Wednesday October 21st, 2015

While the garbage fire in Columbus has been grabbing headlines, few have noticed that the Flames are quietly staging their own meltdown.

Calgary has opened the season dismally, going 1-5 while getting outscored 25-12. And it’s about to get worse. After hosting the Red Wings on Friday, the Flames play five of their next six, and 10 of 16, on the road.

Yeah, this could get ugly. Really ugly.

If something can go wrong, it will. It’s been that kind of season so far.

The goaltending has been a jumble of nerves, and seems to cough up at least one backbreaker each night. On Tuesday, it was a Karri Ramo miscue that led to Alex Ovechkin’s second period tally in Washington’s 6–2 win at the Saddledome.

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To be fair, the Flames have gotten little help from a defense that was expected to be one of the best in the West, but instead is in total disarray. Captain Mark Giordano hasn’t been the Norris-worthy player he was last season. T.J. Brodie is hurt. Newcomer Dougie Hamilton can’t seem to get out of his own way, but has no problem stepping aside for opposing forwards. Dennis Wideman is playing like his 2014-15 campaign was a total aberration and he has no chemistry with partner Kris Russell, who’s being physically overwhelmed. Little wonder Calgary is allowing 4.17 goals per game. That’s more than twice what the offense is generating.

A year ago, the Flames struggled to get shots on net, averaging just 27.5 per game, which ranked 28th in the league. They compensated for that by posting the second-highest shooting percentage in the NHL, 10.45, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year, there’s been a drop in both volume (just 24.8 shots per game) and in efficiency. The Flames are converting just 8.05%, ranking 18th.Sure, luck has something to do with it. But it’s more about the inability to make clean breakouts and the unwillingness of their forwards to pay the price down low.

Most troubling though is that they have a collective heart of glass.

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“Let’s face it, our confidence is very fragile,” coach Bob Hartley said. “There always seems to be a piece of the puzzle missing in our game. Tonight was the same. I liked our start. Then we … self-destruct. That second goal, I could feel the guys on the bench, getting down. Then they came down, scored the third one, the fourth one.

“Right now, that’s where we have to show some character. We have to roll up our sleeves and be ready for any kind of adversity.”

While Hartley struggles to find solutions, GM Brad Treliving is looking for a few of his own.

He sent a message to the team on Wednesday morning by putting Ramo on waivers. The goaltender’s struggles–a 4.37 GAA and .879 save percentage—merit the move, but the significance goes beyond the numbers. Ramo was signed as an unrestricted free agent over the summer and was Calgary’s opening night starter. He also was a favorite of Hartley’s. It’s a move that shows everyone is accountable.

But beyond that, what options does Treliving have to prevent the wheels from falling off completely?

A big trade? Sounds good, but who else out there is looking to shake things up this early? Anaheim? The team that knocked the Flames out of the playoffs last spring makes for an awkward partner. Columbus? Maybe, but is a package based around Cam Atkinson, a player who is rumored to be available, going to knock Calgary back on track?

There might be a few others as well willing to take a player or two off of Calgary’s roster, but bargaining from a position of weakness wont earn the Flames much in return.

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And unlike Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who replaced Todd Richards with John Tortorella after his team got off to an 0-7 start, firing the coach isn’t really an option for Treliving. At least not any time soon. Remember, Hartley is the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, the man who guided the Flames to 45 wins and a 20-point gain in the standings over 2013-14. While that doesn’t grant him immunity, it’s not as if he’s forgotten how to coach or lost the room in a matter of two weeks, either.

He deserves every chance to pull them out of this tailspin. But both he and Treliving have a lot of work ahead if they’re going to stabilize a team that doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as good as we thought.

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