Monday, November 9, 2009

Post-game Party(s): 3 for the price of 1

I have been a busy, busy gal as of late; I spent virtually all of last week writing a paper for my Communications class, and when I wasn't typing like a madwoman I was working. If it wasn't for Brittany and the Artwear fashion show, I probably wouldn't have left the neighbourhood. When I have a major assignment due I have to shut myself off from absolutely everything, including hockey and my beloved Flames, or it simply won't get done. As a result, I have only seen miniscule snippets of the Flames' past three games and feel incredibly guilty about it. This is like I'm in confession or something.

So the Flames have won three straight games, including two victories in back-to-back overtime games in Dallas and St. Louis. Curtis McElhinney doubled his win total as a Flame with a superb thirty-eight save performance which, along with a controversial delay-of-game penalty in the extra frame that made Marc Crawford look like this:
(I call it the Angry Porcupine) helped the Flames to a 3-2 overtime win. They led 1-0 until the third period, when Dallas tied the game then promptly scored again to take the lead, in typical Flames fashion. With less than thirty seconds to go and McElhinney on the bench, Daymond Langkow walked out in front of Marty Turco untouched and fired home the tying goal. The Flames went on the powerplay in OT when a Dallas player appeared to shoot the puck over the glass from inside his own blueline, but video review revealed that he was in fact outside the defensive zone.

The call stood, and Jarome Iginla capitalized for his second goal and third point of the game. The Flames won despite getting outshot 40-22, but outhit the Stars by a significant margin. McElhinney had what was undoubtably his best game as a Flame, but the team still has to play with more confidence in front of him. He is a good goalie, but they can't count on him to stop forty shots every start he gets.

Onto St. Louis. This game was very similar to the Dallas game; the Flames took a 1-0 lead on goal by Iginla. The shot was originally stopped by Mason and appeared to be on its way across the goal line when Eric Brewer swooped in to knock it away, but instead put it into his own net. You have to be good to be lucky, right? Things finally appear to be turning around for the Captain. The Flames clung to the lead for dear life, but alas, the Blues tied the game on a powerplay early in the third.

Despite taking a myriad of penalties, the Flames were able to hold off the Blues attack, which hasn't been especially dangerous lately, with some magnificent work from Kiprusoff, who was superb in his return from a mysterious malady. The Flames worked their overtime magic once again, this time on a goal by Dion Phaneuf. The Flames narrowly outshot the Blues 32-31 and blocked twenty-one shots in the game en route to winning both back-to-back games for the first time this season.

The Flames returned home to Sean Avery and the waiting New York Rangers on Saturday night. In the opening minute, Curtis Glencross caught an unsuspecting Chris Drury with a shoulder to the head, anticipating that he was about to take a pass from a Rangers teammate. Drury remained down on the ice for a few moments, but was promptly helped to the dressing room by Rangers staff. The former Flame didn't return to the game and it was later revealed that he had sustained a concussion on the play. Again, they took the lead on an early goal, but committed seven turnovers in the first period alone, leading to the tying goal by the Rangers late in the period.

The Flames took the lead again on a powerplay goal by Jarome Iginla, and carried it into the third period. Rene Bourque put the icing on the cake with three and a half minutes remaining in the third to put the Flames up by two, despite getting outshot 13-5 in the period. The Flames emerged victorious despite turning over the puck fifteen times (five of those courtesy of one Olli Jokinen) and getting outshot 33-22. Kiprusoff was phenomenal again; perhaps McElhinney's thirty-eight save performance in Dallas inspired him somehow. He has now allowed just two goals in his past two starts, stopping over sixty shots.

Avery was a non-factor in this game, and Phaneuf caught him with a clean, open-ice shoulder check in the third, which appeared to satisfy the sold-out crowd. The Rangers later responded to Glencross' hit that put their captain out of action, with Marc Staal calling the hit "brutal, just brutal," and claiming that Glencross hit Drury with "an elbow right in the chin." Rangers coach John Tortorella simply said that Drury was concussed and the hit should have resulted in a major penalty and that the league would deal with it accordingly.

Curtis Glencross had a disciplinary hearing with Colin Campbell today and was suspended for three games. I have only seen limited video of the hit on YouTube and on TV, and have not seen a good enough angle to determine whether it was an elbow or a shoulder. Yes, it was a hit to the head. No, Drury was not in possession of the puck. I know this is the type of hit and resulting injury that the league is trying to prevent, and that given the recent dramatic increase in head injuries, Colin Campbell had to do something.

I feel that this suspension is excessive. Curtis Glencross does not have a reputation for dirty play, in fact I believe he has been a victim of it on at least one occasion; while there is no denying that the hit to Drury's head was unnecessary and not in the best of taste, it was clear that Glencross was anticipating that Drury would receive the puck and continue the play, and thus attempted to obstruct him (as he said later today in a statement). The league is clearly trying to send a message with this suspension, and perhaps believes that making an example of Glencross will lead to a decrease in the prevalence of "dirty" play and resultant injuries and make players more cautious on the ice.

Fair enough. If Glencross sitting for three games means that another player thinks twice before flattening an unsuspecting opponent with a questionable check, fine by me, but I highly doubt that will happen. Comparing this hit on the concussion-prone Drury to other infractions (Richards: no suspension, Ott: 2 games, Scuderi: fine, Ladd: no suspension) proves just how inconsistent the NHL is in disciplining its players. The head-shot debate is once again the flavour of the week in the NHL and in the hockey media, and will no doubt be discussed at the ongoing General Manager's meetings in Toronto.

The Flames left this afternoon for a three-game Eastern road trip with stops in Montreal, Buffalo, and Toronto. Although the Flames have won three straight games, they haven't played their best hockey, and can thank some brilliant play by McElhinney and Kiprusoff and a few lucky breaks for some of their recent success.

They were outshot badly both in Dallas and at home against New York, spending far too much time in their own zone as a result of giveaways and sloppy play, which Coach Sutter was none too pleased about at this morning's practice. The Flames will have to limit the giveaways and tighten up in their own zone if they hope to stop the Canadiens' speedy top line. With Cammalleri being shuffled to the second line in order to provide more offence, the Flames' blueline brigade will have to be on their toes at all times.

Up front, they will need 1st-Star-of-the-Week Jarome Iginla, who has responded beautifully to his little private talk with Brent with five points in three games, to be the difference-maker once again. I believe Sutter had Iggy playing on a line with Conroy at centre and Jokinen on the wing at some point against the Rangers, it will be interesting to see if that continues. With Glencross out for three games and the status of Fredrik Sjostrom, who took a puck in the hand during practice, unknown, further line shuffling could be imminent barring a call-up from the Heat, who recently had their four-game winning streak snapped.

The Flames take on the Canadiens tomorrow at the Bell Centre (5:30 PM, Sportsnet); Montreal will be sporting another vintage uniform to remind us all that the franchise is indeed one-hundred years old and has won a bunch of Stanley Cups. I'm starting to think that this team has a more extensive wardrobe than Don Cherry.

The Flames are healthy and have the luxury of a full roster with the exception of Glencross and perhaps Sjostrom, while the Habs are fighting the injury bug, missing five regulars including Georges Laraque. Tough luck, McGrattan. Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec lead the Canadiens with fourteen points each, while Bourque leads the Flames with seventeen. Should be an interesting road trip, let's all hope that the Flames suffer a better fate at the ACC on Saturday than the Red Wings did.

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