What slim hope the Calgary Flames have of making the playoffs in 2014-15 could rest almost solely on their current five-game road trip against some tough opponents. Having already faced the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames will now take on the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks – all on the road.
The structure of this particular stretch for Calgary is a perfect storm of sorts: On top of the ongoing pursuit of making up ground in the standings, there’s also the opportunity to gain some confidence. That started with a 1-0 victory over the powerful Canucks on the back of a 36-save shutout from Joni Ortio, which led into a four day break in advance of their Jan. 15 game.
The Coyotes can best be described as a team with no direction – winning and losing games without a shade of consistency. They beat the class-of-the-NHL Ducks right out of the Christmas break, but were shutout by the woeful Dallas Stars just a few games later. It’s tough to tell what Coyotes team will show up, but this is a good opportunity to put together two straight wins.
The challenging part is what follows the game in Arizona: California’s ring of fire. Fortunately for the Flames the schedule makers showed some sympathy for them, spacing out their California journey over a five day span. The opportunity to have a day or two of rest between games is a luxury they can’t afford to waste.
Sweeping all three games is a tough task to ask of any team – let alone a team currently sitting out of the playoff picture. But if past results this season are any indication, Calgary has a good shot of surviving relatively unscathed. The team is a combined 4-2 against the teams, including a perfect 2-0 against Los Angeles, along with .500 records against the remaining two.
To come away with a 4-1 record on the trip – the ideal situation – would go a long way to easing the pressure of winning more games heading down the stretch. More than that, going on such a run away from home is almost a guaranteed way to boost the team’s confidence. For their sake the Flames will surely hope they can bring any confidence home with them after the trip.
Four games of their six game home stand that beings following the trip appear (on paper) to be winnable games – facing the weak Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, the struggling Minnesota Wild and the Sharks. The other two games – against the Penguins and Jets – will be tougher, but not impossible games to win.
All in all the next seven to 10 days are shaping up to be the most crucial part of Calgary’s season. Still sitting within striking distance, it’s important for the team to make a move now while they have a shot.
Otherwise, the clock could get a lot closer to striking midnight on this great story.