Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flames look to do what Canadian juniors couldn't, shoot for sixth straight win in Minny

I blame Canada's loss in the gold medal game at the World Juniors on two things:

1) Nothing rhymes with six (ie: "drive for five")
2) Pepsi. Damn you and your stupid cheer.

Really, I can't whole-heartedly defend an undisciplined Canadian squad that seemed to have trouble executing their game plan and took shifts off at crucial times. They just didn't look all there too many times during this tournament, and it cost them. Perhaps something can be said of injuries to top defencemen and questionable officiating, but those are petty excuses. If anything, this loss reminds us that winning requires equal parts hard work, skill, and discipline; gold medals have to be earned, they are not simply awarded based on pedigree.

I give the Americans full marks for playing an opportunistic, well-rounded game and exposing Canada's weaknesses; they've finally banished their WJHC demons, winning their second gold medal and beating Canada en route to both tournament titles. With the loss, Canada remains tied with Russia with fifteen golds. And if you weren't already pissed about that, watch this video of the American players celebrating in their dressing room after the game. That'll do it for you.

Canada's goaltending and defence simply hasn't been up to snuff at the past two World Junior tournaments. They can't rely on their offence, specifically Jordan "The Messiah" Eberle, to bail them out every time they find themselves down by a goal or two in big games. Even in wins against Slovakia and Switzerland, Canada lacked that authoritative dominance that we've seen from them in the past, and it was certainly nowhere to be seen against the Americans, despite two inspiring two-goal comebacks.

A silver medal is nothing to be ashamed of, but in a sport and a tournament where it's gold or bust, this one stings.

Not only do we have to put up with Edmonton's Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who will undoubtably suit up for the Oilers next season, but we also have Vancouver's first round pick in '09 Jordan Schroeder (who the Flames passed up on in favour of defencemen Tim Erixon, much to my chagrin) to contend with.

The Flames' prospects, on the other hand, didn't fare so well in this tournament. Greg Nemisz collected one meagre point, a goal against the Americans in a losing cause. Joni Ortio struggled on a disappointing Finnish squad that failed to earn a medal and Tim Erixon was injured after taking a hard hit early in the tournament. However, he still collected three points in five games and was a +3.

We'll let you have this one, America; you earned it. We'll be sure to show you a thing or two about hockey in Vancouver. Zach Parise could very well be eating his words in little more than a month.

For a tongue-in-cheek, unabashedly chest-thumping take on the USA's gold medal victory, check out The Two-Line Pass.

Alright, being that this is a Flames blog, I suppose I should write something on the team in question. The Flames secured a 3-1 road victory over the Nashville Predators last night, good for a season-high five game winning streak and first place in the Northwest division. They played a textbook Sutter-hockey road game, a fairly conservative attack combined with well-executed shut-down defence, and got goals from slumping forwards David Moss and Olli Jokinen before Langkow sealed the deal with an empty-netter. After nearly a month of the exact opposite, games and wins like this are a welcome sight. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love boring hockey. Defence first, smart, grind-it-out games are truly a pleasure to watch. Win or lose, if the Flames continue to play this way on a consistent basis, I'll be a happy camper. I'm not going to deny the fact that this team still needs offensive help, but if Kiprusoff and the defence continue to operate at the level they have been in recent games, the need may not be as urgent as originally thought.

If there's one team that can beat us at our own game, it's the Minnesota Wild, coincidentally Calgary's opponent tonight (6PM, Fan 960). The Wild fired fourty-five shots at Kiprusoff in a 2-1 overtime victory at the 'Dome the last time these two teams met. At the time, the Flames were mired in a near December-long slump, so it'll be interesting to see if they can resume their typical levels of dominance against a struggling Minnesota squad trying to avoid a five-game slide. Both teams played last night, and the team that proves most able to overcome fatigue throughout the game will undoubtably come away with the two points.

The Flames got Cory Sarich back from a nineteen-game stint on IR last night against the Preds, and according to the Flames' website, he won't suit up tonight. However, there is no mention of Craig Conroy's injury, so I suspect they may have confused the two. Jason Jaffray, called up from the Heat to fill Conroy's vacated skates, had two shots on goal in 5:25 of ice time. Dion Phaneuf appears to be a-okay after leaving Saturday's game with an apparent arm injury while former Flame Owen Nolan will likely sit this one out for the Wild. All signs point to Kiprusoff starting his second game in as many nights, and why not, he's 24-7-4 against the Wild all time. Line combinations appear unchanged for both teams.

Finally, never one to keep his mouth shut, Theo Fleury lets us know how he really felt about getting cut by the Flames, putting down Craig Conroy and Darryl Sutter in the process, and gives us his take on the Flames' playoff chances on his blog. He also offers up a trade proposal, sending Robyn Regehr packing in favour of some offensive help for Iginla. Pretty sure that one's been done before, but you be the judge of that.

Given the un-televised nature of tonight's game combined with the fact that I'll be at work, I will likely miss most if not all of it. Scream profanities at your computer/radio for me.

Go Flames Go.

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