Tracking the Calgary Flames: Season-Long NHL Picks and Handicapping for Hockey
by Trevor Whenham - 11/5/2014
This has been a very strange NHL season so far - at least when it comes to the Calgary Flames. On paper they have all sorts of issues. Their roster contains very few stars - Mark Giordano, Jonas Hiller, T.J. Brodie. For the most part it is made up of two types of players - questionable veterans who are most valuable because their over-inflated contracts allow the team to reach the salary cap floor and young players who have potential but not the experience to realize it. Somehow, though, it's all working. Really working.
The top four defensemen have been as good as any in the league. The young players are shining. The old guys haven't been great, but they are staying out of the way. The goaltending of Jonas Hiller has been exceptional. A team that seemed destined to be in the battle for the top of the lottery could, with a win here in Tampa Bay, take over sole possession of second overall in the NHL. The sample size is obviously small this early in the season, but the team is exceeding expectations in nearly every way.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Betting Storylines
There are two factors you need to consider when looking at the Flames here - geography and luck. You would expect a young team to struggle on the road, but to date that has been the opposite of the truth. Only Anaheim and San Jose can match the 12 points the Flames have earned with their 6-2 road record. Given that those road games have come in two bursts - they had a six-game trip early and are in the midst of a five-game trip now - it is impressive that they have been able to keep things together. They have wins at Chicago, Montreal and Washington, so a soft schedule can't explain the success.
Whether you rely on advanced metrics or just plain observation, there is no question that this team has been lucky. Breaks have been going their way again and again. Tuesday night's game at Washington provides a clear example. They tied the game up late with a very odd, fluky goal. Up to that point they had no business being in the game. Then, in the closing seconds of regulation, Hiller preserved the tie with what was easily one of the best, least likely saves any goaltender has made in the NHL this season. He anticipated that Nicklas Backstrom would pass instead of shoot, waited him out, then stuck his leg out in an impossible angle to make the stop on the one-timer. Luck builds confidence, which creates luck, but sooner or later luck will return to the norm and the team won't get the breaks they have been getting. They just aren't good enough to have the results they are getting.
Tampa Bay is no slouch, either. They are in a three-way tie atop the Eastern Conference and have won their last three games. They have four guys in double digits in points already and are third in the league in goals scored. They are a very good team, and - unlike the Flames - are playing just like they were expected to. They are a true contender to win the East - my pick to win the conference - and they have not disappointed despite struggling with injuries early on.
Thanks to an odd schedule - this is only Calgary's 15th game, but Tampa Bay is the fourth team they will have played twice already - we have a recent sense of how the teams match up. On Oct. 21 in Calgary the Lightning scored in the closing minutes of the third to tie the game at one, and then they won it in overtime. It was a very frustrating offensive night for a team that doesn't typically struggle to score.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with the Lightning favored at -170, and that has climbed since being posted. Sportsbook.ag currently has Tampa Bay at -175, with Calgary at +155. The total sits at 5.5, with the "under" being solidly favored in early action.
The Flames are 5-1 in their last six road games and 5-1 in their last six games on the road as well. Tampa Bay likes Thursday, too - they are 6-1 in their last seven Thursday night tilts. The Flames are 3-8 in their last 11 against the Lightning, but have two wins and two overtime losses in their last five. The road team is 9-4 in the last 13 meetings.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions and Picks
These two teams are rolling. Calgary can't match the offensive output of the Lightning, but their goaltending is very hot, and their top defensive pairing will be a tough matchup for the best of the Lightning. The squads are in good form, and either team could come out on top in this one. Tampa Bay has an edge, but not the edge that the price here indicates. In terms of value, Calgary is the clear play.
3-Unit Play #57 Take Calgary +155 at Tampa Bay (-110) (7:35 pm ET Thursday)
Year-to-date Flames picks: 1-0, +4 Units.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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