Thursday, December 17, 2009

Post-game Party: The rocky road to redemption

Well we kicked the skid, although not with as much authority as I would have liked.

The Flames came storming out of the gate against the Kings at the 'Dome tonight, eager to set the tempo for what was a hard-fought, physical contest. Mark Giordano and Aaron Johnson were especially punishing on the blueline, as Giordano drew the ire of the Kings after dealing a series of solid jolts to their captain Dustin Brown, who was held to only one shot on goal and was visibly upset on the Kings bench. Brown attempted retaliation later in the game on a few hits that Gio managed to dodge, including an attempted elbow to the head that surely would have been reviewed by the league had it connected.

After a solid first period in which the Flames managed to kill off two straight Kings powerplays, they registered a powerplay goal of their own when Dion Phaneuf blasted a slapper through traffic with only 0.7 seconds left in the opening frame. The second period was essentially dead even, with each team firing eleven shots at the opposing 'tender. The third period is where things started to go downhill. After Nigel Dawes scored to put the Flames up 2-0 early in the final frame, the Kings took over. At one point, scoring chances were 9-3 in favour of L.A., and things started to get really sloppy at around the five minute mark.

After a couple good shifts in the offensive zone by the Kings during which the Flames failed to exit their zone after multiple opportunities, Robyn Regehr was dinged with an interference penalty. After a successful kill, the Flames iced the puck as Regehr stepped out of the box. A faceoff in the defensive zone led to more pressure from the Kings, and Corey Elkins shoveled home his first NHL tally to cut the Flames' lead in half. Thankfully, the Hockey Gods smiled down upon the Flames just minutes later, and presented them with a gift of a powerplay opportunity after an interference call on Justin Williams in front of the Flames net. Having already met their maximum powerplay goal-per-game quota of one, the Flames failed to generate any shots on the man advantage, and the Kings were back on the attack shortly thereafter.

During a rare shift in the Kings' zone, Williams struck again, this time clipping Public Enemy #1 Mark Giordano with a high stick with just over ninety-seconds remaining in the game. What followed resembled nothing remotely close to a powerplay, as the Kings set up shop once again in the Flames zone. With a minute remaining in the contest, Jay Bouwmeester, who has been average at best in recent games, took an idiotic cross-checking penalty after failing to clear the puck, resulting in one of the most stressful final minutes of a game in recent memory. After winning a faceoff to the right of Kiprusoff with 1.2 seconds left in the game, the Kings directed a final shot netward for a grand total of sixteen in the third period and thirty-five overall before the Flames managed to escape with the much-needed two-points.

This victory offers little comfort to Flames fans, as another incomplete and inconsistent game almost saw them squander a two-goal lead and fourty-five minutes worth of good hockey. Again, if it wasn't for Miikka Kiprusoff's MVP-like performance in goal, this game would likely have ended much differently. The inability of this team to exit and clear the zone cleanly remains a major area of concern and frustration, and to me, separates them from the elite teams in the league.

Watching a team like Pittsburgh, Chicago, or New Jersey play, it is enviable how quickly and smoothly their players exit the defensive zone, aided by crisp passes from defencemen to forwards. There is no getting hemmed in by the opposition, no scrambling around, no failing to get to loose pucks or getting outworked along the boards. These shortcomings have been painfully obvious lately, and what seemed to be one of their strong points in November is now an area in need of much improvement.

Adam Pardy's recovery from a sprained wrist helps to bolster the backend, I thought he had a pretty good game tonight, but the Flames as a group need to recommit to team defence. Allowing over thirty shots on goal every game, regardless of the ability of your goaltender, is irresponsible. If the Flames' team defence improves, the offence will surely follow. Taking a 2-0 lead early in the third might seem like justification to "take your foot of the gas," but not to the extent that you are getting outshot 16-3. Jarome Iginla and Nigel Dawes led the Flames with three shots a piece; the Kings? Doughty and Kopitar both had six while Justin Williams registered seven shots on goal, despite spending four minutes in the penalty box.

This is the second straight game where the effort of this club has fallen flat in the third period, only this time, they were up by two goals instead of tied. It reminds me of the beginning of the season, when the Flames were eking out wins based on the merits of twenty or fourty minute efforts. While the sense of "urgency" and tenacity that has been relatively absent over the duration of their now defunct three-game slide made an appearance tonight, the Flames still need to show a consistent commitment to the style of play that they know makes them successful and a tough team to play against.

In other news...

Thanks to kind-hearted Oilers blogger Jay from Low On Oil who has been spreading the word about my humble little blog, I have received an invitation to join the Bloguin Network as a Flames blogger (duh)! Needless to say I am honoured and extremely excited to join such a diverse and knowledgeable community of sports bloggers. It will likely take a month or more for the new site to be established, and in the meantime I am considering changing the name of this blog to something more Flames-related. So far, Jay has suggested "Fan the Flames," which I modified to "Fanning the Flames." I welcome your suggestions in the comments section, or feel free to send me an email at

Up Next: The Flames host the streaking Nashville Predators in a matinee game on Saturday. The Preds have won three straight and are a respectable 9-5-2 on the road; this game will be a tough test for a Flames team that hopes to get back on track before Christmas and has struggled to find consistency at home. By the way, what is the deal with Jamie Lundmark? Does anybody have the vaguest idea as to why the Flames have recalled him when there are no injuries plaguing the forward ranks that I'm aware of? It doesn't even appear on the team's website. He is just lurking about town with no intended purpose. Very odd indeed.

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