Somewhere in the Saddledome, Miikka Kiprusoff is cursing his defencemen and anticipating another long season. The Flames' #1 'tender was forced to make thirty-nine saves against the Vancouver Canucks as the team narrowly escaped with their first 'W' in a home opener since 2001.
The atmosphere was electric as the Flames stepped onto out the ice in their vintage duds in front of a sold out crowd, and the home team seemed to ooze confidence early on. The Flames got off to a good start and showed a lot of jump in the opening minutes, drawing two penalties from the sluggish Canucks and capitalizing on both powerplays to take a 2-0 lead eight minutes in with goals from Giordano and Bourque.
The boys in red would hold the early advantage in the hits department as well as the scoresheet, with Eric Nystrom and Dion Phaneuf both dishing out monstrous hits in the opening frame. Phaneuf energized the crowd and drew the ire of many a Canuck late in the period when he caught Daniel Sedin with his head down just outside the Flames' blueline. Calgary would enter the first intermission with a comfortable 3-0 lead thanks to an even-strength tally by Adam Pardy. The best part of the period, however, was when the HNIC crew compared Luongo's shaky play to his infamous 7-goals-against performance in Game 6 of the Western Conference semis...ouch.
After a quick breather, the Canucks would score on a powerplay of their own early in the second to cut the Flames' lead to two. Brandon Prust would restore the three-goal cushion after scoring on a spectacular individual effort deep in the offensive zone. The Flames started to lose their cool midway through the second period as the Canucks poured on the pressure; undisciplined play led to two straight minor penalties and Vancouver would capitalize on the latter with under two minutes left to play in the second.
The Flames took a two-goal advantage into the third period, but that would prove to be short-lived. Just 0:41 into the final frame, super-pest extraordinaire Alex Burrows scored on a shot that Kiprusoff looked to have under control, but the puck would trickle across the line as #34 leant back to try and smother the loose disc. The Flames 'D' appeared to be MIA during said play and were unable to clear the puck after a series of fumbled opportunities. It was at this moment that I was first tempted to change the channel, but I resisted.
The Canucks would continue to skate circles around the Flames and cycle the puck like nobody's business, at one point the shots were 17-1 in favour of the Vancouverites. I think the Canucks must have spent a total of about fifteen minutes in the Flames' zone in the third period, causing me to utter a string of profanities I won't repeat on this here blog. Thankfully, Kipper, possessed by the spirit of his former Vezina-winning self, saved the day with a series of other-wordly saves to preserve the 1-goal lead.
When Daymond Langkow was sent to the sin bin for hooking with just over six minutes remaining, I finally flipped the channel to Grey's Anatomy. I don't even watch that show. After taking a few minutes to collect myself, I cautiously flipped it back to find out that the Flames had actually managed to kill off the penalty. Shortly thereafter, the Canucks pulled Luongo for the extra attacker and I briefly flipped back to GA before Dion Phaneuf rifled a slapper into the empty net to seal the victory for the Flames.
The Flames' second and fourth lines had the best showing of the forward bunch, with the trios of Bourque-Langkow-Dawes and Nystrom-Sjostrom-Prust generating the most chances. Prust and Bourque were especially outstanding. Mark Giordano was the Flames' best blueliner, finishing +1 with a goal and an assist, while Jay Bouwmeester was also very steady, leading the team in ice time and finishing the evening a +2. Kiprusoff was spectacular and cannot really be faulted on any of the Canucks' goals, except perhaps the third one. He single-handedly held his team in the game and provided stability on the frantically scrambling back-end in the third period. Hopefully that trend continues throughout the season.
Overall, I am happy with the win, but again, I wish it had come in a more consistent fashion. After controlling the play for the first period and a half, the Flames let the game get away from them and were badly outplayed, getting outshot by a 3-1 margin in the third period and 42-22 overall. Brent Sutter again reiterated the fact that they still have a lot of work to do and repeated essentially the same quote that I used in an earlier post pertaining to the Flames spending too much time in their own zone and allowing the other team to take over, resulting in over-reliance on a certain goaltender.
The fact that B. Sutter recognizes the problem areas is a good start, but how will he address them? Undoing years of lax defensive play and bad habits is not going to happen overnight, I realize that, but I sincerely hope the message gets through sooner rather than later and I don't have to hear a re-tooled version of this speech during every post-game media session in the near future.
Elsewhere in the League:
- Sakic's retirement ceremony was not quite the tear-jerker I was expecting
- Dany Heatley finished his first game in Sharks silks with zero points and a -3 rating as SJ falls to the lowly Avs 5-2. How long before he wants out? Over/under?
- The Bruins stunk up the joint in a 4-1 loss to the Caps in their home opener. Ovechkin scored twice. Typical.
- I still like Mike Cammalleri, even as a Canadien
Up Next: Round 1 of the Battle of Alberta goes down Saturday night at Rexall Place. Quick, somebody hide Nikolai Khabibulin's Gatorade!