is? Let’s delve through a few possible explanations for Calgary’s miserable slump.
T.J. Brodie’s health scare
Last week during a Flames practice at the Saddledome, blueliner Brodie, 29, mysteriously collapsed and convulsed. He left the arena in an ambulance. It was obviously a horrifying incident for all who witnessed it. The Flames have played four games since then, all without Brodie, during which they’ve been outscored 17-2 and shut out three times. Is it possible this super-slump within a slump is largely a result of the players being emotionally traumatized? That would be highly understandable.
Brodie has begun skating again after a litany of tests from specialists suggested the incident was most likely a fainting episode rather than a symptom of a larger health problem. There’s still no timetable for his return, but perhaps knowing he has a chance to rejoin the team in “the near future,” as Treliving has suggested, can give Calgary a morale boost.
No one will pin Calgary’s woes on David Rittich. He hasn’t been elite by any means, but he’s been at least an adequate starting option. His overall numbers got torpedoed in Thursday’s defeat, dropping his season save percentage from .913 to .909. Backup goaltending has been a problem, however. Newly signed Cam Talbot has struggled mightily, losing five of six decisions and posting an .893 SP. A retired NHL goalie turned analyst who watches Talbot a lot recently suggested to me that his confidence has completely evaporated since his outstanding 2016-17 with Edmonton in which he finished fourth in the Vezina Trophy vote.
The stars aren’t shining
There’s something seriously wrong with stud left winger Johnny Gaudreau’s game. “Slump” doesn’t describe it adequately considering this stretch dates back to last season following the all-star break. Since then and factoring in this season, we get a 56-game sample, across which Gaudreau has amassed 12 goals and 44 points. His most common linemates have tanked, too. Center Sean Monahan over that same sample: 52 games, 12 goals, 39 points. Right winger Elias Lindholm: 55 games, 16 goals, 37 points. That’s second-line production at best from what was one of the game’s most dominant trios for four months last season. Even left winger Matthew Tkachuk, who has been relatively slump-proof by comparison, has one goal in his past seven games. Top defenseman Mark Giordano hasn’t matched last year’s Norris-Trophy form, either, but it’s more forgivable considering (a) he’s 36 years old and (b) he’s tasked with battling opposing teams’ best players every single night.
As a whole, though, the Flames have an extreme power outage within their core of top players. With the go-to guys not producing, it’s no wonder this team ranks dead last in the NHL in goals per game. Last year, by the way, Calgary iced the league’s No. 3 offense.
So what can explain great players in their primes suddenly producing like role players? Some might say it’s a symptom of guys quitting on their coach, which we saw in Toronto over the past couple weeks leading up to Babcock’s firing, but that’s a tough thing to tangibly prove.
Peters has juggled his personnel as much as he can. He’s put his usual lines in a blender. He’s tried motivating the team by ripping them to the media. He simply hasn’t been able to mine the effort he needs from his core group, so, fair or not, one has to wonder if a new voice would jumpstart the players.
The Flames aren’t scoring. But how badly are they really playing? During their six-game losing streak, they’ve outshot their opponent at 5-on-5 four times, including all three shutout losses. They’ve had the edge in shot attempts four times, too. On the season, their shooting percentage sits at 7.56, dead last in the NHL. So is this team merely unlucky?
Perhaps. But there’s a difference between putting shots near the other team’s net and generating meaningful chances. At 5-on-5, the Flames generate the 24th-most high-danger attempts per 60 minutes this season. The looks are too often low-percentage.
So that’s either on Peters or it’s on the personnel. The guess here is that, just 107 games into his tenure, he has more leash left than Babcock did. Before we see a coaching change or a dramatic trade involving a player of Gaudreau’s ilk, it’s more likely Treliving works to make some secondary roster upgrades in the near future in hopes of plugging holes in his sinking ship.