The friends we were going with arrived slightly late, so I was pleased to find that the game was delayed. The Hockey Gods seemed to be on my side already. I felt like a tool strolling into the 'Dome without donning either of my historically unlucky Flames jerseys, but I was confident that my red Canada hoodie would ensure victory.
We sat in some wicked club seats right behind the penalty box where I adopted a new philosophy--positive reinforcement. I'm the person that other people can't stand to watch the game on TV with because I'm constantly fidgeting nervously and spewing negative thoughts, so this time I thought I'd try something different. Lots of "Go Flames Go!" and "Way to go (insert player name here!)" and "Nice PK!", "Great block!", etc.
The only two negative comments I made were directed at Kotalik when he whiffed on a play in the offensive zone and Staios when he bobbled the puck just inside the Flames blueline, so I think I did pretty well. I'm pretty sure the couple beside me didn't cheer or speak a word to each other over the entire duration of the game. Then again, they may have been Sens fans; they left shortly after Daniel Alfredsson took a penalty and I shouted "Where's your medal Alfredsson?" across the row. That, or they were annoyed by my incessant commentary.
Anyways, the general consensus seems to be that the game was a little choppy, the Flames didn't play as well as they could have, got some lucky bounces, and found a way to win an important hockey game, which I don't disagree with. I do, however, disagree with the contention that the game was boring and that the Flames' defensive play was just "OK." I'm a sucker for shot-blocking, solid goaltending, a good PK, and an all-over structured game, so needless to say I was entertained throughout.
This game also had a little nastiness right from the opening faceoff; Chris Neil tried to catch Mark Giordano unaware with an open ice hit/elbow which Gio wisely dodged, and the two were at each other for the remainder of the game; there was a scrum after almost every whistle. Although the Flames made frequent trips to the penalty box, a few of the calls were slightly iffy and they did a great job of remaining patient and not getting frustrated by their lack of offense and the inconsistent flow of the game.
I think Ottawa's shot total was largely reflective of how many powerplay opportunities they received, as there were relatively few times where the Flames had a defensive breakdown and got bottled up in their own zone, most of which occurred in the third period. I thought I was alone in thinking that Sarich had a great game, but that seems to be a widely agreed upon fact as well.
I think the Flames' shot blocking was far more impressive in person, I don't think I've seen this team so dedicated to sacrificing their bodies for the win all season and I dare say that it's partially a result of the addition of guys like White and Staios on the blueline. Jay Bouwmeester was credited with four of the team's thirty blocked shots while Sarich had five and Gio led the team with six. Staios was credited with three shots on goal and narrowly missed on a few opportunities with traffic in front of the Senator's net.
I also got a glimpse at just how good Eric Nystrom is defensively. He was fantastic on the penalty kill all evening, blocked a shot which left him hobbling to the dressing room in pain, and assisted on the game winning goal by Jamal Mayers. I think letting him walk as a UFA would be a huge mistake and I hope Darryl finds a way to lock him up. As the Flames were fading slightly in the third period, they started to ramp up their physical play, leading to the 2-0 insurance goal; I was specifically impressed by Jay Bouwmeester, who probably threw his weight around last night more than I've seen him do all season, Ian White, and Chris Higgins, both of whom were solid at each end of the ice.
I didn't think the first line had a huge impact on this game, and Bourque was probably the best of the trio. He had four shots on goal and accumulated four penalty minutes. Iggy had a few chances, but Stajan was probably the least noticeable. There were a few different players on that line throughout the game as well, I think I saw Conroy out there for a shift or two and Higgins as well. The fourth and second lines were probably the best for the Flames, as they contributed to both goals and were consistent throughout sixty minutes of hockey.
Overall, the team seemed to have trouble establishing their forecheck and pressuring Brian Elliot and the Senators' defence, but two opportunistic goals were enough thanks to the play of Kiprusoff in what would be his 34th(!) career shutout. Kipper was magnificent throughout the game, and looked calm and steady when his team was a little shaky in the first and third periods despite getting a little help from his goal posts and a disallowed Ottawa goal, and didn't appear to have to make many overly difficult saves.
The Flames' defence did a pretty good job at keeping most of the Sens' shots to the outside and collapsing to the net. I just wish they would stop trying to cycle the puck along the boards in their own zone so often, as it usually ends up on the stick of an opposing player; as the game went on they started using the glass more to chip the puck out, which I liked.
This wasn't a bad game by any means and another important win in the push for the post season that leaves the Flames tied for seventh in the conference after an epic collapse by the Predators saw the Sharks score six third period goals to win the game 8-5. The whole team will need to be slightly sharper and more energetic when they face the Canucks on Sunday, which should be no problem against a divisional rival, but we've seen them come out flat in games against their supposed nemeses before.
I'll post some of the pictures I took at the game later, unfortunately the responsibilities of real life are calling at the moment.
Also, stay tuned for some potentially exciting news coming up in the next little while.
Go Flames Go.