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.