Stingy Flames finding defensive stride
CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames have gone from one of the most generous teams in the National Hockey League to one of the stingiest.
After allowing 91 goals against through the first 25 games of the season, Flames’ opponents have lit the lamp just eight times over Calgary’s past five games.
“We were giving up way too many goals earlier in the year,” Lee Stempniak said. “It’s hard to win if you have to score four or five or six goals. For us, the easiest way to give ourselves a chance to win is to tighten up defensively.”
Mark Giordano couldn’t single out one reason as to why the drastic improvement in goals against.
Instead, the Flames captain pointed to several why Calgary has suddenly turned into defensive misers of late.
“I think our reads are way better now,” Giordano said. “Our forwards are tracking the puck, back checking with a purpose. We’re reading the rush better and our overall in-zone defense has been really good and then our goalies have been good. We haven’t been giving up much. We feel like we should be winning more games than we have, honestly, the way we’ve been playing. You have to find a way to finish off games and win games.”
Through the first third of the season, the Flames failed to hold opponents to fewer than two goals. It's happened three times since.
Karri Ramo managed to accomplish the feat in back-to-back starts against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 30th and Dec. 4th versus the Phoenix Coyotes before watching Reto Berra do the same against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 7th.
The improved play of the goaltenders, who have combined to stop 124 of 132 shots to shrink Calgary’s goals against average from 3.68 to 1.60 during the stretch, has certainly helped.
“I think it starts with Berrs and Rams in net,” Shane O’Brien said. “They’ve been playing really well for us. When you get good goaltending, everyone looks better.
“I think Berrs has played pretty solid since he’s been here. He’s had some back luck late in games. We haven’t given him too many goals to work with. I think for Rams, you’d have to ask him but coming from the big ice took him a while. Since the last couple starts, he’s played great. Anytime you get good goaltending it gives you a chance to win and I think that’s been the case.”
As important as the goaltending has been, though, adjustments made by the five skaters outside of the crease has been equally critical in keeping the puck out of the net.
“Just team defense,” O’Brien said. “Our forwards have done a better job in coming back and tracking and I think our defense has done a better job of clearing the front of the net and making it harder to play in our zone.”
By design, that zone play has given the opposition headaches.
“We are trying to shrink it down a bit and try to cut the ice in half, try to get five guys on one half of the ice and force teams to play us 3-on-5 or 4-on-5,” Stempniak said. “When we’re doing that, we can be a little bit more aggressive knowing we have built-in layers.”
The aggressiveness has worked.
And it’s turned the Flames into one of the league’s stingiest teams of late.