Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks marks the 25th game of the season for the Calgary Flames. It’s already been an interesting start to the 2013-2014 campaign for Calgary, and with the Chinooks of Change blowing through Cowtown, the rest of the season should be just as intriguing. As the Flames hit the 25-game mark, here are a few storylines to keep an eye on.
Mike Cammalleri missed the first seven games of the season with a hand injury, but it seems nobody told him. Cammalleri returned to the Flames’ line-up with a vengeance on Oct. 21 against Los Angeles, finishing with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over his former team. Since then, the 31-year-old forward has shouldered a great portion of Calgary’s offensive responsibilities. He has amassed nine goals and 13 points in 17 games, catapulting himself into ties for third in team scoring and first in team goals in the process. The veteran is without a point in his last three games, but has still maintained an offensive presence with 11 shots on net over that span, so that skid should halt soon.
Cammalleri’s play is beneficial not only to the team’s immediate fortunes, but also to the organization’s long-term interests. Cammalleri is in the final year of a five-year, $30 million dollar contract. Despite Cammalleri’s obvious offensive capabilities, at 31, his age makes him an outlier in Calgary’s rebuilding plans. It is therefore unlikely that the forward will have a fiery C on his sweater following the trade deadline. His contract includes a limited no-trade clause, but Cammalleri’s competitive nature and drive to win should make him relatively easy to ship to a contender in return for assets. The better Cammalleri plays, the bigger those assets will be, so keep a close eye on his performance between now and March 5.
Berr-ing the Load
Last week, Calgary’s cast in the crease and the future of the Flames’ net were the subjects of scrutiny. For now, Reto Berra seems determined to be the star of that show. The 26-year-old Swiss goalie certainly appears to be securing the number one job, getting the start in 10 of the 11 games Calgary has played since he was recalled from the Abbotsford Heat. Such consistency signals a vote of confidence in Berra from head coach Bob Hartley, a confidence that has been reiterated by his teammates on several occasions. That confidence appears to be rubbing off on the young netminder, who has gone 2-1-1 in his last four games; his .901 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average over those four games are huge improvements on his seasonal averages of .890 and 3.31, respectively. Berra has shown great promise at multiple points in his short tenure with Calgary thus far, and the results of his most recent efforts suggest that watching his development over the remainder of the season will be an exciting affair.
A Tale of Two Youngsters
The most obvious storyline in Calgary this season is Sean Monahan. The sixth pick of last season’s draft found NHL success immediately, recording six goals and nine points in his first eight games. On the back of this performance, Flames management made the decision to keep Monahan with the big club for the entirety of the season. Since that decision was made, Monahan has recorded only three goals and six points, but his importance to the team has certainly not been diminished. The 19-year-old center has taken more face-offs than any of his teammates, and has won a more-than-respectable 44.7 per cent of them. He also averages more than 16 minutes of ice-time a game, including considerable time on the man-advantage, and has been highly effective in the shootout. And despite his decreased production, Monahan is still second in team scoring behind Jiri Hudler, with whom he is also tied for the team lead in goals. Thanks to a hairline foot fracture, Monahan is currently out and listed as week-to-week, so this story is on hold for the moment. But the Flames are certainly going to continue leaning on their star prospect when he returns, and it will be interesting to see what role he’s taken with the team come April.
Monahan’s temporary unavailability might be problematic for Calgary, but it might also be golden opportunity for Sven Baertschi. Taken 13th overall by the Flames in 2011, the 21-year-old Swiss winger showed considerable offensive abilities in parts of two seasons in Calgary. But this year, Baertschi has struggled. Heading into Friday’s game, he has two goals and nine points in 21 games played. He has been repeatedly criticized by coaching and management staff for his two-way play, and thrice been a healthy scratch because of it. But Baertschi’s efforts to complete his game have been more evident lately, and his offensive touch also seems to be returning; four of Baertschi’s nine points have come in Calgary’s last six games. Although they play different positions and serve different roles on the roster, Monahan’s absence gives Baertschi a chance to find his form and fill at least some of the offensive gap. From now until the end of the season, Baertschi’s play, both with and without Monahan in the lineup, will determine whether or not he can reassert himself as one of the organization’s top young players, and should make for an exceptionally intriguing plotline.
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