The first two days of a golf tournament are spent getting accustomed to the course and to narrow the field in half. The third day, in PGA lingo, is called moving day. That’s when the contenders make a surge to the first page of the leaderboard.
The same can be said for the Flames this season. The first quarter was the transition phase whereby eight new players worked their way into the lineup and Mike Keenan’s system. The second quarter was the time to address weaknesses and establish a groove.
Now it’s moving day. Even after a terrific December and first week of January that saw them soar to the top of the Northwest, the Flames are at a point in the schedule where they can run away with a division title.
Starting Thursday against the Islanders and going through March 1 against Tampa Bay, the Flames play 12 of 22 games against teams not holding down playoff positions. Four of the other 10 games are against bubble teams, Minnesota and Phoenix. In other words, just six games of the next 22 are against premium teams.
What’s more, 13 of those 22 games are at home, where the Flames have lost just four times in 21 starts. So this truly is a stretch for the Flames to flex their muscles and put the division out of reach.
Considering Calgary’s favourable third-quarter, 15 wins in these 22 games is a minimum objective. Seventeen or more would surely be enough to win the division and guarantee home-ice advantage in the first playoff round.
If that’s not incentive enough for the Flames to make noise on moving day, consider Calgary’s tough schedule in the fourth quarter. It all starts with a two-week, seven-game road trip thanks to the Canadian Brier at the Saddledome.
In fact, the Flames play just seven games at home in the final quarter.
Getting back to the golf metaphor, occasionally a player makes such a charge on moving day that his lead is virtually insurmountable on the final day. The Flames are aiming to be in that position after this next stretch.
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.