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Last season the Calgary Flames finished 2nd in wins, points, goals for, goal differential, and looked the part of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for the majority of the year.
They are returning a very similar roster this year, which leaves plenty of reason to be optimistic they can seriously contend. It's not a certainty, though. There are still some question marks – clearly – for essentially the same team that was completely picked apart in Round 1.
Let's take a look at three of them.
1. Is the goaltending good enough?
David Rittich had a strong season in aggregate. He posted a .929 save percentage at 5v5 – equal to Andrei Vasilevskiy, John Gibson, and Frederik Anderssen – and .911 SV% overall despite numbers being down significantly (league average was .905). He showed a lot of promise. There is *some* cause for concern, though. Rittich's performance tailed off a fair bit down the stretch and it's not like there's a lengthy history of Rittich posting above average numbers. His debut season with the Flames was nothing to write home about.
I'm confident Rittich can provide at least adequate goaltending in a platoon situation but if he can't, the team will be relying heavily on someone (Cam Talbot) whose save percentage has dipped from .917 to .892 over the last two years, with a noticeably drop each season.
2. Can Sean Monahan hold up?
Every year Monahan scores a ton of goals, every year he plays through injuries, and every year they catch up with him as he flames out (no pun intended) for extended stretches – often at or near the end of the season. That can't happen again. Not if the Flames are going to contend for a Stanley Cup. They need Monahan firing on all cylinders when it matters most, especially because they don't really have anyone who can step up and fill the 1C void if he hits a wall. I think that's a big reason the Flames traded (well, kind of) for Nazem Kadri this summer. They wanted some insurance. They didn't get it. Monahan must find a way to deliver in April and beyond.
3. Can secondary players step up?
Let's face it. Several members of the Flames are heading for regression this season. Mark Giordano is almost certainly not going to put up 74 points again. His IPP is very likely to dip and I have a hard time believing he'll replicate last season's output of *checks notes* 32 secondary assists. He is almost 36 years old and his previous high was 20. Elias Lindholm, a career 10% shooter, is probably not going to score on 15% of his shots. Michael Frolik, a career 8% shooter, is probably not going to score on 12% of his shots – if he's even still around. You get the point.
To avoid a drop off, the Flames are going to need some guys lower in the lineup to pick up the slack. Can Andrew Mangiapane build on his success over the last two months of the season? Can Dillon Dube become a full-time contributor? Can Milan Lucic provide absolutely anything offensively? If so, the Flames could be really good once again. If not, I think they're going to take a noticeable step back.
numbers via naturalstattrick.com and hockey-reference.com
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