Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pre-season hockey: the bane of my existence

This pre-season business is getting awfully tiring. I feel as if by Saturday evening, I will be crouched in a dark corner somewhere repeating the phrase "it's only pre-season," over and over.

After a solid outing Sunday night at home against the Panthers, the Flames looked like a team playing their third game in as many nights yesterday evening in Vancouver, especially on the defensive side of things. Despite overcoming an early 3-0 deficit and even taking the lead midway through the third period, the Flames couldn't hold off their division rivals and fell 5-4 in a shootout at the hands of a certain Swede, being outshot almost 2-1 in the process.

Given my feelings of contempt for the Canucks, a result such as this during the regular season would probably send me spiraling into a fit of rage and despair, but I have decided to approach this loss with a level-headed, pre-season mentality and give this team the benefit of the doubt.

The thing that irks me most about this particular pre-season is that the bad habits this team has developed don't seem to be in any rush to dissipate. While I have noticed an improvement in special teams, I have yet to see a solid first period, a consistent defensive effort, or a convincing display of goaltending. In the words of Curtis McElhinney, "you look at the game tonight and there’s plenty of evidence that there’s plenty of work to be done."

As much as I have tried to keep my expectations for this squad at a reasonable level, I can't help but feel somewhat discouraged. With further cuts to the roster announced yesterday, we should see a familiar lineup consisting of veterans and prospects still getting a final look by team management in the two remaining pre-season tune-ups. You have to think that Mikael Backlund will be assigned to Abbotsford in the next couple days along with a number of other prospects like Sutter and Kronwall as the final roster begins to materialize.

The question marks surrounding Rene Bourque's status were not alleviated after his first appearance of the pre-season last night. While he is supposedly healthy and in game shape, he showed signs of rust and wasn't his usual tenacious self, finishing the game a -1 with a single shot on goal in eighteen minutes of ice time. The precarious situation surrounding the Flames' top-six was exacerbated following David Moss' absence from yesterday's game due to a "minor injury."

Daily requirement of optimism:
- After an iffy start to last night's game, Jay Bouwmeester finished +2 with a goal and an assist, his best outing as a Flame so far.
- Glencross and Jokinen continue to impress, especially on the man advantage
- Brandon Prust finished the evening a +2 with two assists
- Curtis McElhinney rebounded from an unfavourable start to make 30 saves on 34 shots
- Another solid outing for Calgary's PK unit, which nullified all five of the Canucks' powerplays

- Congratulations are in order to Anton Stralman, who did not travel with the team to Vancouver due to the birth of his child
- Mike Komisarek is playing tonight vs. Pittsburgh. Not all that well, but nonetheless... *swoon*
- Phil Kessel has this permanent scowl on his face that, combined with the facial hair, kind of makes him look like a grumpy caveman.

Up Next: The Flames will travel north on Highway 2 to face the Oilers tomorrow night in Edmonton for their final road game of the pre-season.

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