In their second last pre-season game, a road victory at the expense of the Oilers, the Flames iced what looked like close to the finished product in terms of the final roster. The merits of the result, however comforting, have been hotly debated in various media outlets. Brent Sutter and the Fan 960 crew described the game as the Flames' most complete of the pre-season, elsewhere, however, the effort has been described as "shaky" and unconvincing. I only caught the third period, but here are a few things I picked up on:
The first period continues to prove troublesome for the Flames. Even after gaining the lead early in the opening frame, they surrendered two quick goals to allow the Oilers to take the lead before evening the score just before the half-way point. A poor performance in the first twenty minutes of Monday's game in Vancouver set the tone for an eventual shootout loss to the Canucks.
The Flames looked uncomfortable playing with the lead; they seem to have so much more confidence when they are playing catch-up or have clawed their way back into a game they had no business being in. When they have the lead, they still lack that "keep your foot on the gas" mentality and have a tendency to sit back and let the opposition take control of the play. I noticed this in the third period against the Oilers last night, when the Flames were up by two goals and looked to be in control, they appeared to forget how they got there. Strong forecheck, sound positioning, and simple, uncomplicated plays fell by the wayside and the Oilers took over.
The quality of scoring chances Edmonton had in the third period was also unnerving, as it seemed the Oilers were able to use their speed and long stretch passes to get behind the Flames' defence with ease. The fact that the Flames' likely top pairing, Bouwmeester and Regehr, both ended the evening a -2 does little to calm said nerves. To put this in perspective, Phaneuf and Giordano were both +1, with an assist each.
Anton Stralman continues to make an excellent case for an extended stay in Calgary. He has looked smart, calm, and collected in every game he's played in a Flames uniform, and seems to have the ability to make his defence partner better, as we saw last night with Adam Pardy. Pardy, who has had a relatively inconsistent pre-season, was +3 in only twelve minutes of ice time playing with Stralman.The seemingly improved special teams also took a bit of a hit in last night's game, as the Flames' powerplay finished a mediocre 1-9 and the penalty kill unit allowed one goal on three Oilers powerplay opportunities, on one of which Curtis Glencross scored short-handed.
The Flames were much more disciplined last night than they had been throughout their previous four pre-season games, and although they seemed to get hemmed in in their own zone with alarming frequency in the final frame, they showed a great deal more poise and patience under pressure, especially Kiprusoff. The line of Stuart, Prust, and Jaffray was impressive yet again, as Jaffray would score with an assist from Prust and all three were able to draw penalties and create chances using their speed. Last night's performance may have been the deciding factor for the trio, as they all survived the latest round of roster cuts which saw Mikael Backlund, Brett Sutter, and Matt Pelech assigned to Abbotsford. No surprises there, the Flames have no need to rush any of these youngsters in their development.
Conversely, after impressing fans with his dominant performance earlier in the pre-season, Olli Jokinen has all but disappeared, accumulating just one point in his past two games. Nigel Dawes was also held pointless in last night's outing, after delivering a point-per-game performance in his previous four matches. Daymond Langkow had an uncharacteristically bad game, ending the night a -1 with only one shot on goal and while Rene Bourque seemed a little more willing to go into high-traffic areas, he still appeared more tentative than usual. The Flames have really been missing David Moss' presence around the net, and I really hope he returns to full health in time for the season opener.
Craig Conroy is sitting out after sustaining a groin injury in pre-season play, but that can't keep him away from an opportunity to chat with the media during intermission. Conroy gushed to the Fan 960 about the pre-season performances of Curtis Glencross and Theoren Fleury, and summed up the Keenan era in one classic quote: "We didn’t have a set system last year, we just went out and did what we wanted, and this year we know what we’re doing."
Lastly, I didn't think anything could be worse than Rod Phillips' commentary during last night's game, until I was subjected to watching greasy, mullet-headed Oilers fans suck face on the Kiss Cam. Vomit.
Up Next: The Canuckleheads invade the 'Dome for the Flames' final pre-season tuneup. With a roster spot still on the line for players on both clubs, expect this one to be a knuckle-chucker and possibly a barn-burner.