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12 biggest surprises explaining the Flames’ excellent start

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Few things around the league are more surprising than the early success of the Calgary Flames.

After missing the playoffs last season, and being unable to replace captain Mark Giordano in a relatively quiet off-season, few believed it could be possible for them to sit atop the Western Conference 19 games in.

It’s been a season of surprises in Calgary, which is why we’ve ranked the 12 biggest to explain how they got here:

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1. OLIVER KYLINGTON

The loss of Giordano in the summer left a gaping hole at the back end of a team that was one player short of filling its top four.

Enter Kylington, who had previously been the forgotten man in an organization that exposed him on waivers a year earlier.

A strong camp opened eyes, but not as much as his performance as the team’s leading scorer amongst defenceman with three goals and 12 points to sit 16th amongst NHL blue-liners.

His plus-10 rating is also amongst leaders, proving he’s limited the mistakes that used to define him.

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With points in 11 of his last 14 games, the speedy, creative playmaker is proving to be as dependable and consistent as any of the team’s top four defenders.

2. ANDREW MANGIAPANE

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Few in Calgary are shocked he’s had a good start, but even his biggest supporters couldn’t have fathomed he’d be second in NHL goal scoring behind Leon Draisaitl with 15 goals in 19 outings.

A league-leading 14 of those have come on the road.

Well before his breakout as world championship MVP, he’d been trending as one of the game’s most efficient 5-on-5 scorers, but the run he’s on now has people starting to understand why Team Canada put him on its Olympic long list months ago.

A dependable penalty killer whose tenacity makes him a good fit as a role player for Canada’s Olympic squad, his success has come despite playing just 15 minutes a night as a second-liner who has yet to crack the team’s top power-play unit.

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3. THEY’RE ROAD WARRIORS

The club’s shocking 11-3-5 start has come largely on the road.

The Flames have opened the year with taxing, five and seven-game roadies out east. They have league-best 9-2-2 record away from the Saddledome.

The early money was on Calgary to be amongst the teams battling for third in the NHL’s weakest division, behind Vegas and the Oilers.

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Instead, they’re a point up on their northern rivals, albeit having played two more games.

If the Flames can duplicate their road success at the Saddledome, the race for first place could be a long one.

4. DAN VLADAR

In a league in which backup goalies need to win at least half their starts for a team to make the playoffs, the unproven 24-year-old was a significant gamble.

The Flames gave Boston a third-round pick for Vladar, who had only five NHL starts under his belt.

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In five starts as a Flame, he is 4-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .946 save percentage, which includes shutouts against the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins his last two outings.

5. JACOB MARKSTROM

Given how much the Flames paid him two summers ago on the open market, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise he’s found the form to make him a dominant force.

However, his five shutouts in 14 starts has him on pace to shatter Miikka Kiprusoff’s franchise record of 10 goose eggs.

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His 1.71 GAA and .942 save percentage have helped him to a 7-3-4 record that has backstopped the Flames to tops in the Western Conference.

6. THEY’RE EXCITING TO WATCH

Based on previous squads coached by Darryl Sutter, if anyone thought this team could have early success, conventional wisdom suggested it would be by way of boring, defensive, 2-1 games.

Instead, this team is actually entertaining to watch, even on low-scoring nights when Markstrom or Vladar are putting on goalie clinics.

Johnny Gaudreau is back to being one of the most electric players in the league, spearheading one of the most creative and prolific lines in the loop with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.

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The Flames sit eighth in goals scored per game (3.32), and are tops in goals against per night, at 1.89 — a combination any fan can get excited about.

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7. SEAN MONAHAN

Most people would have assumed Sean Monahan would be a big part of any Flames bounce-back.

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Not so.

Perhaps still dealing with the effects of off-season hip surgery, Monahan has largely been playing on the third and fourth lines, where he’s a team-low minus-5.

Five of his nine points have come on the first power-play unit, where the 206-goal man has managed to remain a part of their success.

Full credit to the veteran, who has accepted his new role and is working hard to play himself back into the top six.

8. ERIK GUDBRANSON

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Expectations were low, even for a sixth defenceman, but the veteran has been a huge part of the team’s fifth-ranked penalty killing unit.

Brought in for his toughness and experience, he’s been the third-pairing mainstay alongside Nikita Zadorov and Juuso Valimaki, who have taken turns trying to grow their games.

9. THERE’S MORE ON THE FARM

Experts on prospects have long suggested the Flames don’t have much in the pipeline compared to other teams.

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However, the Stockton Heat are atop the AHL’s Pacific Division with a 10-0-2 record.

There are a litany of young stars spearheading the team-record 12-game point streak, including Glenn Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka, Matthew Phillips, goalie Dustin Wolf and first-rounder Jakob Pelletier, whose first year as a pro has started brilliantly.

It gives hope that when the Flames do need to summon help from the minors, there are plenty of viable options.

10. THEY KEEP SCORING FIRST

Over the last few years the knock on the Flames has been their inconsistency, as in, no one knew when they’d show up for a game.

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Not so this year.

The Flames have scored first in 15 of 19 outings this year, going 11-1-3 in those games.

They’ve scored first in all 12 road games.

An incredible turnaround for a team clearly more prepared for puck drop than previous years.

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11. JUUSO VALIMAKI

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Given the tough love Sutter gave the young defenceman upon arriving last year, we figured the ride would be rough for the first-round pick.

However, few would have predicted he’d play only eight games in their first 19, making it hard for the youngster to build momentum and confidence.

The unforeseen emergence of Kylington has impacted Valimaki more than anyone.

12. JOHNNY GAUDREAU

Few should be surprised he has found the bounce in his step and perfect linemates to sit fourth in NHL scoring as the reigning NHL Player of the Week.

What no one saw coming was this stat: he has yet to be on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal scored against him or his line.

He’s bought into the program and made himself a more conscientious backchecker, putting himself amongst league leaders at plus-14.





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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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