Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flames/Avs post-game: ARRRGGGHHHHH

This game was frustrating beyond belief, as I suppose we all should have known it would be.

The Flames got off to a great start and a quick 2-0 lead on two lucky goals by Iginla and Jokinen in the first period and subsequently blew it, but still managed to edge the Avs 8-6 in the shot department after one.

The second period was excellent, and much like the Flames second period against Edmonton on the weekend, the Calgarians outshot the visitors by a wide margin. They drew penalties, hit, went to net, and seemed to be wearing out the Avs, who were playing the second of back-to-back games. You got the feeling that if the Flames kept at it, they would come away with the hard-fought victory and more importantly, the two points.

The third period started and that feeling began to ebb away as the Avs outshot the Flames 3-o to start the period. The Flames would pay for their slow start to the period. With the second line trapped in the defensive zone, the Flames failed to clear the puck and Wojtek Wolski, wide open in the slot, froze every Flame in the vicinity to fire a shot past Kiprusoff at 5:31. Now that Joe Sakic is retired, this bum has our number. Great.

The Flames pushed back and fired twelve shots on goal to Colorado's four, but the Avs blocked shots and played the trap like it was the 90s and they were being coached by Jaques Lemaire, and left the Flames forwards visibly frustrated. This showed in the final minute and a half of the game. With Kipper on the bench; Dion Phaneuf was forced back into his own zone, he circled around the net and tried to reach a teammate with a pass just outside the offensive blueline, but iced the puck instead.

Kipper had to come back to the net and the Flames had little time to get back down the ice and get set up to score the tying goal. No dice. That annoying rag-tag bunch of eighteen-year-old punks and Flames cast-off draft picks skated away with the 3-2 victory despite being outshot and outhit, the story of their season and in a large part, the Flames' (although not the eighteen-year-old punks part).

Again the Flames' weakness was the elusive sixty minute game. They came pretty damn close, but a single mistake like the defensive breakdown to start the third is all a team like they Avs need. They play solid defensively, then jump on your mistakes. They are indeed the new Minnesota Wild. Except the Flames always owned the Wild.

While the Flames did accumulate 32 shots on goal, and over 30 for the second straight game, a lot of them weren't very high quality chances. Anderson was not forced to make any spectacular saves, and was helped out A LOT by the Avs D. He got caught out of his net a few times playing the puck, but the Flames couldn't capitalize, which was the story of the game for our boys in red. They did get traffic to the net, but not as much as I would have liked, and Anderson still had a relatively easy outing as a result.

Speaking of goalies playing the puck, when did Miikka Kiprusoff become Marty Turco? Well, not quite, but his puckhandling was superb tonight, and has improved ten-fold since the whole goalies-playing-the-puck thing became a trend after the lockout. Kiprusoff was not really tested on the remainder of the shots that the Avs accmulated, which could explain why he allowed three goals on fourteen shots.

He didn't have to be spectacular, so he wasn't. While the Flames' D was solid for the majority of the game, all three Avs goals can be traced back to a defensive miscue. Failing to clear the puck, mad scramble around the crease, and so on. This leads to a goal almost 100% of the time and is what really drives me bat-shit crazy about this team. Get the puck out. Chip it out off the glass, ice it if you have to, just clear the damn thing.

Some other things:

- Iginla was really really good in this game. He missed that one shot in close that he probably should have had, but after that he was really strong on the puck and good on the forecheck. He generated lots of chances in the offensive zone and if SOMEONE (Jokinen) could finish (no pun intended), it could have been a very different game.

- Speaking of the Finnish Flash in the Pan, he actually looked pretty good tonight. He created a lot of chances, opened up a lot of space, and drew a penalty, but seemed to be squeezing the stick a little. Olli is a shooter, he needs to shoot when he has the opportunity instead of opting to pass in a less-favourable situation. You're probably thinking "Thank you, Captain Obvious" right now, but it is the truth. He shot the puck more as the game progressed, but Craig Anderson absorbed every Flames shot after the first minute and a half of the opening frame like a fucking ShamWow.

- Rene Bourque is a beast. Aside from being on the ice for the defensive meltdown that led to the game-winning goal by Wolski, he was dynamite again tonight, especially on the PK. He dominated the end boards in the offensive zone and probably should have drawn a penalty when he was tripped up on a shorthanded rush in Avs territory. He forced turnovers, he hit everything he saw, and came a few unlucky bounces away from a goal.

- Dawes and Langkow showed some jump as well, although they were also on the ice for the GWG.

- The lines got a bit mixed up in this game, as Jokinen was rewarded for his strong play by being moved back to the first line with Iggy near the end of the game, but Iginla was also playing on a line with Langkow and Bourque. Glencross was also very good in this game. The fourth line enjoyed a few great forechecking shifts in the Avs zone, but didn't have much of an impact overall. I believe the third line ended up comprising of Sjostrom, Conroy, and Moss; this line had their chances, as did every other line, but was a turnover machine and had trouble gaining entry into the Avs zone.

- Phaneuf had a really great game, although I believe he was also on the ice for the GWG, correct me if I'm wrong. He made two or three great defensive plays, and one of Rob Kerr/Charlie Simmer uttered the line: "Phaneuf makes a smart, safe play" causing every Flames fan to pinch themselves simultaneously.

- Bouwmeester was equally impressive tonight; he just settles everything down, he's such a great skater and passer, and by my observation, he even dished out a hit or two. Is the Sutter style beginning to rub off on him? Regehr was very good as well, crunching the few Colorado forwards that dared enter his 'Tunnel of Death."Perhaps all three were motivated by the presence of a certain Mr. Yzerman, doing some subtle scouting for a little event called the 2010 Winter Olympics? Hmmm?

- Pardy and Giordano struggled, and finished -2 and -1 respectively. I noticed that Gio overskated the puck and made an ill-advised pass or two that ended up on the stick of an opposing attacker. I didn't really notice Pardy at all except for when he ended up in the sin bin for a hooking infraction behind his own net.

- The Flames' PK was very good, largely because they were much more disciplined and only got dinged with two minors, but also because they were more aggressive--they moved their feet and the puck. and won crucial faceoffs in their own zone. The Flames did a good job of moving the puck on the powerplay, but didn't produce results and failed to direct many overly dangerous scoring chances Andersons' way. Tres frustrating. They failed to get anything going whatsoever on their lone PP opportunity in the third, which had "game-changer" written all over it and could have swung the momentum in the host's favour.

- Flames PPV was everything I dreamed of and more! It started off with a hilarious mental image or Cory Sarich as a minister, then swiftly moved on to a backwards Flames history montage to the tune of Coldplay's "The Scientist," just like the one CBC used to open the cup finals last season. I'm getting the chills just thinking about it. During the first intermission, Brandon Prust pushed some dorky correspondent around the ice while "showing" him how to fight and forecheck effectively. It was magic. Brandon Prust is much better looking than I originally thought...I may have a new crush.

In the second intermission, Eric Nystrom cooked his famous Bison ribeye and sweet potato fries for Tara McCool. Then, his roomie Dustin Boyd and neighbour (!) David Moss showed up as surprise dinner guests. I was positively giddy watching this, and so badly wished I was Tara McCool at that moment, even though she may or may not have Swine Flu.

Quote of the Day goes to...Eric Nystrom: "I'm a big believer that you can get a lot of energy from fat." The secret to Ny's success. As long as he doesn't follow the Kyle Wellwood Diet and Exercise Regime, I'm cool with it.

Charlie Simmer interviewed Sutter Sr. during the second intermission, after the Flames had rattled off a solid period and looked like they had the game in the bag, and Darryl was surprisingly talkative and...not surly. He happily chatted about how he's not worried about Jarome Iginla, the Flames' good start, the Abbotsford Heat, and more. When asked about Dustin Boyd missing the game with the flu, he affectionately referred to the Flames forward as "Dusty." I suppose Flames PPV brings out the best in the GM. A truly odd and unique experience. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

The aforementioned Heat shut out the Milwaukee Admirals by a score of 2-0, with goals supplied by Chucko and Germyn, to record their first-ever shutout in franchise history. Snaps to the Baby Flames! Even if their website is an abomination that looks like it was designed by fifth-grade ESL students.

This post is a lot longer than I intended; oh well, I'm a wordy bitch. Anyways, the Flames now know what it feels like to outwork a team and lose, which can only be a good thing, and will hopefully serve as motivation against the Wings on Saturday night. I may or may not be in attendance, live--and perhaps drunk--blogging from the Sportcheck Zone. A lot of us were on Cloud 9 after the win against Edmonton on the weekend, and this loss reminded us that this team still has work to do. The hitting/shooting/shots against/faceoff performance is encouraging, but they need to put it all together in a nice little sixty-minute package; it doesn't have to be pretty, as long as they get the job done.

Swine flu: the NHL's answer to biological warfare

It was confirmed yesterday that
Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid had the H1N1 virus after over half of the Oilers roster experienced varying degrees of the flu. The sports world is not immune to the H1N1 pandemic--in fact the conditions in most dressing rooms and arenas present an optimal breeding ground for the Swine Flu--and so far two other NHL players are currently sitting out with the virus and others claim to have had it as well.

The most worrying part of this news is that Smid did not miss a game while infected, which means he could have easily spread the Swine to other members of his team and (gasp) the opposition. Here's where my conspiracy theory kicks in--the Oilers played their last three games against Northwest division opponents, including the Flames, Canucks, and Avalanche, where Smid wasn't the only player with flu-like symptoms in the Oilers lineup. Could Swine Flu be the NHL's answer to biological warfare?

In all seriousness, this virus kills. The NHL should take it more seriously and encourage players to get vaccinated and stay away from practice/games and off-ice activities with their teammates if they are feeling under the weather. The league is taking the right steps in ensuring that players don't share water bottles or towels and having team trainers properly sanitize dressing rooms and equipment, but the players are also responsible for their own well being and, to a lesser extent, that of their teammates and other players around the league.

Flames forward Dustin Boyd missed practice Monday morning with the flu and has since been held out of further practices and will not be playing tonight as a precaution. I know that realistically, the Oilers could not have told half their roster to stay home and consume copious amounts of chicken noodle soup, but all players experiencing flu-like symptoms should be tested for the H1N1 virus and held out of the lineup until the results are confirmed; the organization should have handled the situation more carefully. Being a slightly obsessive-compulsive hypochondriac myself, I received the H1N1 vaccine today and am not experiencing any adverse effects apart from a sore arm; I encourage everyone else, especially athletes, to do the same.

In other news...

Roberto Luongo is injured and out indefinitely with...(drumroll please)...a hairline fracture in his rib. He is expected to miss about a week. Anticlimactic, isn't it? Whatever makes you feel better about allowing five goals in front of Stevie Y and Team Canada management, Bobby Lu.

I don't have Centre Ice or the NHL Network, so the games I get to choose from tonight (aside from the Flames/Avs game, which I ordered on PPV. It's my first PPV experience and I'm curious as to what all the fuss is about. Will report findings later) are Leafs vs. Stars and Sens vs. Panthers. You spoil me, TSN. Why the hell would I want to watch sub-par, Ontario-based teams play mediocre, Southern-U.S. based teams? You do know there are NHL franchises located outside of Ontario, right? The Coyotes haven't been relocated quite yet.

Adam Pardy draws back into the lineup tonight for the Flames in place of Aaron Johnson. What took so long?

IF the Flames get bodies to the net, shoot the puck, and play with disciplined physicality, they could edge Anderson and the Avs. If they don't, well, I just wasted fourteen dollars of my parent's money and this could be a very long night. We all saw how the Avs created offence off of turnovers and clogged up the neutral zone worse than fat clogs up Kyle Wellwood's arteries last night against the Oilers; Sutter and Co. undoubtably took note of that. The Flames will have to make sure they protect the puck well and not focus on gaining entry into the offensive zone solely by carrying it in; sometimes a good dump-in followed by a solid forecheck works wonders. There's probably a joke there but I can't be bothered to think about it.

May the best team win, but preferably the Flames.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Boyd flu-stricken, Cammy's Freudian slip, naked Oilers, and more

After another fine outing the other night against the Oilers,
Dustin Boyd missed practice today with the flu. Multiple Oilers have been fighting the flu bug for over a week now, and some were even playing with the virus Saturday night (I'm looking at you, Tom Gilbert. Thanks for transmitting your Oiler cooties to poor Dustin here.) We all know that a flu virus can have devastating effects on an NHL roster, and the Flames will need to be in top form when they face the upstart young Avs Wednesday night. So I am wishing Boyder a speedy recovery--lots of rest and chicken noodle soup, and if Dion and Kipper try to convince you to go to Cowboys with them just say no, OK? Even if Dion calls you a pussy.

I was scoping out SB Nation site The Copper and Blue this afternoon out of curiosity, and I have to say, not from the perspective of a Flames fan but from that of someone who appreciates good quality writing, that Matchsticks and Gasoline is far superior.

Mike Cammalleri was interviewed on Sportscentre today about his four-point game Saturday against the Rangers and the team's success as of late, and told reporters: "you start to really kinda produce and have se...success, sorry, offensively." He then laughed nervously as the interview cut to what I believe was Canadiens correspondent John Lu narrating some Habs highlights. Freudian Slip, Cammy?

I think it's sort of an unwritten rule of female hockey fandom not to lust after the opposition, especially when said opposition is your favourite team's most hated rival, but several members of the Edmonton Oilers are making that awfully hard with these pictures from ESPN Magazine's 'The Body' Issue:
Andrew Cogliano is clearly the most conservative of the bunch. Drop the towel, Andy!

Just an everyday trip to the penalty box. Sheldon Souray looks like he wants you to join him for ten minutes of misconduct...

Alright, I'll stop.

(Images courtesy of Hot Oil and Hit The Post)

Scott Cruickshank from the Flames Insider believes re-signing current leading scorer Rene Bourque could cost anywhere from $2.8 to $4.5 million. Surely the Brothers Sutter could convince the Lac La Biche native to accept a hometown/province discount? Alberta boys gotta stick together, right?

The headshot/knee-shot/respect debate was re-ignited today after a plethora of players sustained injuries from questionable hits over the weekend, which Ryan Lambert sums up nicely over at Puck Daddy. Tuomo Ruutu was suspended three games for his hit from behind on Darcy Tucker, LA's Rob Scuderi was fined for his low hit that sent Columbus' Jason Chimera flying through the air head-over-skates, and Steve Ott has yet to be disciplined for his involvement in two separate knee-related incidents. The most important thing for Colin Campbell and the NHL is consistency in the discipline of these players (see: The Colin Campbell Wheel of Justice).

Mike Richards' hit on David Booth was cringe-worthy but legal, and deserved an interference penalty at the most. It was very similar to Phaneuf's hit on Kyle Okposo in the pre-season; neither player was punished by the league, and rightfully so. Neither player has a history of "dirty" play. Same goes for Rob Scuderi.

When it comes to the Ruutu hit, the situation gets murky. Ruutu is a repeat offender (what is it about the last name "Ruutu" that makes you a disrespectful, gutless hockey player?), and some would argue the suspension should have been longer than three games. Steve Ott is in the same boat; whatever the league decides to do regarding his punishment at his hearing tomorrow is crucial to their reputation and credibility in the eyes of fans, the media, and other professional sports leagues.

Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finally earned their first victory of the 2009-10 NHL season with a 6-3 decision over the struggling Ducks. Niklas Hagman completed the hat-trick while Tomas Kaberle scored a career-high five points as the Leafs scored five powerplay goals on eleven opportunities against GM Brian Burke's former team. In Interesting Leafs History Tidbits, the Blue and White lost ten straight games in 1967, coincidently the last time they won the Stanley Cup. Plan the parade people, these guys are fo realz.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Post-game party: Suck it, bitches

Us Flames fans haven't had much of an opportunity to gloat thus far this season. Despite the 7-2-1 record, last night's Battle of Alberta was the most dominant effort we have witnessed ten games in. The good guys amassed a total of 38 shots on goal and outscored the Oilers 5-2, proving that they are indeed capable of a) outshooting a team and b) allowing less than three goals. So without further ado, I abandon my usual modest and cautious tendencies to celebrate this weekend's triumph in the Battle of Alberta, CFL and NHL editions, and say SUCK IT, BITCHES. The Stampeders beat the Eskimos handily Friday evening, clinching a playoff birth and winning the season series 3-1, and the Flames now hold a 3-0 advantage in this season's edition of the Battle. Throw the Hitmen in there and you've got a trifecta of Southern Alberta dominance.

Now, back to business.

The Flames appeared to be feeling the effects of their light schedule early on in the game, as the PK was caught snoozing on an early Oilers powerplay resulting from a marginal goaltender interference call on Iginla. Edmonton took the 1-0 lead just two and a half minutes in. After a spirited tilt between McGrattan and MacIntyre, the Flames found themselves down a man again after Aaron Johnson was sent off for boarding.

You begin to get the feeling that it's going to be one of those games up until Bourque and Langkow amaze you with a display of shorthanded brilliance. Bourque levels Denis Grebeshkov at the Flames' blueline, making the Oilers' d-man look rather foolish, steals the puck, and skates like there's no tomorrow to the Oilers' net on a two-on-one with Daymond Langkow. Langkow passes the puck back to Bourque who tips it past Khabibulin with ease for his fifth of the season. Bourque was everywhere in this game--killing penalties, scoring, assisting, hitting--someone get this guy a new contract already.

The period ended with a weird play in front of the benches; Zac Stortini caught Iginla, who was not in possession of the puck, with a big hit in the chest as he was about to go off for a change. Interference, right? Wrong. Iginla retaliated by wrestling the Oilers agitator into a headlock while several other Flames jumped to their Captain's defence. At the end of the scrum, Iginla ended up with the only penalty--a roughing minor. Pat Quinn slips David Banfield $100.

The Flames started the second period shorthanded, but the PK unit was on top of it this time, and Iggy escaped from the sin bin with his team unscathed. The home side took control after that, as Dawes capped off a great forechecking shift by the second line with his third goal of the season, firing a rebound off a shot by Bourque past Khabibulin. The Oilers will be seeing the Flames' second line in their nightmares.

Just thirty-six seconds later, Dustin Boyd forced a turnover deep in the Oilers' zone and managed to slide the puck over to a net-bound Eric Nystrom, who potted the loose disc to give the Flames a 3-1 lead, a goal that would later prove to be the game winner. Boyder also had five hits in this game and spent some time playing with Iginla; looks like he's finally beginning to find his niche. Back from an assortment of injuries, Moss wrestled his way to the front of the net on a powerplay midway through the period, in perfect position to tip home a slapper by Phaneuf that had 'goal' written all over it. Edmonton seems to have no answer for David Moss, who has scored all three of his goals this season against the Oil. Dustin Penner would add a powerplay goal late with Olli Jokinen in the box to pull the visitors within two. This guy thinks he's fucking Mario or something. Pissing me off.

The Oilers would enjoy a brief two-man advantage when Cory Sarich was sent to the box for a high-sticking double minor to close out the period and the hosts began the third with the odious task of killing off a four-minute Oilers powerplay. After allowing two powerplay goals in the game, the Flames PK would have none of it. They were in shooting lanes and clearing pucks like nobody's business and Kiprusoff dashed the hopes and dreams of Oilers fans with a magnificent save on Patrick O'Sullivan. Nigel Dawes potted his second of the night on a Flames powerplay midway through the period that stopped all hopes for an Oilers comeback dead in their tracks.

After a few shaky minutes to start the game, the Flames quickly shook off the rust and regained their magic touch against their provincial rivals. They took the lead and kept their collective foot on the gas, leaving the Oilers in the dust. Special teams were much improved after an abysmal performance against the Blue Jackets, and were a big part of the Flames' victory. That being said, they still need to focus on playing smart, disciplined hockey because the more chances they give the opposition on the powerplay, the worse their penalty kill is going to look. Again I was very impressed with their ability to get traffic to the net and I was ecstatic to see them fire 38 shots on goal while only allowing twenty-five. Hopefully this is a sign of Brent Sutter's system in action.

The Flames seemed to maintain fairly good defensive positioning throughout the game, but had trouble clearing the puck on occasion, which is still an area of concern for me. Thank god for Jay Bouwmeester. Despite outshooting the Oilers in the third, the Flames seemed to be fighting the puck, especially the first line, and couldn't get anything going until Dawes' goal. They turned over the puck in the neutral zone and seemed to give up too easily on plays. Iginla had an assist and fired three shots on goal, but was nowhere near as effective as he was last Tuesday despite his increased ice time in comparison to his linemates.

Speaking of points and effectiveness, here's an interesting stat line for you:

Cammalleri: Four points and a hat-trick, including the game winner in OT against the Rangers last night
Jokinen: 0G, 0A, 0P, 2PIM

We passed on Cammy for this bum?

Olli Jokinen, the Finnish the pan.

I'm here all week, folks.

Up Next: The Colorado Avalanche are winning games like it's going out of style, and frankly, it's beginning to irritate me. The Flames will look to put a stop the resurgent young Avs' streak Wednesday at the 'Dome (7:30 MT) and improve upon their unbeaten record against Northwest division foes in the first of six meetings between the two.

Friday, October 23, 2009

BOA Round 3 preview/assortment of miscellaneous thoughts

The Flames continue their five-game homestand tomorrow night in the third installment of this season's Battle of Alberta and the first on home ice. The Flames are tied for second in the Northwest with their provincial rivals at 6-2-1, and it goes without saying that this is a big game. We all hope to see a follow-up of the resilient effort we witnessed Tuesday against Columbus, and I envision this game going one of two ways:

1) The Oilers come out flying, full of energy fueled by their comeback win against the very same Blue Jackets last night and filled with a thirst for Jarome Iginla's blood. The Flames, who haven't played since Tuesday, look unprepared and lethargic, surrender two quick goals to Edmonton and are forced to play catch-up.
2) The young Oilers get carried away with their bloodlust and succumb to undisciplined play. Stortini and MacIntyre goon it up and the Flames capitalize.

The Oil are clearly still ticked about the "cheap" play that resulted in Sheldon Souray sustaining a concussion, and expressed their feelings in a segment on Sportsnet news where Pat Quinn attempted to clear his name from his media mud-slinging of Iginla a few weeks back. It's understandable, a head injury is serious business--just ask Darcy Tucker--but Iginla has made it clear that he had no intent to injure Souray, and the play was simply an unfortunate result of the fast-paced nature of the game. Whatever the Oilers need to get motivated for the game, I suppose.

Players to watch out for: Dustin Penner--no, you're not hallucinating. Penner collected five points Thursday against the Blue Jackets; Pat Quinn must have promised him a box of Krispy Kremes after the game. Penner has seven goals and seven assists for a total of fourteen points this season, and has been compared to a "young Todd Bertuzzi." Watch your necks, boys, he might snap at any moment.

Edmonton will no doubt ice an enforcer or two in tomorrow's game, so watch for McGrattan and/or Prust to go up against the likes of Stortini and MacIntyre. Jarome Iginla will no doubt have to defend himself against the Oilers' fists of fury--which we all know he's capable of, but would undoubtably rather see the captain pick up where he left off Tuesday, with three points and a +3 rating against the Blue Jackets. The Flames will have to make sure they match the Oilers' intensity to start the game, and Iginla has to be a big part of that.

Elsewhere in the league...

Sergei Gonchar is expected to be out for at least a month with a broken wrist. That's two Russian defencemen down; it appears Operation Take-Out-Potential-Russian-Olympians is nicely underway. Time to start going after the big guns--start hacking away at Ovechkin's ankles Bobby Clarke style, pay off Todd Bertuzzi to take out Pavel Datsyuk during practice and make it look like an accident...the possibilities are endless.

Speaking of Ovechkin, he was fined $1,000 today for his slew-foot on Atlanta's Rich Peverley a day after Evgeni Artyukhin was suspended for three games following a similar play. We all know that a double-standard exists in the NHL regarding punishment of star players and that repeat offenders will be punished more severely than first-timers, but this isn't the first time Ovechkin has disregarded the NHL rulebook. Remember his knee-on-knee hit on Sergei Gonchar in the playoffs? Ovechkin didn't receive so much as a slap on the wrist from the league on the play which tore the Pens blueliner's MCL, and is now being treated as if this is his first offence. I'm all for playing with an edge, but as a player you have to know where to draw the line.

Most people were of the opinion that the Minnesota Wild would struggle to implement new head coach Todd Richards' up-tempo, offence-first system, but not to this degree. Not only can the formerly stingy Wild not find the back of the net, they can't seem to keep the puck out of theirs. With Havlat injured, I wonder if Minny would be willing to take Olli Jokinen off our hands? Half-price...?

Lastly, the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Wings in overtime last night with goals from Matthew Lombardi and Adrian Aucoin. I'll let you mull that one over.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Post-game party: Flames 6, Blue Jackets 3

I have learnt two things about the Flames since their season began three weeks ago: 1) It ain't over till it's over and 2) Never get excited about a Flames lead, no matter how big, especially in the first period.

The Flames jumped out to a quick two-goal lead just four minutes into the first period Tuesday evening against the Blue Jackets. Ahh the early lead, we've seen this beast before. It didn't take long for Columbus to put a dent in the Flames' two goal cushion, as Rick Nash did something involving a break away on a Flames 5-on-3 which caused my father and I to simultaneously throw up in out mouths a little bit. He berated Kiprusoff for not making the save (former goalie) while I prattled on about Dion Phaneuf's poor defensive positioning and how he should have hauled Nash down and risked taking a penalty on the play.

The Flames, however, weren't fazed by Nash's slick moves, and restored their two-goal lead shortly thereafter on a goal that bounced in off a Columbus d-man but was credited to Bouwmeester, sporting the shiner (above) for his first as a Flame. I think it looks good on him, makes him look tough. Shortly after the aforementioned Bouwmeester had endeared himself to the Calgary faithful, he began what would prove to be a long parade to the penalty box for the home side.

It all began with a simple play, I believe it was the fourth line of Boyd-Prust-McGrattan on the ice, when they failed to get the puck deep into the offensive zone and turned it over, resulting in unnecessary time spent in their own zone and subsequent penalty trouble. It is plays such as these that separate a guy like Boyd from second or first line duty, although he did see some powerplay time in this game. That puck gets chipped in and if you don't sustain some pressure, at least the other team is forced to go back and retrieve it. What was once an 11-3 advantage in shots for our boys evaporated to a slim 11-10 advantage, as they spent the last four minutes of the period on the penalty kill as a result of some questionable officiating (see: Kerry Fraser).

It was at this point that I decided I had seen enough and knew exactly what was about to happen. I stuck around for a bit when the second period started, but decided to save myself the anger and frustration that would surely follow Daymond Langkow's trip to the sin bin to give CBJ the 5-0n-3. This is what mind-numbing reality TV is good for. I tuned into The Hills (don't judge me, it's a guilty pleasure) for a few minutes, and low and behold, Columbus had squared the affair at three with two goals forty-eight seconds apart. Like I said before, never get too excited about a Flames lead, because it can disappear so very quickly. Again, I simply don't understand this. It has to be a psychological thing. Every time they allow a goal, is Brent Sutter supposed to call a time-out and remind them not to allow another one in the next thirty-seconds? This frustrates me to no end.

The Flames failed to register a shot on goal for the first ten minutes of the period, even though they had a powerplay two and a half minutes in, and were putting the Saddledome crowd to sleep until Dion Phaneuf, pressured back into his own zone by the Blue Jackets, retreated behind the Flames net with the puck and skated through centre ice, untouched, to fire a shot past Steve Mason from just inside the offensive blueline. Easy as pie. Flames lead 4-3 to end the second, despite getting outshot 10-4. To be fair, it is hard to get shots on goal when playing shorthanded for most of the period, but this team had been extraordinarily lucky that they have scored as many goals as they have given their average shots for per game, which I believe is hovering somewhere around 23. I am pleasantly surprised by how much this team is scoring and how they're doing it, but it won't continue if they don't start getting more pucks to the net.

Our boys managed to settle things down and suddenly remembered how to kill penalties in the third, resulting in a much more even period. It was at some point in the final frame when either Loubardias or Millions said, "nice back-checking by Jokinen," and I just about choked on my tea. Olli was +3, and if he's going to make up for not scoring by being solid defensively, that's fine by me. Well, not exactly, but I'll live with it.

Phaneuf's goal would stand up as the game winner, but Jarome Iginla would add some insurance and cap off a three point night with a perfect shot from the top (or bottom? I never know) of the faceoff circle which beat Mason top shelf. Vintage Iggy. I'm not the first to say this, but it makes me sad that we are now referring to exceptional goals or games from the captain as "vintage." Many people have pointed out, including myself, that we probably won't see another fifty-goal season from Jarome, and that at thirty-two, his best days are likely behind him. I'm feeling nostalgic for the Iggy of old just typing this, but if entering the final phase of his career means another thirty-five goal, eighty-nine point season, even against weaker competition, so be it.

After Flames fans were treated to their first real display of dominance from the captain, Fredrik Sjostrom topped it all off with this beauty of a goal:
Goal of the year. Suck it, Ovechkin.

Second period mini-meltdown and shorthanded goal aside, the Flames played very well at even strength, especially in the third period, where they did a great job of staying disciplined and defending the lead. I was impressed with the way they battled through their penalty troubles and stayed calm. They stuck with it and took advantage of their opportunities, and were rewarded with two points.

Special teams were indeed special, and not in a good way. These long breaks between games seem to be taking their toll on the PP and PK, but the Flames were up against the #1 penalty killing unit in the Blue Jackets, so I'm not overly concerned with their lack of production on the powerplay. The Flames won the faceoff battle at 55% in the circle, and again no player registered a negative +/- rating. Dion Phaneuf finished the game +2 while Jokinen, Iginla, and Regehr each earned +3 ratings. JBo was also +3 while Aaron Johnson was even in his debut with the Flames in eighteen minutes of ice time. Kiprusoff was very good, especially in the second and third periods, and was by far the Flames' best penalty killer, making multiple great stops to keep his team in the game when it was tied and to preserve the lead.

We saw some good things from this team last night in what looked like their best game as a team thus far--here's hoping we see more of it, more often.

Up Next: BOA Round 3, Saturday at the 'Dome (8 PM). With the Oilers lineup ravaged by a bout of the flu, though not of the Swine variety, we could see a repeat of the infamous "Flu Game" between the Leafs and Senators in 2004. Catching the flu from a member of the Oilers would just be like a double-whammy, wouldn't it?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday's hockey happenings

Between work and studying for mid-terms, I've barely left the house this weekend and I thought a Sunday night without a single NHL game on the schedule would give me ample opportunity to get all caught up on past few days' happenings.

The Flames improved their record over Northwest division opponents to 4-0 Friday night with a 5-3 victory over the Canucks. They went about it in a convincing way for the first forty minutes, carrying a 5-0 lead into the third period. The Canucks got on the board at 6:55 of the final frame, and the hosts did a pretty good job at maintaining their composure until the final three minutes of the game. With Bouwmeester in the box for hooking and Boyd serving a too many men penalty, the Canucks capitalized and scored two quick goals. The Flames managed to hold off the surge and hold on for the victory as Alex Burrows quelled his team's momentum with a late goaltender interference penalty which ate up the remainder of the period.

I really liked what I saw from this team until the third period. They came out with a lot of energy, played physical, and showed flashes of good defensive positioning. The Boyd-Prust-McGrattan line put on quite a show, making me feel sufficiently foolish for questioning Brent Sutter's methods. McGrattan completed the Gordie Howe hat-trick while Boyd scored a goal and an assist and Prust chipped in with two helpers. Boyd is really starting to heat up after a slow start resulting from a concussion he sustained during pre-season. I didn't even know that until yesterday, poor Boyder. He had multiple chances during the game against Vancouver and had a great game all around, finishing the evening +1 in eight minutes of ice time.

The Iginla-Conroy-Glencross line didn't exactly pan out the way the Coach was hoping, and if I'm not mistaken it wasn't long before Jokinen was moved back onto the top unit in a desperate bid to ignite the captain. Iginla had five shots on goal and wasn't TERRIBLE, but wasn't especially noticeable either as he cracked the 20 minute mark in ice time. Glencross was great, scoring a beauty of a shorthanded goal and finishing the evening +2, while Jokinen...well, he finished with two shots on goal and not much else. The lack of production from our top forwards is disconcerting, and while the performances of Bourque, Boyd, Glencross, and the likes is encouraging, the levels of offence they are providing are probably not sustainable. Jokinen and Iginla have to be better.

On the defensive side of things, Robyn Regehr was much improved Friday night, and finished +3 while Phaneuf finished +2; perhaps this pairing is finally beginning to work? Bouwmeester and Sarich were steady, while Giordano and Pardy stuggled slightly. The shots ended up 29-24 for Vancouver, which still isn't great, especially considering the Flames led for the majority of the game, but is an improvement. The Flames' faceoff performance was sort of a mixed bag; at even strength they were 39%, while they finished 67% on the powerplay and 56% shorthanded for a total of 47%.

The Flames devoted their entire practice to special teams Sunday morning, after their 16th ranked penalty kill allowed two goals on five Vancouver powerplays. I am not yet sure whether or not to be concerned about this. What concerns me more is this team's tendency to allow multiple goals in short periods of time with such alarming frequency. I don't ever recall this happening so often as it has so far this season, and I don't understand it whatsoever. What are we paying our high-priced defence and goaltender for if not to shut down the opposing team's forwards and limit scoring chances? This habit absolutely has to stop.

In other news...
Here's something funny:
There's your game winner. Take that, Chicago.

Chuck Kobasew was traded to the Minnesota Wild today for Craig Weller, a second round pick in 2011, and the rights to prospect Alexander Fallstrom. That seems like a lot to give up in exchange for a twenty-goal guy like Kobasew, as much as I love him. Minnesota must have been desperate for a top-six forward. Looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of each other this season, Chuckie.

In Oilers news/salacious gossip, Sheldon Souray's ex-wife Angelica Bridges, who appeared on the popular 90s show "Baywatch", has apparently accused him of "tricking" her into a divorce and withholding the details of the fat $27 million deal he signed with the Oilers in the summer of 2007 from her. She has also accused him of abuse in the past and is fighting for custody of their two young daughters, currently residing with Souray, who has yet to speak on the matter. To top it all off, TMZ has got hold of the story. Yikes. What is it with Edmonton Oilers' defencemen and their gossip-worthy tendencies? Oilers management really knows how to pick 'em.

Up Next: The Flames host the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, looking to avenge a loss in Columbus last week. The Flames have a light schedule during this five game home-stand, as they don't play again till Saturday after Tuesday's match, and are then off until the following Wednesday. Symptoms of Flames Withdrawal are beginning to set in already.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good lord, it's worse than we thought

Remember when we were 4-0? Those were the days. After another lacklustre performance in Columbus on Tuesday, Coach Sutter was finally forced to shuffle the proverbial deck. The results: Jarome Iginla is playing on a line with Conroy and Glencross, while Olli Jokinen has been demoted to the third line with Sjostrom and Nystrom. That's right folks, we're paying a third-line centre $5.25 million this season. This isn't even the worst part; the fourth line will be made up of Boyd, Prust, and McGrattan. Poor Boyd, what did he do to deserve being stuck on the fourth line with the goon twins? No offence to Brandon Prust, who has proved that he possesses skill as well as a keen ability to agitate the opposition, but a) why is there a need for two enforcer types on the same line? and b) why don't the Flames just scratch McGrattan and call up someone like Jaffray or Lundmark, who cost less and are more capable?

The line changes didn't affect the second line of Dawes, Langkow, and Bourque, even though the trio has not been especially effective as of late, with the exception of Bourque, and Dawes is apparently playing hurt. I don't know if moving Conroy to the first line is the right idea. When Conroy was re-acquired from the Kings, Playfair tried to re-ignite the chemistry between him and Iginla on the first line, but the former spark was now a dull-burning ember, and both players seemed to have moved on. Iginla and Langkow have each had career seasons playing together, and I don't see the harm in reuniting the two, they obviously know each other's habits and tendencies well and enjoy playing with each other.

To add insult to injury Tuesday against the Blue Jackets, it was two former Flames that contributed to their visitor's demise: Kristian Huselius and Anton Stralman. I will confess to being a huge fan of Huselius during his stint in Calgary, even though he was plagued by inconsistency and defensive irresponsibility. I knew he wasn't an ideal Sutter player, and that he wouldn't be sticking around much longer once Keenan took the reigns, so I refrained from purchasing a #20 Flames jersey. I have learnt over the years never to invest too much in a particular player, because it seems my favourite players always seem to skip town one way or another, via trade or free agency.

Anyways, back on topic; the Flames host the Canucks tomorrow, minus one of the creepy Sedin twins. The Sedins eat Flames defencemen for dinner. Having the luxury of one of them being injured is HUGE for us, but will this team be able to take advantage? D. Sedin's absence from the lineup didn't seem to affect Vancouver as much as the absence of defenceman Sami Salo, as the team squandered a lead late against the Stars last weekend, but managed to emerge victorious in the shootout.

Once again, the key to the Flames' success lies in their forecheck, getting pucks and bodies to the net, maintaining a presence in the offensive and neutral zones, and attention to detail defensively. The Flames actually improved in the faceoff circle in their loss to Columbus, with Craig Conroy leading the way winning thirteen draws. While this is a good sign, the Flames were again outshot 33-23 and outhit by a 40-31 margin against the Blue Jackets. These trends need to change if the Flames have any hopes of earning two points against the Canucks tomorrow. It seems too early to say that this is a must-win game, but to rehash an old cliche, points in October matter just as much as those in March and April, and breathing room in the Northwest is already limited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An open letter to the Flames/My checklist for tonight's game

Dear Choke Artists,

Get your fucking shit together.

Yours Truly,
Hayley xoxo

Strangely, I woke up this morning more angry at this team than I was last night. I just cannot believe the sheer lack of effort we witnessed in Chicago. Clearly, Brent Sutter's mini-games theory did not resonate with his players "between the ears." It seems like it's going to take a miracle to motivate this team to play sixty minutes, but it starts with improving upon the smaller aspects of the game that might seem insignificant, but are key to any team's success. I have compiled a checklist of things I want to see this team improve upon tonight against CBJ:
  • Shots on goal: this getting outshot by a 2-1 margin thing needs to stop. In the last two periods of last night's game, not including overtime, the Flames fired 10 shots at the Chicago net. That's five shots per period. How is this team supposed to score if they aren't shooting? They have to start throwing everything at the net, and if a few shots go in--bonus. What's going to happen when they run into a hot goalie, like they are bound to tonight in Steve Mason? The Blue Jackets will be laughing all the way to the bank with two points in hand if the Flames fail to direct more than twenty pucks Mason's way.
  • Faceoffs: Where to start? I am in disbelief about how horrendous the Flames have been in the faceoff circle. Here are the stats from last night's game:
FACE-OFF SUMMARY (Face-offs Won-Face-offs Total / Percentage)


38% on even strength faceoffs? 13% on shorthanded faceoffs? 36% total faceoff percentage? I'm sorry, but how is this team ever supposed to win games with such an atrocious faceoff performance? If you don't win faceoffs, you don't have puck possession, which means you can't score, you can't get the puck out of your zone, and so on. I think this is an area where they really miss a guy like Matthew Lombardi. If the Flames want to become a better puck possession team, they'd better start winning some faceoffs ASAP.
  • Pushing back when they have the lead: "We were getting rid of it (the puck) a little too quick, all of us all the way around. When you don't have composure, that's the result,"--Jarome Iginla. We've all heard this refrain too many times to count, and frankly Brent Sutter is already starting to sound like a broken record. This team knows what they have to do, they've all being playing hockey for years, even decades. They know they can't sit back when they have the lead, let the other team takeover the play, and expect to win the game. They have to bring the same level of intensity to games when they have the lead as they do when playing from behind.
  • Defence: I was thrilled to learn that the Flames were amongst the league leaders in shot-blocking. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be willing to keep those numbers up. I am a proponent for defence-first hockey, always have been. While I don't advocate playing the trap, I still believe in the phrase "the best offence is a good defence" to some degree. If this team could allow less than three goals a game, that would be superb. Kiprusoff has already proved that he can steal a game for his team when necessary, now the high-priced blueline brigade must return the favour.
  • The lines: When is Sutter going to give up on the Jokinen-Iginla experiment? With David Moss out with an "upper body injury" the left-wing spot on the first line is in a perpetual state of limbo, and is thus affecting the chemistry on other lines, namely the fourth line trio of Nystrom-Sjostrom-Prust. Since the second line has struggled recently (they were a combined -8 in last night's loss), I would advocate putting Bourque on the first line with Iginla and Jokinen or even moving both Langkow and Bourque onto the first line with the captain and moving Glencross up to the second line. Unless the Flames call up someone other than McGrattan, the fourth line will still be subject to change due to having to move certain players around to fill the gaps.
The same goes for the defensive pairings. Now that Sarich is healthy, I would have anticipated that Bouwmeester would move to the first pairing with Regehr and Phaneuf would move down to the second with either Giordano or Sarich. Regehr is struggling and I think a calm, stable influence like Bouwmeester would help even him out. The same thing could be said of Phaneuf and Sarich, who along with Adam Pardy, were the only d-men to finish with an even or positive +/- in last night's debacle in the Windy City.

The Flames are in tough against a Blue Jackets squad that's off to their best start in franchise history, in a building that hasn't been kind to them over the years. Not to mention they will be playing on the road, in the second half of back-to-back games. Frankly, I don't care if they win or lose this game, all I want to see is a consistent sixty-minute effort so I at least know that this team is capable of it, because I'm really beginning to doubt it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

R.I.P. defence, among other things

The Calgary Flames have given me little to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, apart from the fact that I managed to keep my turkey dinner down after learning the result of tonight's game.

The Flames came charging out of the gate on Thanksgiving/Columbus Day at the United Centre and scored five goals in just 5:29 in the first period. They entered the first intermission with a healthy four-goal lead, despite being outshot 16-10. The Flames, under the impression that the game was over, then packed up and went back to their hotel for a nice turkey dinner. The End. Little did they know, there was still two periods of hockey left to be played. The Blackhawks made the most of their opponents' disappearing act, scoring four unanswered goals to tie the game up at five, outshooting the visitors 40-20 in the process. They then went on to score the winner just 0:26 into overtime, on only their second shot of the short sudden-death period.

I return from a lovely weekend in Victoria and this is how Calgary decides to welcome me home? Frigid weather and news of the Flames blowing a huge lead and losing in overtime to the Blackhawks, one of the only teams outside of the Northwest Division that I hold such a high level of disdain for? What a shitty day to be a Calgary sports fan. Should we have been expecting this after a 4-0 start lulled us into a false sense of security? Yes, we probably should have seen the signs, heeded Coach Sutter's warnings. Shouldn't this team be improving every game, on their way to becoming the hard-nosed, defensive-minded squad that plays tough at both ends of the ice, the one that the GM and the new coaching staff promised we would see this off-season?

Instead, they are getting wildly outshot almost every game, giving up far too many good quality scoring chances, and are not playing anything that remotely resembles the physical, puck-possession game emphasized by the Sutters. I don't know what the hell is wrong with this team. I don't know why they become completely submissive when holding any sort of lead or why they can't play "Flames hockey" for sixty minutes, I don't know why they can't win a faceoff, I don't know what is wrong with Robyn Regehr, and I certainly don't know why the first line isn't clicking; but I do know that any team hoping to contend for a division title, a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup Championship cannot blow a five goal lead and go on to lose the game in overtime. I don't want to come off as a drama queen, overreacting to every loss and every setback, but with the results of the last two games combined, I'm unnerved to say the least.

I don't really know how to treat this loss...a lesson to be learned, a fluke, a sign of things to come? Right now I still can't really believe it happened, even though scoring five quick goals seemed too good to be true, especially against a team like the Blackhawks, I hoped, however foolishly, that the good guys would emerge unscathed and victorious. I would like to have hope that the Flames will use this game as motivation, that they will come out flying and turn in a convincing effort against Steve Mason and the Blue Jackets tomorrow night (5 PM MT), but I can't seem to find any reason to at the moment.

I suppose we will see what this team is really made of tomorrow night. Will they come out kicking ass and taking names to avenge this embarrassing loss, or will they give up and fold like a broken lawn chair? I would very much like to believe the former.

The fact that two of the Flames' top-six forwards (Moss and Dawes) are now injured and Curtis McElhinney will likely get the start tomorrow night after Kiprusoff's 34-save performance does little to ease the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. The only positive I can extract from this steaming mess is that it happened in October and not April, which means there is still plenty of time for Brent Sutter to open up a can of whoop-ass forceful enough to ensure that this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop a few Advil and go to bed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Post-game party: Quick notes from last night's game, Stars@Flames

The Flames improved upon their unbeaten record with a 4-3 shootout win over the Oilers last night in Edmonton, also improving to 2-0 in this season's edition of the Battle of Alberta. The Flames played a pretty solid first period until the last few minutes, when Ethan Moreau scored on a breakaway out of the penalty box. The Oilers would strike again with under a minute remaining, when Craig Conroy lost his man Lubomir Vishnovsky, who fired a slapper past Kiprusoff, who looked shaky in the opening frame, allowing two goals on nine shots.

The visitors played a much smarter game in the second despite being forced to kill off a penalty resulting from a hit by Jarome Iginla on Sheldon Souray where the Flames captain inadvertently tripped Souray while attempting to finish his check, causing both to collide into the end boards with Souray getting the worst of it. He was cut and later diagnosed with a minor concussion. This is the only video I could find of the hit, although I don't agree with the title:
The Flames would score a late goal to pull within one on a backhand by Daymond Langkow, and outshot the Oilers 9-4 in the middle frame with most of those shots coming on their three powerplays of the period, including a two-man advantage.

Nigel Dawes squared the affair at two early in the third, and it would stay that way until the Oilers again took the lead with just over six minutes remaining. In a late effort to preserve their record of zero regulation losses with Kiprusoff on the bench, Rene Bourque tied the game with only 1.5 seconds remaining, perfectly tipping a Bouwmeester slapshot between Khabibulin's pads.

The Oilers stole the show in the overtime period with Mark Giordano off for tripping, firing seven shots on Kiprusoff, but to no avail. The Flames 'tender snagged every shot he saw, making a series of spectacular glove saves and allowing no rebounds to give his team a shot at the 'W' in a shootout.

Nigel Dawes was the first shooter for the Flames, in their first shootout of the new season, and he scored after Sam Gagner's attempt was saved by Kipper. Patrick O'Sullivan tied things up for the Oilers, but Olli Jokinen, the Flames' next shooter, had a trick up his sleeve. He deked out Khabibulin several times before tucking a shot just inside the post, which trickled across the line with a little help from the Oiler goalie's pad. Ales Hemsky was the Oilers' last shooter, and fired a shot off the corner between the post and crossbar. Voila...Flames win!

The shots in this game ended up even at twenty-eight a piece, which ties the best effort in terms of shots the Flames have mustered this season. Their powerplay, which was operating at 75%, good for #1 in the league, was a futile 0-4 on the night. While a powerplay operating a such a high efficiency is clearly not sustainable, I think fans hoped for a better result against the Oilers' 29th ranked penalty kill unit.

This effort was probably the most consistent for the Flames as of yet, and maybe their best defensively. Robyn Regehr was the only player registering a minus on the team, as he continues to struggle. He was largely at fault on the Oilers' first goal and seems a lot easier to push off the puck than we are accustomed to. His passes seem ill-advised and his hits lack their usual "oomph"; I don't think we've seen a single instance of him knocking the wind out of Ales Hemsky as of yet.

The second line was the Flames' best line last night, with Dawes, Langkow, and Bourque scoring all of the team's goals in regulation. I think I already mentioned how much I love Rene Bourque. He collected a goal and two assists last night, and continues to be one of the Flames' best forwards. I just love everything about the way he plays... he's fast, strong, he wins battles, and he never gives up on a play.

The first line seems to be improving every game, although they didn't score, the trio of Iginla, Jokinen, and Moss were sharp last night, demonstrating their speed, strength, and crisp passing. All three were +1, and Jokinen was surprisingly good defensively after an abysmal effort in his own zone Tuesday against the Canadiens. The fourth line is just so good, and again created multiple chances, against the Oilers, although failing to score.

The Flames showcased the excellent transition game that they are capable of with Bouwmeester and Giordano providing speed and mobility on the blueline, and were able to control the neutral zone. The areas that remain a concern for the this team are faceoffs, which were again largely dominated by the opposition, and lazy play in their own end, which afforded the Oilers a number of quality scoring chances and resulted in trips to the penalty box.

Finally, news broke today that Oilers coach Pat Quinn has been fined $10,000 for his comments about Jarome Iginla made after the game. If that's not enough to teach him to keep his mouth shut, I don't know what is. Iginla told the Flames Insider that the trip was unintentional, and that he understands why the Oilers are upset and feels bad that Souray was injured on the play. Really, when have we ever seen Iginla intentionally injure someone, with the exception of fighting? I may come off as a homer, but I believe this was a genuine accident which took a freakish turn and looked a lot worse than it actually was.

Up Next: The Flames will aim for their first ever 5-0 start tonight when they host the Dallas Stars (0-0-2) at 7 PM (MT). The Stars and Flames split the series at two wins apiece last season. No word on whether or not Kiprusoff will start.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Post-game party: Nystrom spoils Cammy's return to the 'Dome, Flames make another weird trade

The Calgary Flames are 3-0 and tops in the Western Conference. Normally I would be delirious with joy, especially when you throw the fact that the Canucks are 0-3 into the mix. However, each Flames victory thus far has left something to be desired, whether it be less shots against, better defensive play, or a better performance from the first line.

The Flames trotted out onto the ice in their retro unis to face the Montreal Canadiens for the 100th time, and got off to a great start; they put a lot of pressure on the Canadiens, and took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Eric Nystrom just after the mid-way mark. The Flames were outshooting Montreal and playing a solid defensive game, until they scored the go-ahead goal.

After that, they got too wrapped up in trying to defend the lead and the mistakes started to pile up, resulting in Montreal's first goal with just over a minute left when the duo of Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen failed to clear the puck past former teammate Mike Cammalleri. Just thirty-seconds later, the Habs were again pouring on the pressure, and took the lead when Guillaume Latendresse swatted the puck into a yawning cage past Miikka Kiprusoff.

The Flames came out flying again in the second period and managed to maintain the pressure for most of the middle frame, outshooting Montreal 16-6 and taking a 3-2 lead on a goal by Iginla on the lone powerplay of the game after Nystrom squared the affair earlier in the period. The lead would not last, however, as Thomas Plekanec would tie it up with just ten-seconds remaining in the period after Robyn Regehr failed to stay with his man behind the net and allowed Plekanec to walk out in front of the net untouched, firing a backhand shot top-shelf on Kiprusoff. Three Montreal goals in the last minute of play in each of the first two periods does not instill much confidence in this team's ability to hold a lead.

Brent Sutter must have been furious during intermission, because the Flames came out firing on all cylinders again to start the third and were rewarded with a quick goal on a screened slap-shot that was originally thought to belong to Eric Nystrom, giving the winger his first career hat trick. The goal was later awarded to Staffan Kronwall for his first career NHL tally. It was all Montreal after that goal, however, as the Flames reverted back to dump-and-chase hockey, desperately clinging onto a one-goal lead. As a result, the Canadiens dominated, outshooting the Flames 15-5, but the home team retained the lead and held on for the 4-3 win thanks to some timely saves from Kiprusoff.

The thing that I do not understand is how this team can dominate the opposition for extended periods of time, but when they have the lead, they unravel and completely abandon the "system" that enabled them to get to that position--speed, strong forecheck, sustained pressure, getting pucks to the net, simple outlet passes, and keeping the opposition to the outside. I feel like I am beating this point to death but it is a recurring pattern that just drives me up the wall. The most worrying aspect seems to be that they are unable to clear the zone under pressure, which almost always leads to a goal or at the very least a crucial faceoff in the defensive zone--which, by the way, was an atrocious stat for the Flames in last night's game.

Turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones continue to be a problem and have led to a number of quality scoring chances against. Thankfully, the Flames have also been very good at forcing turnovers and creating scoring chances of their own. When picking out the positives in last night's game I found a few areas that I really liked--the Flames accumulated 28 shots on goal--the most so far, and allowed 30 against--the least so far, which is somewhat encouraging, they were very good at getting traffic to the net which was critical on all four goals, and they were very disciplined. The Flames didn't take a single minor penalty the entire game and scored on the lone powerplay they received--a hooking call on Max Pacioretty.

The play of the first line is still a contentious issue, as Iginla scored his first of the season on a good-looking backhand on the powerplay, showing his poise and patience with the puck. Moss was practically invisible after scoring two against the Oilers on Saturday, and Jokinen collected an assist but has yet to score. All three were -1, hovering around sixteen minutes of ice time. They probably would have got more if the Flames had had more powerplays, but Sutter continues to exercise his philosophy of no forward playing more than twenty-two minutes a game.

Can we all just appreciate the awesomeness of these vintage unis for a moment? I hope they make this their official third/alternate jersey, but I don't want it to be over-used like the Oilers' retro jersey.

The second line led all forwards in ice time at around twenty-minutes each, but had nothing to show for it in terms of points. They were very strong on the forecheck and in creating turnovers, especially Bourque, who was one of the best players on the ice for the Flames last night. I think I love him almost as much as Milan Lucic. The third line of Glencross-Conroy-Boyd also created a number of good scoring chances and Conroy was flying against his former team, but all three were snakebitten, especially Boyd, who had a series of excellent opportunities in the second.

The Nystrom-Sjostrom-Prust line, affectionately dubbed the "Prustrom" line, is golden and continues to generate whispers about the best fourth line trio in the league. Nystrom had an almost hat trick, Sjostrom an assist, and Prust, well he did this:

All three were plus players, the only forwards to finish on the positive side of things.

On defence, Adam Pardy was excellent, collecting two assists on the game-tying and game-winning goals, a +3 rating, and a highlight-reel worthy hit on Max Pacioretty. Staffan Kronwall, subbing in for Cory Sarich who is still day-to-day with a foot injury, was also surprisingly good, as he scored the game-winning goal, assisted on another, and finished a +2. Bouwmeester and Giordano were also very good, finishing even and +1 respectively. JBo led the team in ice time again, but at only 24:22, about five minutes less that he has been playing thus far.

The pairing of Regehr and Phaneuf continues to struggle, as both were -3. I thought that Phaneuf was slightly better and his rating was not necessarily indicative of his play, but Regehr seems to be on a different planet altogether. It is almost as if he is trying too hard to get involved in the play, advice which I'm sure he hasn't been getting from Brent Sutter, and doesn't seem to be able to keep track of his man in the defensive zone. He is losing puck battles and rather than punishing the opposing team's forwards, he seems to be getting pushed around.

Which brings me to my next point--injury. Bear with me here, but it is possible that either Regehr or Phaneuf or both are not entirely healthy or Sarich will be out for longer than anticipated, which might explain the move the Flames made today, sending Quad City's leading scorer last season Kyle Greentree to Chicago in exchange for defenceman Aaron Johnson. What other reason could Darryl Sutter possibly have for acquiring another defenceman, except perhaps to make up for the loss of Anton Stralman?

Kronwall has exceeded expectations as the sixth defenceman with Sarich out, but if one of the Flames' top blueliners wasn't 100%, Sutter could have easily called up someone like Seabrook, Pelech, or Negrin from Abbotsford to fill the void. This deal baffles me, as a few of Sutter's deals have recently. He is either putting one Hell of a package together for a top-six forward or is trying to assemble an entire team of defencemen. Whatever it is, he is taking the term defensive depth to the extreme, perhaps as a result of last season's parade to the sick bay down the stretch.

All in all, this was an entertaining game. The Flames showed that they are capable of sustaining pressure and playing within a defensive system for extended periods of time, just not a full sixty-minutes, they're not quite there yet. They showed some resilience in coming back from behind and didn't give up when Montreal came back to tie it, but still have a lot to improve upon from a consistency standpoint.

Up Next: The Flames travel to Edmonton again for Round 2 of the BOA tomorrow night (7:30 PM MT). Someone try to remind Khabibulin what team he plays for before puck drop.

Images courtesy of the Flames Insider

Search This Blog