Friday, January 29, 2010

The Flames' counseling session: What you didn't hear

As you may have read on Calgary Puck, a counsellor was apparently summoned into the Flames' dressing room recently, presumably to mediate between certain players/coaches and get to the bottom of whatever is plaguing this team. Part of me really wants this to be true, only because of the hilarity that would surely arise from a situation involving the Sutters and various Flames players hashing out their innermost feelings with a bunch of shrinks. Adrian Dater would be all over this shit. As with most of the scuttlebutt surrounding the Flames this season, we will probably never know if this is true or not, but why not take the opportunity to elaborate on a potentially humourous event?

This is how I imagine the counseling session went:

Visitor's locker room, Arena, Glendale, Arizona. January 28th, 11:15 AM

Shrink: Hey guys, as you all know, I was brought in today to help you work through some of the problems you've been having as individuals and as a team. There's no sense in keeping it all bottled up inside, as it only causes stress, anger, and resentment; so who wants to start?

Langkow: I will. Dion, you're soooo selfish! It's always all about you, and you have this stupid-looking scowl on your face all the time. Go to hell.

Phaneuf: I don't give a shit, I'm dating Elisha Cuthbert. Fuck you guys. Everyone on this team is so fucking boring. Nobody ever wants to go out or sing karaoke with me. Why can't we be more like the Blackhawks?

Shrink: Mmmhhmm, and how does that make you feel, Daymond? I think we're really getting somewhere here...

Conroy: WELL, I for one---

Shrink: Craig, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to interrupt--you just spoke for twenty minutes; please, let someone else talk.

Iginla: (on the verge of tears) I'm...I'm playing on a line with an AHL call-up and a...and a...a...PUMPKIN HEAD! (sobbing). He's so CLUELESS...he hits the post like, every shift and can't pass to save his life! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!? PLEASE HELP ME!

Shrink: (comforts Jarome) There, there...Ssshhhhh. I am familiar with this. And what do you think, Jay?

Bouwmeester: Well, y'know, it's disappointing, but, we just gotta stick with it, produce a little more offensively, y'know...

Shrink: I don't see how that's relevant here...?

Bouwmeester: Sorry, what was the question? I thought we were talking about me not making Team Canada....

Giordano: (sighs) I should've stayed in Russia...

Shrink: Let's move on. What's your take on this, Eric?

Nystrom: Dude, my head still hurts.

Shrink: Ok, ok...interesting. Miikka, what about you?

Kiprusoff: Mhergfhssdshfkm (walks out).

Shrink: I see. Curtis, any thoughts?

McElhinney: Why am I even here?

Backlund/Lundmark: Umm...yeah...can we go back to Abbotsford now?

Shrink: Good point, good point. I'm sensing some tension here. What about you, Rene?

Bourque: I'm playing for a contract here. I'm the only good left-winger on this team.

Iginla: (gasping) I...m..m...miss...Alex...T..T...Tanguay...

Shrink: Right, yes. Can't argue with that. David, what's your opinion?

Moss: Everyone always talks about how I'm supposed to be "big" and "tough" and a "net presence," but I just don't feel like that's what I'm meant to be, y'know? Like, what does that even mean? They're all like: "score twenty goals, David, go to the net David!" I'm just so confused. I feel like I don't know who I am anymore.

Shrink: (nods) I think we have a real breakthrough here. Brent, do you have any ideas as to why this might be?

B. Sutter: Too casual, I don't like it.

Shrink: Mmmmkay, Darryl?

D. Sutter: I don't care what you think. I ain't making no stinkin' trades.

Shrink: Okay...(looks at watch); Look at the time! I think it's time to wrap this session up, to whom should I send the bill?

D. Sutter: (approaching Dion Phaneuf from behind with a rag doused in chloroform) I'll take care of that.

Shrink: (shakes head and mutters something, leaves the room)


Regehr: So...what d'we do now?

McGrattan: Rent a limo and get wasted?

Glencross: I'll drive.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Like watching a train wreck in slow motion

Like really slow motion. Like you've been expecting it for nearly four years.

This is basically how I feel about the Flames' seven-game slide and subsequent fall from playoff contention. You see it coming, and still can't look away, watching with some kind of sick sense of amusement, just waiting for something big to happen.

And here it is. Mired in an 0-7 slump and with a record of 1-8-1 in their last ten games, the Flames are now down three forwards (Dawes, Moss, Conroy), while the health of others is questionable (Glencross, Lundmark, Sarich, Regehr). On top of that, the ones that are playing can't buy a goal and look about as interested in playing hockey as Patrick Kane does in classy women and being a good role model for young Americans.

And there's more where that came from. A big thanks to Kurtenblog for brightening my day with these gems.

Anyways, the Flames' latest attempt at igniting their dormant offence involves 2007 first-round draft pick Mikael Backlund (10-12-22, -4, 26 PIM), or as he will henceforth be referred to around these parts, Mikey B. It appears as though Lil' Mikey will be thrown right into the proverbial fire tomorrow night in Dallas, suiting up alongside Jarome Iginla in hopes of snapping the Captain's 0-11 scoring drought.

Good luck, kid.

In other news, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies announced today that they plan to appeal Patrice Cormier's season-ending suspension in hopes that he will be able to return for the playoffs and help them contend for a Memorial Cup. The Huskies gave up a lot to get Cormier and other players in anticipation for an extended playoff run, so it is understandable that they would want him back in their lineup, but this decision just seems like a slap in the face to junior hockey, the Quebec Remparts, and Mikael Tam and his family. In my humble opinion, the Huskies should shut up, put their collective heads down, and honour Cormier's punishment; which I still believe is too light, given that his suspension ends if/when the Huskies are eliminated from the playoffs.

Cormier himself issued a short statement saying: "I respect the decision of the QMJHL even if I find it too severe. I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and I wish Mikael Tam a full and speedy recovery. Thanks for your attention."

He declined to answer questions on the team's decision to appeal his suspension.

Around the League...

Wayne Primeau wore the goat horns for the Leafs in their loss to the Kings tonight, as his turnover led to a Jared Stoll goal, which sealed the Blue and White's fate in a 5-3 final. Thank God we rid ourselves of that bum and his deadweight salary, right? Wait...crap.

Finally, I'd like to welcome a new Flames blog to the 'Sphere: Dome Beers. In its short existence, it has already made its way onto the Flames Nation blog roll, which is no small feat and something I'm totally jealous of. Do yourself a favour and pay them a visit.

Up Next: The Flames drop into Big D to kick off a two-game roadie tomorrow night (6:30PM, Fan 960).

Go Flames Go.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wanna get really depressed?

On the surface, a six-game losing streak and falling out of a playoff spot is extremely disheartening, but if you want to get really depressed, I suggest you take a peek at the Flames' real time stats so far this season. I dare you. I'm no stats buff, but even I know when a team's numbers are in the toilet, and the Flames are in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category. Normally, I avoid Sportsnet's articles because, well, they're not all that good, but it's hard to deny the merit of these two scathing indictments written by columnists
Mark Spector and Mike Brophy.

I know that statistics are not always indicative of a team's play/record, just look at the Avalanche this season, but it's the fact that the Flames are weak in areas where they are supposed to be strong which bothers me the most, and their losing ways of late don't do much to de-emphasize that. Sixteenth in the league in hits is not acceptable for a team that is supposed to be punishing and tough to play against at both ends of the ice. Thirteenth in team +/- , and a -3 on home ice, twenty-fourth in the league in giveaways, and fifteenth in blocked shots do not indicate the makings of a good defensive squad. Thirtieth in faceoffs is an abomination for a team whose coach is hell bent on puck possession. A six-game slide has seen the Flames fall to tenth in penalty killing. Poor stats can be masked by an overachieving team, as we saw with the Flames early in the season, but in this case, there seems to be a clear disconnect between philosophy and results.

On the offensive side of things, the numbers aren't surprising, but still appalling. The Flames are near the bottom of the league in all categories--twenty-sixth on the powerplay, twenty-eighth in shots per game, twenty-sixth in goals per game. Even during stretches when these numbers appeared to be on the upswing, it wasn't enough to vault the Flames out of the offensive basement.

As for Brophy's article, his assertions that the Flames lack firepower up front/on defence and are built like a pre-lockout club certainly have some truth to them, but it is not for lack of trying. Sutter tried to build what he thought would be a more mobile defence, and has had success with Bouwmeester and Giordano. He tried to add what he thought was skill and speed with Jokinen, Dawes, and Sjostrom, and tried to give his young drafted players like Moss, Boyd, and Nystrom a chance. Perhaps he was naive and stubborn in believing that these players would make up for the offence lost through the departure of Cammalleri, et al. in the offseason, but weren't we all? Brophy argues that Bouwmeester has not produced as much as was expected of him offensively, which is true, but as a defenceman, that is not necessarily in his job description despite past offensive success with Florida.

He points to the goal Sidney Crosby scored against the Flames earlier this month, where he split the defence and went around Bouwmeester to the front of the net, as evidence for why Jay was rightfully left off of Team Canada. I think Crosby has made nearly every NHL defenceman look silly at some point in his young career, even if Bouwmeester has been victimized by Sid on more than one occasion. One play hardly summarizes his defensive play so far this season, and it's hard to argue that he hasn't played as well as expected in his zone when he leads the team in +/- at +10, which, when you think about it, is a little sad.

Even more so is the stats comparison between the Flames' "Big Three" on defence--Regehr, Phaneuf, and Bouwmeester--to the Capitals' Mike Green. Green has fifty points so far this season, one less than these three players combined. While Green is considered an "offensive defenceman" and scoring on a regular basis is expected of him, the same thing can be said of Phaneuf, based solely on his first two seasons in the league. Regehr has and never will be counted on to score goals, while Bouwmeester is expected to contribute offensively, but not at a detriment to his well-rounded defensive game. The only top-four defenceman to escape criticism this season has, coincidentally, been the only one who has exceeded expectations thus far--Mark Giordano.

It's nearly impossible to defend Darryl Sutter's decision to trade for Jokinen, given his downward trending stats and his performance since arriving in Calgary. This is only amplified by the season that Mike Cammalleri is having in Montreal. With twenty-six goals and fourty-six points, he would be the Flames' leading scorer had Sutter opted to resign him instead of completing the ill-fated deadline deal that signaled the beginning of the end for Cammi in Calgary. As much as Sutter contends that he signed Bouwmeester over Cammalleri vs. Jokinen over Cammalleri, the absence of Jokinen's 5.5 million dollar salary would have probably allowed him room to sign both Cammalleri and Bouwmeester in the off-season.

Brophy rightfully points to Miikka Kiprusoff, who, aside from a few blips, appears to be having another MVP-calibre season, as one of, if not the only, saving graces for this year's Flames squad, but emphasizes that he is desperately in need of assistance, which has been apparent in most of this team's recent losses. With Dawes and Moss placed on Injured Reserve yesterday, the Flames are now lacking forward depth more than ever, and at a time when offensive production has all but shut down completely.

Now would obviously be the time for any potential trade to be made. It doesn't have to be a flashy, Kovalchuk-esque deal; the slightest addition could bolster this team's offensive attack, perhaps in the form of a player like Ray Whitney or Colby Armstrong, both of which have been mentioned in trade rumours involving the Flames on separate occasions this season. But we all know Darryl's MO--he has once again stubbornly overestimated the skill and depth of his team, and he will likely ride it out to the bitter end, regardless of results, regardless of obvious deficiencies.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

St. Louis tomorrow. The Blues sit just six points back of the Flames, now tied for eighth in the West with the Red Wings.

Go Flames Go.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mikael Tam speaks

As a follow-up to my last post, here is some video of the press conference that Mikael Tam, the victim of Patrice Cormier's vicious elbow last weekend, held today in Quebec:

See more from TSN here and here.

First off, it is beyond wonderful to see him out of hospital and addressing the media without any visible ailments, apart from a few missing teeth, given how severe the injury appeared at the time. Remember, the trainer who attended to Tam admitted that he thought the kid was dead. Tam doesn't address his playing future or any possible return date, as it is probably too early in the rehabilitation process to determine. I imagine we'll hear more from him upon learning Cormier's fate on Monday, since Tam was prevented from discussing Cormier or the hit in today's statement. In the minds of Mikael Tam's family, no punishment will likely be severe enough for the man who almost ended their loved one's life, nevermind his playing career. Yesterday, Zack Kassian was suspended twenty games by the Ontario Hockey League following this hit on Matt Kennedy, who is now considering retirement at age twenty after sustaining his fifth concussion.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the whole video is when he talks about wondering if his family and friends would stick by him in the case of a life-altering injury; I can't begin to imagine how lonely and painful that must have been.

The worst part of the whole clip, however, was having to watch replays of the hit in the background. I found myself turning away from the television when I saw it on Sportsnet earlier tonight.

As expected, Cormier released an exclusive statement to RDS denying any attempt to injure Tam, but took responsibility for his actions and their consequences. He also claimed that he has tried to contact Tam on several occasions to express his remorse, but was prevented from doing so by the Remparts.

Needless to say, I wish Mikael Tam a speedy and successful recovery and hope to see him playing again someday soon.

There's also the small matter of the Flames dropping their sixth straight game and falling into ninth place in the West, but I'll address that at another time (i.e. tomorrow).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Cormier...

I actually wrote this yesterday, but then the Debacle of Otherworldly Proportions happened and I got distracted. Anyways, here's my two cents on the Cormier issue:

I don't know much about Patrice Cormier's junior career outside of his stints with the Canadian national Junior team and, obviously, recent developments, but his use of his elbows to inflict damage on opposing players has earned him comparisons to a young Chris Pronger. Cormier, as TSN's Bob McKenzie points out, had a reputation as a hard-working, physical, energy guy before this year's World Junior Championship, but still had a tendency to cross the line and has been suspended previously, for two games in 2008.

Discipline was an issue for Cormier at last year's tournament, and when he delivered two dangerous hits to the head to Sweden's Anton Rodin and Finland's Teemu Hartikainen during pre-competition play, those problems were reinforced. After head coach Willie Desjardins had a little chat with Cormier and stressed the importance of discipline with all his players, it seemed he had turned a corner and made limited trips to the sin bin for the remainder of the tournament. Then comes this hit on the Remparts' Mikael Tam. I suppose it could be argued that since Cormier didn't face any supplementary discipline for his actions at the WJHC and wasn't forced to own up to anything, he didn't learn from his mistakes. The case can also be made that the two incidents involving Cormier weren't the only displays of "dirty" play at the tournament. However, this hit and the resulting injury represents a new level of irresponsible, disrespectful, and just plain stupid play.

Cormier was escorted off the ice while medical staff attended to the eighteen-year-old defenceman, who was experiencing seizures and reportedly stopped breathing for thirty-seconds. He was listed as in stable condition, with a broken jaw, missing teeth, and "trauma to the skull and brain," and has been released from hospital after results from a brain scan were deemed "normal." The QMJHL has responded by suspending Cormier indefinitely, and the Quebec Remparts are supposedly considering pressing criminal charges, likely citing intent to injure due to the way Cormier leapt off the bench on a line change and made a beeline for a vulnerable Tam.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello defended his prospect, saying he spoke with Cormier and doesn't believe a season-long suspension is necessary. Defending a member of your organization is understandable and commendable, but surely Lou would feel differently if the roles were reversed and it was his player laying motionless on the ice after a vicious hit? Does he really want to take the chance that Cormier will repeat his actions at the NHL level? Chris Pronger has earned a reputation for dirty and undisciplined play; he isn't going to win any sportsmanship awards, but he's a leader and a winner, and is still one of the most effective defencemen in the league. It's too early to tell whether or not Cormier will follow the same path.

Perhaps there was a little bit of bad luck involved. Maybe the intent to injure wasn't there as it appears in the video. We will probably never know, but there is no question that there is no place for Cormier's actions in the game of hockey, especially at the junior level. If junior hockey is going to turn the corner and make an example of Cormier, now is their chance. It must be frustrating to be Colin Campbell, David Branch, or Gill Courteau. It seems like no rules and no disciplinary actions are forceful enough to dissuade players from making irresponsible, reckless decisions on the ice. This is an ongoing and disturbing trend amongst not only Canadian junior hockey players, but NHL-level players as well, and it needs to be stopped at all costs. Hockey is a tough sport, without question, and is not for everyone, but players' lives are being endangered; there is a lot more than the sanctity of the game at stake here. Admitting that our game is flawed is perhaps the hardest part, but it's a necessary first step in finding a solution.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An epic clusterfuck

A nine to one loss to the San Jose Sharks. A five-game losing streak. What now?

The motherfucking Blackhawks, that's what.

I don't know how to respond to this; really, it's surreal to me that a team, only four points out of first place in its division, could play so poorly against a team that they are supposed to be competing with for one of the top spots in the Western conference. How a team, mere pennies away from the cap ceiling and stacked to the gills with supposed top-tier talent, can concede nine goals in a game, allowing fourty-six shots on goal, while answering with only one? How any group of NHL-calibre players can finish a single game with a combined rating of -18?

After losing a close one last night in Anaheim, not one single player on this team showed up focused and ready to play. It showed, as the Sharks exploited the Flames' barely-there defence and went all Harlem Globetrotters on their asses within minutes of the opening faceoff. This seems to be an ongoing problem with this team, no matter the coach, no matter the assortment of players. I'm not going to make accusations of character flaws, complacency, lack of commitment to winning, or off-ice distractions. All of those things are certainly possible, but petty nonetheless.

Brent Sutter offered up the same old diatribe as he does after each and every unflattering loss; they're embarrassed, he's speechless, there are "issues" that need to be resolved. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if these "issues" haven't been resolved by the 50-game mark, they're not damn well getting resolved. And that's not Brent's fault; regardless of the "systems" he is preaching, these players know what they have to do, how they have to play, not only to be successful, but to win on a consistent basis. These guys are NHL players. They know what it takes to win, at any level. The problem is, they're not willing to do it nearly often enough.

The Flames have been "embarrassed" far too often for a team contending for a division title and a playoff spot, in my opinion. They blew a five to nothing lead to Blackhawks in October. Lost seven to one on home ice to the very same team in November. Turned in a listless effort at home in a five to one loss to the Canucks just last month. Hell, I found getting shutout one to nothing at home against the Predators embarrassing. This is beyond embarrassment; this is an epic clusterfuck.

How many "wake-up calls" does this team need? At this point, it appears they've OD'd on sleeping pills and the front desk at the hotel is closed. It's up to the players, the leaders, and management to see if they can be revived or not.

It's frustrating because Brent Sutter is not a bad coach, Darryl Sutter is not a bad general manager, and these are not bad players. So how do you explain this team's nosedive into mediocrity, unless they were simply overachieving until now?

I commend Darryl Sutter and Flames management for their ongoing commitment to building the best team possible. He's done almost everything in his power to build a winning franchise, and hasn't gotten the desired results. It must be discouraging to watch the team you thought could compete with the league's best flounder. Cap management issues and failure to address the team's scoring needs aside, he has dragged this organization back to respectability, and it appears that he's done all he can do. I think it might be time for him to move on.

Is a trade really going to fix things, or just act as a band-aid solution? A hasty deal can't be done in order to appease impatient fans. If a trade is going to be made, it has to make sense for the team going forward, beyond the end of this season, and will likely occur at the deadline or the draft. Do we trust the management team's judgement after the way the Jokinen deal turned out? If this losing streak has taught us anything, it's that this team's problems aren't going to fix themselves, that the bounces maybe aren't going to even out over time like people were saying mere days ago, and that even consistent good play can't be counted on to produce results.

We are in a world of hurt here and don't have a glorified history to fall back on. In a small, Canadian market with a hockey-crazed fan base that wants a winning team, what is there to lose? The Flames built on the momentum of one successful season and dragged it on for as long as humanly possible. Clearly, that is no way to build a team that is going to be consistently competitive in the future.

Am I suggesting that the Flames hire a new general manager, scrap everything, and rebuild? No, there are some very good players on this team and others that they could probably do without, but when you're not getting results, changes have to be made, and not just to the coaching staff. Maybe tanking the remainder of the season in hopes for a shot at Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin isn't such a bad idea after all. Then again, the Flames would probably use their pick to draft some unheard-of centreman with hands of stone because of his "size."

I am envious of Oilers, Senators, and Leafs fans. You know what you're getting, straight up: a shitty team that probably isn't going to make the playoffs. What do we get? A team that parades around like a big tease, looking all shiny and promising and talented, only to prove year after year that it's nothing but a facade. False advertising. And every year we fall for it, buy into the hype, ignore the warning signs, only to have our hearts broken yet again. The Flames are the man-eaters of the NHL.

You'd think we'd know better by now, but alas, our vision is clouded by unconditional love for a franchise with little indication of long-term improvement and/or gratification. Such is the plight of a sports fan, I suppose.

I don't know what the solution to the Flames' problems are. I don't really know anything apart from the fact that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I love this team and want them to do well. Any decision that somehow facilitates that is alright with me.

Somehow, this post has transitioned from unadulterated anger to quiet acceptance. Funny how that happens.

Chicago on Thursday.

Cheer when they're up, cheer harder when they're down. And boy, are they ever down.

Go Flames Go.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hard times and positive affirmations

Friday night's loss represented a new low for this team; getting shutout at home against a team they had beaten only a few weeks back in an absolute snoozer of a game where the lone goal scored by the Predators after a series of defensive blunders decided the Flames' fate. Even more discouraging was the fact that the recent dominance in terms of shots, chances, and possession was nowhere to be seen and a powerplay unit that showed signs of improvement in Wednesday's loss to the Pens faltered once again.

This loss to the Ducks brought us to a whole 'nother level of suck. Goals were scored. Goals were allowed. It wasn't pretty. Down 3-1 after twenty, the Flames took advantage of some sloppy defending by Anaheim and took a 4-3 lead into the final frame. It was all down hill from there, however, as the Ducks would score twice to regain the lead, despite being outshot 19-7. The end result? A 5-4 loss and the Flames' first four-game skid of the season.

This loss is probably the hardest to stomach of the bunch. They had this game under control and let it slip away. The powerplay let them down again and a combination of poorly executed defence and below average goaltending fueled their demise in the third period. The pairing of Sarich and Pardy was a combined -4, and McElhinney, while clutch at times, wasn't able to shut the door when it mattered most.

It appears we will be forced to choose between offence and defence until this team learns how to satisfy the need for both within the confines of Brent Sutter's system and a sixty-minute game. If you're going to score four goals, you have to allow three or less. Sure, scoring requires a certain element of risk-taking, and I'm glad to see that that has been reintroduced into the Flames' game plan, but it all means nothing without defensive responsibility and capable goaltending to back it up.

After a disastrous December, a five game winning streak that extended into the New Year gave us hope. Now, I can't help but wonder if the wheels have come off for good.

These are the hard times, my friends.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Or something like that.

Sharks tomorrow.

Go Flames Go.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Game day musings--Hoping for a miracle

In case you haven't heard, Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins are in town (7:30 PM, TSN).

It's kind of a big deal. Sid can't even leave his hotel room for fear of being mauled by hockey-crazed Calgarians. Can you blame us? We're having trouble remembering what a potential fifty-goal scorer looks like.

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a huge Crosby fan myself, and shamelessly jumped on the Penguins bandwaggon when the Flames were ousted from the playoffs last spring.

The 'Dome is being swarmed by giggling tweens in Crosby and Malkin baby tees and starry-eyed pee-wee players eager for a glimpse of their favourite playoff performers as we speak.

Outscoring, and subsequently beating, the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight will likely require a miracle. The Pens' forwards are fast, skilled, and waiting to exploit every mistake made by the opposition. A quick glimpse at the Penguins' top-six is enough to make any Flames fan burst into tears; inferiority is an understatement. Every man on the bench, including the coaches, will have to play a virtually error-free game and execute their game plan to a tee if they hope to come out on top.

The defence will have to be perfect, Kiprusoff will have to be exeptional, and the forwards will have to be relentless. While the Flames' recent performance in terms of outshooting and out-chancing the opposition is encouraging, they still have to focus on turning in a sixty-minute effort and sustaining the style of play that makes them successful throughout the game. Any lapse in their compete level against a team like the Penguins will kill them.

As for the lineup, the Flames comfirmed speculation that Jamie Lundmark would indeed be back a day after being sent down to Abbotsford with the news of Craig Conroy's return from injury, after defenceman Staffan Kronwall cleared waivers and was subsequently demoted to the Heat. He will once again get the chance to suit up on the Flames' top line alongside Jokinen and Iginla, who has been held pointless in his past four games despite recent inspired efforts.

It'll be interesting to see if McGrattan draws into the lineup, and will likely depend on whether or not the Penguins dress fellow goon and former Flame Eric Godard. If there is one area where the Flames out-shine the Pens, I dare say Gratts is ever-so-slightly better at hockey than Godard. That, and their powerplay might just be worse than Calgary's, if you can believe it. That being said, the Flames don't want to provide the Penguins with too many opportunities to break out of their man-advantage funk, and will have to avoid the kind of boneheaded penalties that got them in trouble Monday night against Colorado. To make matters worse, the now infamous Stephane Auger will be sharing officiating duties tonight.

The Flames have been a slump-buster of sorts for struggling teams recently, and that trend could very well extend into tonight's contest. I've been pleasantly surprised by this team before in games against great teams; I don't anticipate this being such an occasion.


Go Flames Go.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I want Craig Anderson dead

Seriously, how many times can this happen?

Aside from a ten-minute lapse which saw the Avs score twice to tie the game at two in the second period, the Flames dominated this game. They fired fourty-six shots at Craig Anderson and were gifted with a powerplay in the dying minutes of regulation, which carried over into an eventual two-man advantage in overtime, on which they failed to score.

As per usual in games against the Avs, the end result left me with a hoarse voice and the desire to chuck my BlackBerry at the nearest wall, like I did after the loss to Columbus on Friday. I know the Flames aren't exactly stacked offensively, but how can any team accumulate fourty-six shots on goal and only score twice? Yes, Anderson was good. He definitely stole the game for the Avs, but he is beatable, as the Flames proved earlier in the game. He also got plenty of help from the team in front of him, who blocked twenty-seven shots, and the Flames also missed the net on eleven attempts.

They weren't all top-quality shots, and the Flames sometimes appeared as if they were trying for the perfect play or the perfect shot, but at the end of the day, Anderson stopped all but two.

Which brings me to this conclusion:

I want Craig Anderson dead. I'll hire Keith Ballard if I have to.
He looks like a mouse and is too much of a goody-two-shoes to say "ass" on TSN (around the 1:25 mark).

Watching this team try to set up a play or a shot is sometimes painful. Watching the game at home, you can see that shooting or passing lanes are opening up, but the players don't take advantage. They pass when they should have shot and shoot when they should have passed. They wait too long and fire the puck into an opposing player's shinpads, often resulting in an odd-man rush against. Obviously, this is most evident on the powerplay, which the Flames haven't scored on for five straight games and have scored just three powerplay goals in their past eleven games. They had three prime opportunities to end the game with the man advantage and were unable to capitalize on them, which cost them the extra point.

Again, we all went into the season knowing that this team wasn't outrageously talented, but the inability to finish, with the man advantage when a point and sole possession of first place in the division is on the line, is unacceptable and needs to be rectified. Jarome Iginla is in the midst of a four-game pointless streak, and the Flames' secondary scoring has all but disappeared, with players like Dawes, Sjostrom, and Boyd (until tonight) experiencing lengthy droughts. I don't know if it's going to require something as simple as switching up the players on the first and second powerplay units, changing the strategy with the extra man, or acquiring a more creative forward, but it has to get better, especially with games against teams like the Penguins, Hawks, and Sharks coming up. This team's inability to finish is costing them points and wins, which become even more crucial as the season wears on and the division and conference standings become more highly contested.

I've said it before when this team has been struggling offensively, but that Ray Whitney deal which was supposedly close to fruition earlier this season may not be such a bad idea after all, especially if he scores goals like this, against Colorado to boot:

Think about it Darryl; for the sake of my (questionable) sanity.


I hate Alex Burrows as much as the next Flames fan, but his shocking testimony of referee Stephane Auger's
pre-game threats and sub-sequent exaction (is that a word?) of revenge for previous grievances is a huge blow
to what little credibility NHL officials have left.

Up Next: The defending Stanley Cup champions are in town on Wednesday (7:30PM, TSN) for a game
which I have been begging for tickets to since before the Flames' schedule was announced. I will be living
vicariously through those of you in attendance.

Go Flames Go.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Post-game Party: This one feels good

One of the main reasons I'm a self-professed pessimist is so that when my favourite hockey team turns in an effort like the one they did the other night in Vancouver, I am even more ecstatic than normal.

Given my workplace's preference for all things NFL, I missed the first two periods of Saturday's game, and was relieved to see the score tied at two after I had anticipated a blowout. I was even more pleased to see that the Flames were outshooting their divisional rivals 37-16 in the final frame.

Despite many prime opportunities to run away with the contest and regulation and some dim-witted Canucklehead's attempts to blind Miikka Kiprusoff, the game went into overtime and would eventually go to a shootout, where the Flames scored on all three shots, including the winner by resident Mr. Clutch, Jamie Lundmark, who also scored in regulation to tie things up at two after Vancouver had taken the lead. The Canucks scored on two shots and hit the post on another, preserving the two points for the good guys; and boy did they ever need it.

I wasn't aware of exactly how dominant the Flames' effort was before reading numerous game summaries and looking at stats that I have limited understanding of; Jarome Iginla, reunited in a futile first line pairing with Olli Jokinen, had arguably his best game of the season against top-quality opposition, and fired six of the team's fourty shots in Lunongo's direction. David Moss led the offensive charge with eight shots on goal. Not only did the boys in red outchance their rivals offensively, but they also punished them physically, outhitting the Canucks 39-22 and engaging in two lengthy scraps, both involving Brandon Prust and Rick Rypien. For some reason, Canucks fans are upset about this hit, accusing Rene Bourque of hitting Tanner Glass from behind, when Glass, clearly uninjured, exacted his revenge against Nigel Dawes with a similar hit later in the game, and got two minutes for his troubles.

Needless to say, this one feels good after two lacklustre efforts against lacklustre teams.

While an effort and a victory of this magnitude against a team that seemed unbeatable is encouraging, tough times lie ahead, starting with this evening's contest against the Avalanche (8PM, Sportsnet). The Avs own a 3-0 edge in the season series against their rocky mountain rivals, and the Flames would surely love nothing more than to wipe those smug little smirks off their baby faces. Easier said than done. The last time the Northwest division lead was on the line, the Flames churned out a less-than impressive performance that had Brent Sutter fuming, yet again. This is the last chance that the Flames have to make up ground in the six-game series at the 'Dome, as the next two contests will be played in Denver.

Former Flames' prospects Craig Anderson and Ryan Wilson always put on a show against their former team and, if you follow me on Twitter, you already know how I feel about Wojtek Wolski.

With the Canucks hosting the Predators tonight, this game becomes all the more important in the division standings; the Flames could very well find themselves in third place in the Northwest when this evening's events wrap up.

On the other hand, they could also find themselves in first.

Expect lots of locker-room-argument related jokes via Twitter from Adrian Dater; apparently they never get old.

Go Flames Go.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

3/6 Canadian coaches and John Tortorella are really f--ing pissed

Brent Sutter joined Pat Quinn and Ron Wilson in a trifecta of angry bench bosses North of the border in his post-game tirade after the Flames' 3-2 loss to the cellar-dwelling Blue Jackets. It wasn't quite on par with a John Tortorella-esque profanity-laced meltdown, but it ranked pretty high on the Brent Sutter Surliness Meter. Watch the video, since I can't be bothered to type it out verbatim:

Everyone wants a consistent, predictable hockey team. We want to know that they are going to come out and play a specific style of game every night, and when they don't, they'll do it the next night. Coming from New Jersey, one of the most consistent franchises of all time, this situation is obviously new to Sutter. Sure, there was an adjustment period when he took over coaching duties and the team learnt his "systems," but they still earned a 46-29-7 record, good for ninety-nine points, in 2007-08. The season after that? Even better; the Devils went 51-27-4 with 106 points in a year where Martin Brodeur missed a good chunk of the season due to injury.

The New Jersey franchise has long been the picture of success and consistency. The players within the organization know what is expected of them night in and night out: to be responsible defensively and still score enough goals to beat the opposition. This is not an uncommon philosophy, and one that the Sutter brothers clearly share. Players that have been in Calgary long enough--Iginla, Conroy, Langkow, Regehr--know that this is what is expected of them. What else can a coach or a general manager do or say to reinforce this? The onus really is on the players.

The fact of the matter is, this team simply isn't talented enough to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon it. They are not built to excel in the regular season, nevermind the playoffs. From the crease to the blueline, sure, but even then I have my doubts, namely about Robyn Regehr's health and Dion Phaneuf's career potential. Up front is where the real problems begin. Anything more than the production we are currently seeing from the forwards is simply overachievement, as we learnt at the beginning of the season. Sure, the defence could chip in a little more, but that's not what they're there for. Your top-six guys are supposed to carry the team, and the bottom six guys are meant to provide supplementary scoring when the big guns can't get it done. As of now, not a single forward on this team is fulfilling their role. The fact that the Flames don't really have much of a distinction between top-six and bottom-six on their roster outside of three, maybe four forwards is where the situation gets even more convoluted.

I am well aware that the Flames aren't the only team in the league with this problem. If they had a real first line that didn't rely on offensive production from AHL call-ups, they might be able to mask the problem a little better. While a trade for a top-six forward still seems like the most viable solution to this team's problems, there is still the matter of said forward finding chemistry with teammates and fitting into the lineup at his desired position. Sometimes, that doesn't happen (ie: Tanguay, Jokinen). The Flames seem to have bad luck in trading for the aforementioned coveted first-liner, and Cammalleri was really the only one that had success in that position, but Darryl screwed that one up royally when he acquired Jokinen at last year's trade deadline.

I don't want to perpetuate any rumours circulating out there on the web, but if there is any truth to the claims that scouts from several teams have been in attendance at some of the Flames' recent games, a deal could be more imminent than anyone in the organization is willing to let on. The Flames' well documented surplus in defencemen fuels speculation that a blueliner could be on the move, in return for some scoring help. Then again, Hockey Buzz has Olli Jokinen on the move to Nashville, which I would truly love to believe.

As for tonight's game, the Flames had some bad puck luck and the stats weren't all that bad (I think), but their effort wasn't near good enough in all zones. Too many turnovers, odd-man rushes, lax defensive coverage, not enough shots on goal, and bad decisions with the puck all added up to a Flames loss; their second in a row and second to a non-playoff team. These are invaluable points, up for grabs against a team that shouldn't be beating the Flames at all, never mind in their own building.

If this was all they could muster against the Blue Jackets, I hate to imagine what the end result of tomorrow's game in Vancouver (8PM, CBC) will be. Playing a rested Canucks team that has gone 11-1-2 in their past fourteen games, boasting the league's hottest line, on the second night of back-to-backs on the road undoubtably equals one massive failure. I'm considering taking bets on the over/under for how many goals the Sedin-Sedin-Burrows line will score in the first period alone. I'm past the point where I hope for miracles against good teams, or hope to be pleasantly surprised by this team's performance. I usually know when to expect a win, and when to expect a loss. The Flames' upcoming schedule will not be kind to them in terms of results, and as hard as I'm trying to accept that, I know I'll still be disappointed when they lose; and that's the worst part of it all.

Being a fan is not an easy job. Trying to put it into words is even harder.

Go Flames Go.

Search This Blog