Sharks Coach Isn’t Surprised By Flames Success
SAN JOSE — A quarter of the 2014-15 season is in the books and, at this point, the Calgary Flames are the NHL’s Little Engine That Could.
The Flames finished 13th in the Western Conference last season and the year before, but they’re holding down third place in the Pacific Division right now with 28 points, four points ahead of the Sharks.
To some, the Flames 13-8-2 start is a stunner, but the team’s early-season success isn’t shocking to at least one Western Conference coach.
“Not a surprise to me,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said. “They began their process a year, year-and-a-half ago, and they’ve got a lot of youthful players in their lineup that have produced extremely well for them.”
Leading youth movement for the Flames is Johnny Gaudreau, also known as “Johnny Hockey”, who’s second among the team’s forwards in scoring with 15 points in 22 games.
Despite winning last year’s Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s Heisman Trophy) with Boston College, some pundits believed that Gaudreau’s size (he’s listed at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds) would hold him back at the NHL level.
But the rookie is proving his critics wrong, collecting 15 points in his last 17 games after opening the season with five-game pointless streak. The 21-year-old has already put together a highlight reel of mouth-gaping plays with his lightning speed and soft hands.
So how do you contain a player who’s so quick and slippery?
“Contain him?” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic asked. “I’ll let you know after the game.”
But the Flames attack starts on the backend with defenseman Mark Giordano, who leads all NHL defensemen in scoring with 24 points, and T.J. Brodie, who’s third among NHL blue liners with 18 points.
Like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames defensemen like to use the stretch pass to beat teams with their speed and transition games, creating quality scoring chances on the rush.
As a result, the Flames are fifth in goals per game (3.04) right now despite ranking 28th in shots per game (27).
Turnovers derailed the Sharks in a shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, so the team will need to clean things up to grab two points against the up-and-coming Flames.
“They do move it up quick,” McLellan said. “They play a stretch game. They like to get three people in behind you. We’re aware of those tendencies and it’s a matter of reading and reacting properly. If you turn pucks over and their D have their eyes up, they’ll likely make you pay, so individuals on our team have to make good decisions with the puck.”
Goalie Search: Troy Grosenick suffered an upper-body injury at practice on Tuesday and Alex Stalock isn’t ready to be removed from the injured reserve just yet, so the Sharks are scrambling to find a backup goaltender for Antti Niemi tonight.
With their AHL team on the East Coast in Worcester, Mass, the Sharks won’t be able to get either of their minor league goalies, Aaron Dell or J.P. Anderson, in town for tonight’s opening faceoff at 7:30 p.m.
“There’s just no way we’re going to get a goaltender in because of the travel across the country,” McLellan said. “Then it’s who’s available? Who’s around here? Who could play?”
The Sharks might be wishing they still had an ECHL franchise playing at the Cow Palace 45 miles up the freeway right about now.