USATSI_8187780_154158418_lowresIt’s early in the season, sure, but already the Calgary Flames are proving to be full of surprises. They’re 9-5-2 following a Saturday game against the Florida Panthers, where they picked up a 6-4 victory after overcoming a 3-1 deficit.

Much of that success is attributable to the solid play of goalie Jonas Hiller, whose 2.07 goals against average is a pretty good indicator as to how he’s been doing so far. He has a .931 save percentage and a shutout so far, too – all good for a 7-3-1 record on the season. Backup goalie Karri Ramo has been playing his part as well.

That said, most of Calgary’s early success comes down to the stellar play of its defensive unit.

That was solidified again on Saturday with a three point performance by Mark Giordano, who’s already generating Norris buzz for his terrific start. The Toronto-born blueliner currently leads all Flames with 18 points in 16 games. His 13 assists are tops in the National Hockey League.

Conversely the Panthers’ top three scorers – Brad Boyes, Jussi Jokinen and Aaron Eklbad – have six points apiece after a dozen games.

It could be that all the early Norris talk when it comes to Giordano is out of line, but it’s also true that his play and his five goals thus far are a bit part of the reason that Calgary’s defence is leading the charge and leading to the team to some important victories. No other team in the NHL is achieving the same offensive punch from their blueline.

And a lot of that has to do with how coach Bob Hartley is having his players take chances without giving up chances. Mobilizing the defence has always been a strategy of those coaches who prefer a little run-and-gun with their hockey sense and Hartley’s no different, but the way the Flames have responded is fascinating.

TJ Brodie, for instance, is second on the team in scoring with 14 points in 16 games. He has four goals. And then there’s Dennis Wideman, who has nine points in 15 games.

What’s more, the defenders are shooting the puck like nobody’s business. Giordano already has 38 shots on goal in those 16 games. Only Sean Monahan has more.

The top four defenceman on the Flames are all among the top 43 defencemen in ice time per game and they’re making the most of their moments. They’ve driven the play, they’ve been behind critical goals and they’ve provided a scoring punch for Calgary that’s helped them win hockey games. Who could ask for anything more?

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