The Calgary Flames have been playing well since the NHL returned from its Olympic break, and they have their youth to thank for it.
The Flames are 3-4-0 since Sochi. It’s not an exceptional record by any means, but the losses have been close (three one-goal games and a 2-0 shut-out defeat) and the general consensus from opponents over that span is that Calgary has been a tough and competitive team to play against. What’s more, there’s cause for excitement in the effort and the style the Flames have been showing lately. Calgary is the ninth-youngest team in the league with an average age of 26.89 years, and while veterans Mark Giordano and Mike Cammalleri have been red-hot, it’s the players below that mark that should have people talking.
Joni Ortio is the youngest goalie to debut for the Flames since Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2000, and he’s been strong between the pipes since being called up from the Abbotsford Heat in mid-February. When the 22-year-old Finnish netminder arrived from the AHL his 20 wins, 2.22 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 28 games had him in the top five rankings for each of those categories. Ortio’s proficiency with the Heat made Reto Berra expendable at the trade deadline, when Berra was flipped to Colorado for a surprising second-round pick, and Ortio has yet to cool off since joining the big club.
In five games with the Flames, Ortio is 2-3-0 with a .912 save percentage, allowing 10 goals on 114 shots. He had a strong 22-save performance in his NHL debut against Los Angeles, though Calgary lost the game, and secured his first NHL victory with a 30-save outing against the Senators, coming up a mere 9:36 short of a shut-out. He even picked up the first point of his career in Calgary’s come-from-behind win against the Islanders, and though he gave up two goals on the first four shots he faced against L.A. on Monday night, he was solid for the majority of the 3-0 loss in which all three Kings goals were tip-ins. Karri Ramo is close to returning from a lower-body injury, and Bob Hartley has indicated that this is an audition for Ortio. All the same, he’s certainly making an impression.
Markus Granlund has also turned heads in his first NHL stint. The younger brother of highly touted Wild prospect Mikael Granlund and the 45th overall pick of the 2011 draft, 20-year-old Markus Granlund joined the Flames after the Olympic break after being called up from Abbotsford, where his 23 goals in 50 games is still good for tops on the team. He picked up his first point with an assist against brother Mikael’s Wild, and has two goals through seven games, including a shorty versus the Islanders, the same goal on which Ortio picked up his first NHL point. Unfortunately, Granlund left Monday’s game against the Kings just 12 seconds in after a collision with Jarret Stoll, and Hartley has said he could be out for some time.
And still another Flames prospect sporting a famous hockey name has made an impact with the big club, as Max Reinhart has a pair of assists in four games since being called up on deadline day. In 19 NHL games, the 22-year-old third-round draft pick from 2010 has a goal, five points and six penalty minutes.
And that’s just the call-ups, or rather, some of the more noteworthy ones. Calgary’s full-time youngsters have been clicking well lately, too. Prized rookie Sean Monahan has five points in seven games since the Olympics, including both goals in a 2-1 overtime win against Edmonton. On a team that ranks 28th in five-on-five goals and 29th in both total goals and goals per game, Monahan continues to shine. The 19-year-old’s team-leading 19 tallies are good enough for third among rookies, while he also ranks seventh in rookie points (29) and fourth in rookie faceoff percentage (45.2).
Lance Bouma, 23, has excelled at generating chances and momentum, and though he only has one assist in seven post-Sochi outings to show for it, he’s recorded four penalty minutes and 23 hits over that same span. He also earned himself third and second star honours in consecutive games. Mikael Backlund still sits in third in Flames scoring with 30 points, but the 24-year-old has struggled since the Olympics, Games many thought he might be competing in, with just a single assist dating back to Calgary’s last pre-Olympic game on Feb. 8. By happy contrast, though, pre-season acquisition Joe Colborne has three goals for five points since the NHL resumed, giving the 24-year-old forward 20 points on the year.
The youngest Flames are burning bright at the moment. Of course there are still leaps and bounds to go, but it’s nice to see these prospects working hard to dispel the notion of relatively bare cupboards in Calgary. With Ramo, Curtis Glencross and several other veteran Flames at or approaching a return to the line-up, it will be interesting to see who plays where, when, and who with. The sporting world overflowed with excitement for the duration of the Olympic Games. In Calgary, there are several talented youngsters keeping some of that excitement around.
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