Okay, this whole losing business is getting a little out of hand.
Being that I am on vacation in California, I missed the Flames' last game before the Christmas break, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Blues on home ice. Needless to say, the game story spoke for itself. Eleven shots on goal through the first two periods, twenty-four altogether, a relatively easy night for Chris Mason, who stopped all but one--a screened semi-slapper from Gio off a faceoff win by Langkow. Six players had zero shots on goal. The Blues blocked a zillion shots and the Flames failed to establish much of a presence in the offensive zone, while a defensive miscue left Patrick Berglund uncovered in the slot, where he would score to give St. Louis the lead in the second period. This seems to have become the M.O. for the Flames in recent losses.
No one is surprised that the Calgary Flames are struggling to score goals. That was to be expected; you can't just replace a first-line, thirty-nine-goal-scoring winger with a bunch of ten-and-fifteen-goal scorers and expect the same results. What is surprising about this team is that they seem to lack the will to make anything happen offensively. I'm not talking about a few select players here, the whole damn team is stuck in this simultaneous goal-scoring rut, and it's real ugly. Everyone seems to have the confidence of a slightly overweight fifteen-year-old with braces and a bad haircut.
It's not that they aren't getting the shots--that I can live with if you bury your chances when you get them--but to miss the net ten times during a game seems ludicrous to me. Have the Sutters assembled a team of visually impaired, self-conscious teenagers with wonky sticks? Even the Sportsnet crew is picking up on the fact that the Flames shoot wide of the net a lot, and that's saying something. I know that teams sometimes shoot wide on purpose, in hopes of banking a shot off the end boards and cashing in on the juicy rebound in front of the net, but that is a set play that only works in certain rinks and if/when the bounces are going your way. I find it hard to believe that the Flames are purposefully miss-firing on this many potential shots. Shoot at the net, boys; it's that piece of mesh anchored by three red iron posts, you'll know it when you see it.
Missing the net is one thing, but the amount of scoring chances that the Flames "go-to" guys are missing on is unbelievable. 2-on-1 chances, breakaways, semi-breakaways, open nets...the list goes on. You're not going to get those chances every game, and when you do, you have to put them away. You can have the best defence in the league, but the team that scores the most goals always wins. The Flames seem to be learning that the hard way.
So how does one remedy the situation? Apparently, Brent Sutter thinks that putting Conroy, who has yet to score this season, on the first line (at right wing, no less, displacing Jarome Iginla from his natural position) will cure his team's offensive ills. Lord help us. Let's face it, Dawes and Moss are third line wingers on a contending team, not second liners to be counted upon to score goals every game. The Sutters seem to be in the business of collectively denying the organization's lack of offensive depth. It seems quite obvious that a trade for a top line winger would benefit this team, but Darryl is so stubborn that he refuses to acknowledge that the team he has put together is not good enough. That, or he has the patience of a saint. I'm not very hopeful that a deal will get done before the trade deadline, if at all.
This team is going to be in a lot of trouble if they can't get the top line going consistently or at least figure out how to "score by committee." Like many of the Flames' detractors have so eagerly pointed out, their skill and offensive prowess pales in comparison to that of true contenders like Pittsburgh, Washington, San Jose, and Chicago. However, teams like New Jersey operate on relatively limited offensive firepower and still manage to hold down eight spot in the league in terms of goals for and compete for first overall in the East. For more on the Flames' scoring struggles, check out this awesome piece by Kent over at M&G, he articulates the issue far better than I ever could.
The Flames begin a stretch of four games in five nights to close out 2009 tomorrow night at home. The Canucks have been relatively hot lately, and I think we can all agree that the Flames' two wins against them this season have been the result of worse-than-average performances by Luongo and a few lucky bounces. A 4-1 win against the Oilers tonight has brought them to within one point of the Flames, while the Avs and Wild also insist on winning on a regular basis. Again, I don't know what to expect from this team tomorrow. Are they going to come out inspired and ready to take on a divisional opponent, or slow and unprepared, failing to match Vancouver's tempo in the second half of back-to-back games for the 'Nucks? The pessimist in me suspects the latter, given the way this team responded against the Blues on Wednesday.
Game time is 6 PM on Sportsnet West. Ride the stress train for me.
A three-game losing streak would be the worst late Christmas present ever.