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.

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