Sunday, October 4, 2009

Post-game party: Khabibulin's epic fail=Flames victory

Fans of Northwest Division rivalries didn't have to wait long for the bad blood to surface in the new NHL season. The Flames played their second straight game against said divisional rivals in Edmonton last night, and it yielded some interesting results. I caught bits and pieces of the game at work, but it seemed fairly evident that there is an early pattern emerging here, and not in a good way. It is not entirely fair to say that the Flames don't deserve their spotless 2-0 record, but there has been a significant element of luck involved in both victories. Again last night, the Flames escaped the first period with the lead, despite being outshot 14-6.

In the second, Nigel Dawes notched an early goal to put the visitors up 3-1, but the Oilers carried the play for the remainder of the period, again outshooting the Flames 11-6 and scoring a late goal to cut Calgary's lead to one, which really seemed to put the Flames "back on their heels," as they say in the broadcast biz--vis-a-vis the worrying pattern I was referring to. Early in the third, it was evident that the young Oilers smelt blood.

The Flames were overrun by the Oilers' speedy forwards in their own zone and were unable to corral the loose puck on several occasions, eventually resulting in the tying goal scored by Sam Gagner, who was the lucky beneficiary of a failed clearing attempt that ricochet off the end boards onto his waiting stick.

Mark Giordano ended up wearing the goat horns on the play, unfortunately, as he was the initiator of said failed clearing attempt. The Flames picked up their play a bit after that, but still gave up a number of quality scoring chances. Thankfully, Kiprusoff was up to the task and stopped the remainder of the shots he faced. With under a minute left in the final frame, it looked as if the first round of the Battle of Alberta was headed to OT, but then something wonderful happened:
It appears Nikolai Khabibulin's mastery over the Flames vanished in a puff of smoke the instant he scrawled his name on a contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Funny how that happens. Anyways, this is a prime example of the luck that the Flames have been on the receiving end of the past two games, and clearly this won't be the norm for the remainder of the season. While everyone seemed to agree that there would be an adjustment period as Brent Sutter enforced his new system, there have been little signs of progress so far in terms of puck possession and limiting shots against. It has not been all bad, as is evident from the team's 2-0 record, but there are several areas that seem to have raised a red flag around the interweb:

- The play of the first line, with the exception of David Moss, has garnered some criticism thus far, and rightfully so. Iginla and Jokinen have one point apiece and the chemistry that seemed to be emerging during pre-season has all but disappeared. We are used to slow starts from the Captain around here, but seeing as the Flames' offensive depth has been questioned since the off-season loss of Mike Cammalleri, the general sentiment was that Olli and Jarome would both need to crank it up a notch. It is early days yet, but expect to see some line-tinkering by B. Sutter if this trend continues.

- Robyn Regehr has do I put this nicely?...crap. After a parade to the penalty box in the season opener, Regehr was a -2 last night in Edmonton and his hits seemed awkwardly timed and ineffective, a rarity for the big blueliner renowned for his physical play. He even fell victim to a hit from Dustin Penner of all people, culminating in my favourite line of the night from CP: "Robyn Regehr was the recipient of a huge dump by Dustin Penner, who threw the hulking Flames rearguard down like an empty box of doughnuts."

- Daymond Langkow has also been uncharacteristically quiet thus far, and was a -2 in last night's game. He seems to be the weakest link on a line with Bourque and Dawes at the moment.

Now, the good:

- Is it too early to declare my unrequited love for Jay Bouwmeester? The slick d-man collected two assists on his way to a +1 rating and thirty minutes of ice time against the Oil.

- Hit The Post brought up an interesting point about the length of Dion Phaneuf's shifts in relation to his effectiveness. Hopefully once Cory Sarich returns to the lineup, he will be taken off the first pairing and able to make smarter, quicker decisions with and without the puck if he isn't so overworked.

- Miikka Kiprusoff continues to impress early on, with another 30+ save performance at Rexall without much help from his blueline brigade. Even if Kipper is in the best shape of his career and churns out another respectable season, there will undoubtably be nights when he is slightly off and the Flames' defence will need to be more responsible than they have been thus far

Up Next: Cammy and the Canadiens (2-0-0) make their lone stop at the Saddledome on Tuesday in a battle of undefeated teams. Cory Sarich is expected to return after missing the previous two games with a bruised foot, and the Flames D will need to be in top shape against the speedy (insert size joke here) Habs.

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