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?