If procrastination were a Country, I'd be its First Lady. I really should not have a blog.
The Flames kicked off their mini-three game road trip with what was probably their best all-around effort so far this season, resulting in a 1-0 win over Montreal--Kiprusoff's 200th as a Flame, and his 31st career shutout. The Canadiens had some marvelous opportunities, including breakaway chances by both Cammalleri and Gomez, but the Flames held the edge in almost every other department in this physical affair, which saw the Habs out-hit their visitors 26-21.
The effort in Buffalo was not lacking by any means, but the Flames were clearly overwhelmed by the up-tempo, physical Sabres and allowed them to dictate the play after taking the lead early in the first period. The Flames were outshot 18-5 in the opening frame, but escaped the Buffalo blitzkrieg tied at one thanks to some timely stick-work from Cory Sarich and heroics from a certain netminder. The visitors found their legs in the second, dominating the shot clock 12-3, and played an evenly matched third period before eventually succumbing to the Sabres in a shootout.
The stat that stood out most in this game--16 missed shots by the Flames. They finished the game with 26 shots on goal, not enough against a goaltender of Ryan Miller's quality. For a team that has struggled to score goals recently, they have to get more shots on net. Another number that was hard to swallow? The Flames' 11% faceoff performance on the powerplay. They went 0-5 against the Sabres, and that horrendous faceoff percentage was likely a contributing factor. The Sabres operated at 89% shorthanded, while the Flames, boasting an extremely efficient penalty-killing unit as of late, won only 2 of 7 short-handed draws while managing to nullify all but one of Buffalo's powerplays, including one in overtime. Overall, these were my only real qualms with this game, can't complain too much about a 2-1 shootout loss in a city where this team hasn't won in thirteen years.
Yesterday's game in Toronto was an entirely different story. It all started off well; the Flames jumped out to an early two-goal lead shortly after the "80s Night" festivities had wrapped up at the ACC. Both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games, so some sloppiness was to be expected, but it appeared the Leafs had gotten theirs out of the way early. Toronto's relentless forecheck and consistent pressure on the Flames puck-carriers frustrated them, and resulted in some undisciplined play by the visitors. The Leafs and their 3rd best powerplay (?%$#@) capitalized, drawing within one. Dustin Boyd restored the two goal lead on a brilliant individual effort after blocking a shot in his own zone, chasing Gustavsson from the game in the process.
The second period was so atrocious I almost wanted to file it under "this shall never be mentioned again" and allow it to sit there, collecting dust forevermore. The entire twenty minute frame resembled a game of keep-away. The really twisted kind where one of the worst teams in the NHL fires twenty shots on goal compared to a supposed Stanley Cup contender's four. As you can imagine, the majority of the period was spent in the Flames' zone. When they did manage to venture past their own blueline, ill-advised passes and turnovers ensured they ended up back behind it in no time. Somehow, the Flames managed to escape the period with a one goal lead. Kiprusoff is a fucking one-man team right now. "Lights out," "Mr. Clutch," whatever you want to call him, he's been unreal. Either he is determined to prove his detractors wrong (i.e. just about all of us at some point or another) or he really, really wants to make Team Finland.
Toronto's second period outburst seemed to tire them out, and the Flames took advantage in the third. I like to think that this was their strategy all along. Iginla scored his second of the game on another of his trademark shots from the wing and Bouwmeester sealed the deal with a slapper, temporarily alleviating the Flames' nagging powerplay drought. Thank god Toronto's defence still sucks. The Flames managed to escape TO with a 5-2 win, their first at the ACC since 2000, despite getting outshot 40-22.
The moment that made you want to laugh and cry simultaneously--Jokinen's "fight" with Francois Beauchemin. It made you want to laugh because he was instantly taken down Beauchemin--who is one tough customer--and emerged with nothing but a cut to show for his efforts, and cry out of frustration on his behalf. The big lug led the team with three hits and had three shots on goal against Buffalo and has been surprisingly decent defensively as of late, but just can't seem to catch a break. Sure the effort could be better, more consistent, but it's there. The hardest thing for a player to do when he's in a slump is to "simplify" his game, but that is exactly what Olli needs to do. Shoot the puck, use his size, and do the things that made him successful in the past. I really feel for the poor sucker.
- Derek Roy was, to borrow a phrase from the infamous Pierre McGuire, a "Monster" against the Flames on Friday night. He had 7 shots on goal (that's three more than any Flames player had in the game), scored a beauty of a goal in regulation and added another in the shootout. If you weren't considering him for Team Canada, you are now. He's fast, talented, and I think he can provide some serious energy in a third or fourth line role for Canada in 2010. I bet Iggy would love to have this little 5"9 SOB as his centreman.
- The Flames' powerplay has fallen from second in the league to twelfth. We all knew that the success they were enjoying at the beginning of the season would level off at some point, but nobody could have predicted the drop-off would be this severe. It's their powerplay faceoff percentage that worries me most--11% against the Sabres and 33% against the Leafs--since it is impossible to maintain zone presence without possession of the puck.
- Speaking of special teams, Brent Sutter said something that was of great interest to me a few days ago when describing his team's recent success on the penalty kill. He said in an article in the Calgary Herald that he had employed some of the same strategies the team had been using before he was hired as Head Coach, when they finished 5th in the league on the PK last season under the tutelage of Mike Keenan and Co. Does this mean that the previous coaching staff wasn't completely inept in the special teams department, or that the Flames just have a lot of good penalty killers on their roster?
-David Moss and Phil Kessel are cousins. Who Knew?
- Moss has been playing very well on a line with Boyd and Nystrom. The trio were some of the only forwards who were skating well and were able to establish a forecheck and good puck support in the offensive zone against both the Leafs and the Sabres.
- Robyn Regehr was +4 last night against Toronto and Dion Phaneuf was +3. If only Brent Sutter's stubbornness when it comes to pairings/line combinations would yield the same results with Jokinen and Iginla.
-Sheldon Souray finally returned to the Oilers lineup this afternoon when they faced the Thrashers in Atlanta after missing sixteen games with a concussion, blamed on an inadvertent trip by Jarome Iginla, during which Oilers fans whined incessantly about how they were missing on of their best players and practically called for a lifetime ban from the NHL for Iginla. They still lost.
Up Next: The Flames return to the 'Dome on Tuesday night to face the Avalanche, coming off an embarrassing 8-2 pounding last night at the hands of the Canucks, after which a handful of Avs players were forced to sit through HNIC's "After Hours" with Kevin Weekes and Scott Oake. The Avs won a 3-2 decision at the 'Dome back in October.
I promise to be a better fan and contribute more frequently to the hockey blogosphere this week. Pinky-swear.