Saturday, December 19, 2009

And it's back...

Well that was a nice little one-game respite from losing, wasn't it?

It appears that the sloppy defence displayed by the Flames in the third period of their win against the Kings on Thursday night carried over into this afternoon's contest with the Predators. After all the hullabaloo about how they had to be prepared for the early start time, how they had to adjust their game day routines, the Flames came out predictably flat and surrendered the first goal of the game just four and a half minutes in, when Martin Erat managed to get a weak wrist shot past Kiprusoff despite having three Flames skaters converge on him.

The Preds weren't done there, as David Legwand out-battled Jay Bouwmeester in front of the Flames net to put Nashville up 2-0 eight minutes later just as a questionable roughing penalty assessed to David Moss had expired. The Flames would get one back just over a minute later on the powerplay, as Phaneuf fired home his second PPG in as many games to close out the period with his team down by one and momentum on their side.

The Flames utilized that momentum nicely in the second period, as Jarome Iginla snapped an eight-game scoring drought with one of his patented snapshots from the wing, which went off the inside of the post and in. When Iggy scores, he scores in bunches, and he was at it again around the midway mark of the period. Alone in front of the Predator's net, Iginla scooped up his own rebound and poked it past an outstretched Ellis from one knee to give the Flames their first lead of the game. It was a dandy individual effort, but I couldn't find a video of it, so here's one of Brian McGrattan taking on Wade Belak instead:
McGrattan FTW.

The Flames continued to pour on the pressure, outshooting Nashville 15-6 in the middle frame, and had many glorious opportunities to take a two-goal lead. In typical karmic fashion, those missed chances would come back to haunt them and the Predators squared the affair at three with just under three minutes remaining in the second.

The third period would begin much the same as the first; four minutes into the final frame, the Predators set up in Flames zone and started cycling the puck around the boards, somehow eluding every Flame on the ice. The frozen disc eventually made its way back to Cody Franson at the point, who fired it netward where it glanced off of Daymond Langkow, past Kiprusoff, and into the net. Queue the comeback routine. The Flames fire everything in their arsenal towards the Predators' net but can't manage to beat Ellis, who stopped all ten shots in the third period and got lucky on misses by Rene Bourque and Olli Jokinen, who likely couldn't hit a barn door right now. The Flames never really came close to tying the game with Kiprusoff pulled in the final minute, and Dave Scatchard iced the game for the Preds with an empty-netter at 19:34.

This game irritated me on many levels. The Flames simply cannot afford to start games the way they did today, especially at home. The Predators established an instant presence in the Flames' zone, drew a penalty off a turnover, and scored their first goal largely due to a lazy play by Dion Phaneuf behind the Flames net. The first period was once a strong point for this team, and we've seen that trend reverse since the beginning of the month. The Flames can't seem to stay out of the box in the opening frame, and have trouble establishing themselves in the offensive zone. A bad first period only puts a team behind the eight-ball for the remaining fourty-minutes of the game, and the Flames were fortunate enough to overcome a less-than-impressive opening frame this afternoon.

Turnovers killed this team today, simply put. At one point, the Flames had committed sixteen giveaways compared to the Predators' eight. It's nearly impossible to win a game with that many turnovers, especially when your goaltender isn't performing at his usual levels of excellence, as we saw today with Kiprusoff. He deserves some of the blame for allowing four goals on twenty shots, but giveaways by the forwards and lazy play by the Flames' defencemen kick-started the process. The lack of compete level from this team's high-priced blueliners in this game was appalling. They lost puck battles along the boards in the defensive zone, failed to track down opposing forwards, and intercepting passes or blocking shots was seemingly out of the question. Jay Bouwmeester was on the wrong side of an even +/- for the third time in four games; Mark Giordano was a -2 after one of the best games of his career on Thursday. Daymond Langkow and Nigel Dawes both finished the afternoon -3, while Rene Bourque was a team-worst -4.

The physical element that was instrumental in the Flames' victory over the Kings was almost entirely absent from this game. They fell victim to Nashville's speedy, back-and-forth style of play and weren't able to even the score when it mattered. Nothing new really. Good teams find a way to win in adverse situations; clearly the Flames can't count themselves amongst those teams until they are able to do just that.

Outshooting a team for the first time in four games is nice. Iginla busting out of his scoring slump with two goals and an assist is also a plus. Winning the faceoff battle for once is good; but this league is based on results, and it's hard to recognize the positives in a game where this team let a victory slip away and didn't get the results they needed: the two points. I don't think I need to stress the importance of winning in the Western Conference any further. With this loss, the Flames fall to second in the division and sixth in the conference as Colorado takes over top spot with a 5-2 win over Columbus. A record of 3-5-1 in the month of December has cost the Flames a shot at first place in the West and leaves them only three points ahead of the eighth-place Red Wings as the half-way point of the season draws closer. If it wasn't for a 10-2-2 November, this team would likely find itself out of a playoff spot.

The Flames are now off until Wednesday, when they'll play the Blues in their final game before the Christmas break. I don't know how this team is going to utilize its practice time or how they will respond in a game after three days' rest, but my expectation levels have been significantly reduced for the time being. A record of 9-6-1 at home is nothing to be proud of, and upcoming games against the Canucks, Oilers, and Kings at the 'Dome will be crucial in determining where the Flames stand fourty-one games in.

Right now, it's not looking good.

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