Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shit is about to get real

This is it, folks.
Starting tomorrow at 8:00PM, every goal, save, hit, shot, blocked shot, you name it, it counts. It's going in the record books. There's no turning back now.

If there is one thing the Blogosphere should know about me, it's that I dislike predictions. I don't like making them, I don't like reading them, sure I agree with some, but in the end, a part of me just appreciates the innate unpredictability that is professional sports.

Yes, a certain amount of consistency is reassuring, but being able to project the exact amount of points a player will score, and the Eastern and Western Conference standings down to the number of wins, losses, and points each team will accumulate, frankly, takes all the fun out of being a fan. So, as an alternative, I have compiled a list of things to look forward to in the 2009-10 NHL season, for your viewing pleasure:

1) Return to an identity of some sort: I am slowly getting back into the habit of watching full games again after Jim Playfair wrenched me out of my cozy Sutter comfort zone and Mike Keenan launched me into a perpetual state of hand-wringing and what I call GDA (Game Day Anxiety--symptoms include irritability, moodiness, unexplainable angst and feelings of dread, random acts of violence, and belief in ridiculous superstitions and reverse psychology). I have high hopes that with a member of the Sutter clan back behind the bench, we will find a cure for GDA and stability and consistency will prevail in Flames Nation.

2) Epic division/conference battles: As always, the Northwest Division is expected to be ultra-competitive (for the most part). The long-standing rivalries between the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers only seem to intensify with age. I can hardly wait for the 'Dome to erupt the first time Robyn Regehr obliterates one of the Sedin twins and/or Ales Hemsky.

With the Flames and Canucks expected to contend for the Northwest title, we can likely expect more than a few memorable tilts between two, starting tomorrow night. Brouhahas and barn-burners galore. After that, the NW could be a total crapshoot, as the Oilers and Wild both look to contend for a playoff spot after under-going dramatic changes both on the ice and behind the bench. While it seems safe to assume the Avalanche will pull up the rear yet again as they continue to rebuild after the retirement of Joe Sakic, you never know.

The Western Conference is very much the same. You have your contenders--Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, and to a lesser extent Anaheim, Vancouver, and Calgary--then you've got the up-and-comers--St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, Nashville--and your wild cards--Edmonton, Minnesota, and perhaps Dallas. That only leaves Phoenix and Colorado out of the picture for a playoff spot, but again, nothing's set in stone. I anticipate the development of new rivalries, the continuity of others, and a full-fledged Battle Royale for the top eight seeds in the West in 2009-10.

3) Watching the Toronto Maple Leafs: (I know, but admit it, you're curious). From what I've seen of the Leafs in pre-season play, I wouldn't be shocked if they were competing for a playoff spot come March-April. I think the Leafs will be my guilty pleasure team this season. The Philadelphia Flyers should be another team to watch, with Ray Emery making his much-anticipated return to the NHL and Pronger, Carter, Richards, and Gagne all vying for a spot on Team Canada in February.

Speaking of the Flyers, I am looking forward to the annual Winter Classic, especially since I missed last year's game because I fell asleep on my couch in the process of recovering from the previous night's festivities. I know I didn't miss much, I can catch a one-sided Red Wings victory almost any day of the week, but it's the novelty and the atmosphere of the whole event that makes it so special.

4) Iggy's 1000th game: February 5, 2010 will be Jarome Iginla's 1000th NHL game. Unfortunately, the Flames will be in Florida for a date with the Panthers that evening and won't be back at the 'Dome until the 11th, but expect Iggy to get a big ol' standing 'O' when the Flames' all-time leading scorer is honoured for achieving the 1000-game milestone. I may get a little teary-eyed when they present him with that tacky silver stick...

5) The fact that from now until mid-April I will be able to watch an NHL hockey game almost every day. Nothing beats settling in in front of the television with food, family, and friends for a good ol' fashioned Hockey Night in Canada double-header. Watching the various story-lines of the NHL's thirty franchises unfold over the next seven months--the wins, the losses, the surprises, the disappointments--is oddly comforting and often the best part of my day. I am getting the warm-fuzzies just thinking about it.

So there you have it. Drop the puck already.
Let's do this thing.

Go Flames Go.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Semi-eventful hockey day here in Calgary

With the Flames' roster for their home opener on Thursday just about set, Darryl Sutter made a surprising move on this blustery September day, trading defenceman Anton Stralman to the Blue Jackets for a third round pick in next year's draft. My immediate reaction was: a) confusion and b) frustration followed by c) acceptance.

By my observations, Stralman had an impressive pre-season and stood out as one of the Flames' better young, puck-moving defencemen. He didn't get a whole lot of ice time, but seemed to make the most of what he got, playing mostly with Adam Pardy. The pair looked like a capable 6/7 option on the blueline.

Apparently, the Sutters didn't agree. Instead of risking losing Stalman on waivers, Darryl opted to trade him and keep Kronwall on as the seventh defenceman. The situation gets murkier when you consider that Kronwall is not only older than Stralman by four years, but also significantly less mobile. The only real advantage Kronwall has over Stralman is his size and his slightly cheaper price tage, and we all know Darryl likes his big defencemen.

We can probably conclude that this was a salary cap issue, and trading Stralman made more sense than having him sit in the press box eating up valuable dollars. With Jaffray, Lundmark, and Stuart being placed on waivers today, it looks as if the Flames will opt to carry a roster of 21-22 players to start the season, leaving them with a little more flexibility under the cap if the injury bug strikes again.

If McGrattan is placed on IR or LTIR while he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery, that could also free up a bit of cap space. These moves make sense, but exposing a player like Jaffray, Lundmark, or Stuart to waivers seems significantly more risky than going through the same process with a player like Brian McGrattan. If the three aforementioned players clear waivers, they can always be called up in the event of an injury. It's a shame to see Jaffray sent down after what I thought was a pretty good pre-season, but like Boyd last year, someone had to fall victim to the cap crunch to start the season.

These moves leave the Flames with seven defencemen, thirteen forwards, and two goaltenders on their current roster. While McGrattan won't be ready to start the season and status of defenceman Cory Sarich, who missed a significant chunk of pre-season play, is unknown, the Flames could ice a lineup of only twenty players on Thursday night. This is my best guess at what that lineup would look like:




In other hockey-related news, Theoren Fleury announced his retirement today, saying in his statement: "as I left the Saddledome on Friday I knew that this part of my life had finally come to an end. The emotions that I felt were the ones of someone who had left it all on the table. I did everything within my power to prolong the inevitable. So, as I say goodbye today, I am at peace. I don't have anything left to prove to myself."

He went on to thank his family, his fans, his teammates, the Flames organization, the NHL, and the doctors who helped him achieve sobriety and get in shape. In a heartwarming touch, Fleury added: "I want you all to know that I could not sign with another team. I get to retire as a Calgary Flame."Fleury is currently working to establish a new recovery centre in Calgary and his tell-all book Playing With Fire is due out next month and is supposedly chalk-full of nitty gritty details about the darkest moments in #14's struggles with addiction and depression. Ken King revealed today that he has also been talking to Fleury about future employment with the organization, and will remain in contact with him over the next few months as he embarks on his book tour.

Seeing Fleury retire as a member of the Flames will forever be a special memory for fans of the team and the many others who idolized the feisty forward and his never-quit attitude. I don't know about you, mysterious blogosphere folk, but I'll definitely be reading Playing With Fire (insert "Reading...Give it a Shot!" pun here)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quote of the day/pre-season wrap up

"I really liked our first and third period. I didn't like the second. We stood around a lot and let them take the play to us. We spent too much time in our own end and you end up relying on one guy, your goalie, too much."--Brent Sutter

Fix it, please.

This quotation basically sums up my biggest issue with the Flames in recent years. They are seemingly incapable of turning in a solid, sixty-minute effort on a consistent basis. That being said, I missed the Flames' lone televised pre-season game last night (I know, I'm terrible, but I'm a working gal now) but from what I've gathered, the Flames could have summoned up a better effort against a Canucks squad missing nine regulars including their nemeses, the Sedins. Miikka Kiprusoff was Flames' best player by a wide margin(collective sigh of relief), making 35 of 36 saves before getting beaten by Mason Raymond on the lone shootout goal, which proved to be the winner for the Canucks.

David Moss was very effective after missing most of the pre-season with a lower body injury, and scored the Flames' only goal on a line with Jokinen and Iginla. Bourque also looked like he was finally beginning to shake off the rust, showing his speed on a breakaway chance in the first period. It sounds as though the line of Dawes, Langkow, and Bourque could prove to be a regular season mainstay, and Moss seemed to fit in nicely on the first line.

On the defensive side of things, Dion Phaneuf continued to improve, as he led the team in ice time en route to collecting an assist and a +1 rating, hopefully a sign of things to come in early October. Anton Stralman had what was perhaps his least impressive showing of the pre-season, finishing -1 in just over eleven minutes of ice time. In special teams news, the penalty kill still appears to be strong point while the impressive powerplay production the Flames enjoyed early in the pre-season was nowhere to be seem, which is slightly worrisome and will probably be one of the biggest areas of concern heading into the regular season.

The Flames finished the preseason 3-2-2; not bad, but not great. It is common knowledge that pre-season has little to no significance in the grand scheme of things, but I think most Flames fans wish they had seen a little more consistency from the supposed "big guns" in preparation for opening night. I suppose we will have to wait until then to find out whether Coach Sutter's message has sunk in or not.

NHL Countdown: 4 DAYS

Friday, September 25, 2009

Judgement day: Fleury cut by Flames

As one of the most memorable pre-seasons in recent history draws to a close, Darryl Sutter announced that the Flames have released fan favourite and comeback kid Theo Fleury after inviting him to camp on a tryout basis earlier this month. Sutter said that he had an agreement in place with the former Flame that stated he would be released if he did not prove to be one of team's top-six wingers, without a deal in place with AHL affiliate Abbotsford.

Some are crying foul over Fleury being cut from the roster without being offered a contract with the Heat, but realistically, a fourty-one year old man with a one-year old daughter and a family probably does not want to spend seven plus months taking in the picturesque scenery of small-town North America and inhaling diesel fumes on a Greyhound bus. As good as Theo looked at times during pre-season play, accumulating four points and a +4 rating in four games, he has missed practice the past two days due to "maintenance" after playing three games in four nights.

How would he cope over an eighty-two game schedule that involves practice almost every day, back-to-back games, and long road trips stretching over different time zones? Moreover, the Flames are in the mist of a "youth movement" of sorts; the oldest player on the roster is Craig Conroy at thirty-eight with Kiprusoff, Iginla, and Langkow tied for a distant second at thirty-two years of age. After that, the average age of the roster is below thirty. Perhaps if Fleury was like Gary Roberts, who was only a year removed from the game and often lauded as the fittest player in the dressing room, things would be different.

At the end of the day, releasing Theoren Fleury was the right decision. He wanted a chance to prove he could still compete at the NHL level and was perhaps looking for closure after having his career unceremoniously ended by addiction, and that's what he got. While the Flames do have some question marks regarding their depth up front, I highly doubt Fleury would have been the answer.

With 27 players remaining in camp, the Flames must now concentrate on filling the remaining roster spots and preparing for the start of the regular season in six days' time. Fleury will hold a press conference on Monday to address his future, after taking a few days to "review this experience."No matter what path Theoren Fleury chooses next, he has made Flames fans proud and left us with nothing but fond memories. Hopefully he has left the current edition of the Flames with a lesson in determination, heart, and overcoming adversity. Thank you Theo, and good luck. We will never forget you.

Now let's put a stop to this before it gets too sappy...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pre-season BOA, Round 2

In their second last pre-season game, a road victory at the expense of the Oilers, the Flames iced what looked like close to the finished product in terms of the final roster. The merits of the result, however comforting, have been hotly debated in various media outlets. Brent Sutter and the Fan 960 crew described the game as the Flames' most complete of the pre-season, elsewhere, however, the effort has been described as "shaky" and unconvincing. I only caught the third period, but here are a few things I picked up on:

The first period continues to prove troublesome for the Flames. Even after gaining the lead early in the opening frame, they surrendered two quick goals to allow the Oilers to take the lead before evening the score just before the half-way point. A poor performance in the first twenty minutes of Monday's game in Vancouver set the tone for an eventual shootout loss to the Canucks.

The Flames looked uncomfortable playing with the lead; they seem to have so much more confidence when they are playing catch-up or have clawed their way back into a game they had no business being in. When they have the lead, they still lack that "keep your foot on the gas" mentality and have a tendency to sit back and let the opposition take control of the play. I noticed this in the third period against the Oilers last night, when the Flames were up by two goals and looked to be in control, they appeared to forget how they got there. Strong forecheck, sound positioning, and simple, uncomplicated plays fell by the wayside and the Oilers took over.

The quality of scoring chances Edmonton had in the third period was also unnerving, as it seemed the Oilers were able to use their speed and long stretch passes to get behind the Flames' defence with ease. The fact that the Flames' likely top pairing, Bouwmeester and Regehr, both ended the evening a -2 does little to calm said nerves. To put this in perspective, Phaneuf and Giordano were both +1, with an assist each.

Anton Stralman continues to make an excellent case for an extended stay in Calgary. He has looked smart, calm, and collected in every game he's played in a Flames uniform, and seems to have the ability to make his defence partner better, as we saw last night with Adam Pardy. Pardy, who has had a relatively inconsistent pre-season, was +3 in only twelve minutes of ice time playing with Stralman.The seemingly improved special teams also took a bit of a hit in last night's game, as the Flames' powerplay finished a mediocre 1-9 and the penalty kill unit allowed one goal on three Oilers powerplay opportunities, on one of which Curtis Glencross scored short-handed.

The Flames were much more disciplined last night than they had been throughout their previous four pre-season games, and although they seemed to get hemmed in in their own zone with alarming frequency in the final frame, they showed a great deal more poise and patience under pressure, especially Kiprusoff. The line of Stuart, Prust, and Jaffray was impressive yet again, as Jaffray would score with an assist from Prust and all three were able to draw penalties and create chances using their speed. Last night's performance may have been the deciding factor for the trio, as they all survived the latest round of roster cuts which saw Mikael Backlund, Brett Sutter, and Matt Pelech assigned to Abbotsford. No surprises there, the Flames have no need to rush any of these youngsters in their development.

Conversely, after impressing fans with his dominant performance earlier in the pre-season, Olli Jokinen has all but disappeared, accumulating just one point in his past two games. Nigel Dawes was also held pointless in last night's outing, after delivering a point-per-game performance in his previous four matches. Daymond Langkow had an uncharacteristically bad game, ending the night a -1 with only one shot on goal and while Rene Bourque seemed a little more willing to go into high-traffic areas, he still appeared more tentative than usual. The Flames have really been missing David Moss' presence around the net, and I really hope he returns to full health in time for the season opener.

Craig Conroy is sitting out after sustaining a groin injury in pre-season play, but that can't keep him away from an opportunity to chat with the media during intermission. Conroy gushed to the Fan 960 about the pre-season performances of Curtis Glencross and Theoren Fleury, and summed up the Keenan era in one classic quote: "We didn’t have a set system last year, we just went out and did what we wanted, and this year we know what we’re doing."

Lastly, I didn't think anything could be worse than Rod Phillips' commentary during last night's game, until I was subjected to watching greasy, mullet-headed Oilers fans suck face on the Kiss Cam. Vomit.

Up Next: The Canuckleheads invade the 'Dome for the Flames' final pre-season tuneup. With a roster spot still on the line for players on both clubs, expect this one to be a knuckle-chucker and possibly a barn-burner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pre-season hockey: the bane of my existence

This pre-season business is getting awfully tiring. I feel as if by Saturday evening, I will be crouched in a dark corner somewhere repeating the phrase "it's only pre-season," over and over.

After a solid outing Sunday night at home against the Panthers, the Flames looked like a team playing their third game in as many nights yesterday evening in Vancouver, especially on the defensive side of things. Despite overcoming an early 3-0 deficit and even taking the lead midway through the third period, the Flames couldn't hold off their division rivals and fell 5-4 in a shootout at the hands of a certain Swede, being outshot almost 2-1 in the process.

Given my feelings of contempt for the Canucks, a result such as this during the regular season would probably send me spiraling into a fit of rage and despair, but I have decided to approach this loss with a level-headed, pre-season mentality and give this team the benefit of the doubt.

The thing that irks me most about this particular pre-season is that the bad habits this team has developed don't seem to be in any rush to dissipate. While I have noticed an improvement in special teams, I have yet to see a solid first period, a consistent defensive effort, or a convincing display of goaltending. In the words of Curtis McElhinney, "you look at the game tonight and there’s plenty of evidence that there’s plenty of work to be done."

As much as I have tried to keep my expectations for this squad at a reasonable level, I can't help but feel somewhat discouraged. With further cuts to the roster announced yesterday, we should see a familiar lineup consisting of veterans and prospects still getting a final look by team management in the two remaining pre-season tune-ups. You have to think that Mikael Backlund will be assigned to Abbotsford in the next couple days along with a number of other prospects like Sutter and Kronwall as the final roster begins to materialize.

The question marks surrounding Rene Bourque's status were not alleviated after his first appearance of the pre-season last night. While he is supposedly healthy and in game shape, he showed signs of rust and wasn't his usual tenacious self, finishing the game a -1 with a single shot on goal in eighteen minutes of ice time. The precarious situation surrounding the Flames' top-six was exacerbated following David Moss' absence from yesterday's game due to a "minor injury."

Daily requirement of optimism:
- After an iffy start to last night's game, Jay Bouwmeester finished +2 with a goal and an assist, his best outing as a Flame so far.
- Glencross and Jokinen continue to impress, especially on the man advantage
- Brandon Prust finished the evening a +2 with two assists
- Curtis McElhinney rebounded from an unfavourable start to make 30 saves on 34 shots
- Another solid outing for Calgary's PK unit, which nullified all five of the Canucks' powerplays

- Congratulations are in order to Anton Stralman, who did not travel with the team to Vancouver due to the birth of his child
- Mike Komisarek is playing tonight vs. Pittsburgh. Not all that well, but nonetheless... *swoon*
- Phil Kessel has this permanent scowl on his face that, combined with the facial hair, kind of makes him look like a grumpy caveman.

Up Next: The Flames will travel north on Highway 2 to face the Oilers tomorrow night in Edmonton for their final road game of the pre-season.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flames veterans deliver with 5-2 victory over Panthers

It took a few games, but the Flames finally seem to have found a winning formula. After a shaky start, the Flames veterans picked up right where they left off in their last outing against the Islanders, and it was evident that chemistry was beginning to develop. Here's the scoop:

First Period

Miikka Kiprusoff did not get off to the solid start he was hoping for, as the Panthers would score on their first shot of the game just five minutes into the first period. The Flames were unable to establish any real momentum for the remainder of the frame, as undisciplined play led to three consecutive trips to the penalty box. Luckily the penalty killers came up big for the home team, and they would head to the dressing room down 1-0 with a slight 10-7 edge in the shot column.

Second Period

Cue the comeback. The Flames would finally end up on the receiving end of a powerplay early in the middle frame and they would capitalize, with Glencross taking credit for the tying tally. Just over three minutes later, Iginla scored his first goal of the pre-season to give the Flames their first lead of the game. With five minutes remaining in the period, Daymond Langkow scored on a two-on-one with Theoren Fleury to put the Flames up by two.

Third Period

Leeland Irving saw his first action of the pre-season tonight, replacing Kiprusoff to start the third. The Panthers would take advantage of the goalie swap, scoring just 0:48 seconds in on a tip-in by Stephen Weiss. That was as close as the game would get, however, as Jokinen would restore the two-goal cushion with a powerplay goal at 7:28 and Fleury would score his first of the pre-season just 25 seconds later off a Panthers turnover.

The Flames sat back a little after taking a comfortable three-goal lead and the Panthers spent a great deal of time in the Flames' zone, firing fourteen shots at Calgary's keeper. Irving, however, would shut the door and preserve the 5-2 victory for the home side.

The Flames showed a lot more consistency in what was by far their best performance of the pre-season tonight. The penalty killing unit was probably the most improved, although against a dismal Florida powerplay, killing off all five man-advantage opportunities. The Flames' penalty killers did a much better job of blocking shots and breaking up plays with their sticks.

Another aspect of Calgary's game that appeared to be very strong was their transition game. Defencemen Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, and Anton Stralman all demonstrated their capabilities as "puck-moving defencemen" with smooth skating and smart, quick passes out of their own zone. On a few occasions, the Panthers were still able to use their speed to take advantage of poor defensive positioning and create quality scoring chances, but overall the Flames' performance from the blue-line in was much improved.

Things I loved:

- Jay Bouwmeester: Far better performance in his second game as a Flame. Active in all areas of the ice, collecting an assist, firing five shots on goal, and clearing the zone on multiple occasions. Great on the powerplay and led the team in ice time.
- Mark Giordano: Led the team in hits in a significantly less-physical matchup. Blocked shots and used his stick very effectively
- Anton Stralman: +2 in almost eighteen minutes of ice time. Very, very solid outing for the Swede
- Daymond Langkow: In case you haven't realized by now, I LOVE Daymond Langkow. He is one of the most underrated players on this team, he is so smart with and without the puck and can still turn on the jets at age 32. Collected a goal and an assist tonight along with a +2.
- Curtis Glencross: The game's first star collected a goal and three assists, also very effective on the penalty kill. +2
- Olli Jokinen: Another display of dominance from the former Panther who finished the evening with a goal and two assists. Slowly beginning to convert even the most skeptical fans (me)

Things I liked a lot:

- Jarome Iginla: Much more consistent 60 minutes from the Captain. Contributed a goal and an assist, beginning to develop some serious chemistry with Jokinen
- Carsen Germyn: Very speedy, part of a very impressive fourth line alongside Jaffray and Cunning
- Jason Jaffray: Voted the game's "Hardest Working Flame," forced a few turnovers and created multiple scoring opportunities with his speed
- Adam Pardy: Much better showing for the sophomore blueliner, +2 on the evening. Led the charge to the penalty box with two minors, however
- Dion Phaneuf: Very consistent game, didn't commit any obvious errors or make any trips to the sin bin. Fired four shots on goal, very good on the powerplay. Second in ice-time with 21:21 TOI
- Theo Fleury: Very consistent game, showed a lot of improvement in his speed and skating and contributed at key times with an aesthetically pleasing goal and an assist.

Things I am still on the fence about:

- Mikael Backlund: I just can't decide on this kid. He has played well, but doesn't command my attention. I suppose it just isn't his style. Play improved after being moved onto the first line with Iginla and Jokinen. Noticeably better without the puck
- Miikka Kiprusoff: It looked as if it was going to be another long night for Kipper after he allowed a goal on the Panthers' first shot of the game. However, he seemed to regain his confidence as the game went on and stopped all eleven of the shots he faced. Made some key stops on the penalty kill to keep his team in the game

Up Next: The Flames travel to GM Place to take on the undefeated Canucks for their third game in as many nights. Expect to see Coach Sutter dress a veteran lineup once again, as Vancouver will no doubt do the same.

Panthers@Flames and general musings

It looks as if there is a pattern developing in the Flames' pre-season roster. They seem to be deliberately alternating rookie and veteran lineups, which I suppose makes sense given that it is pre-season, but it makes it hard for prospects to stand out and develop chemistry with their possible teammates.

Last night another AHL calibre lineup lost to the Islanders in Saskatoon, demonstrating the surprisingly efficient powerplay, inability to play within Coach Sutter's system for a full sixty minutes, and mediocre penalty kill that seem to have emerged as pre-season trends. The Flames return to the 'Dome tonight to take on the Florida Panthers, and the team will be looking to continue some of those trends while making an effort to curb others, as we can expect to see a lineup similar to the one that earned a shootout victory Thursday against the Islanders.

After Nigel Dawes' encouraging performance in Thursday's game, he is expected to skate on a line with Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla, while Curtis Glencross will take his place on the second line with Langkow and Fleury in his second straight pre-season matchup. Backlund will centre the third line with Brett Sutter and Eric Nystrom, and Carsen Germyn will suit up for his second game in as many nights with Jason Jaffray and Cam Cunning after a two-assist performance last night in Saskatoon.

The defensive pairings appear to look similar to those we saw on Thursday with the exception of Sarich and Aulie, who will sit out in favour of Pardy and Stralman. The goaltending duties will be shared by Irving and Kiprusoff, who will be aiming for a better performance after Thursday's disappointing outing.

I'm pleased to see that somebody shares my sentiments on George Johnson's article "Time for Phaneuf to Stand Up," which appeared in yesterday's Calgary Herald. In the article, Johnson makes the case that Phaneuf failed to stand up for himself after his bone-jarring hit on Kyle Okposo enraged Islanders teammate Pascal Morency.

Anyone who has seen the video of the hit and the aftermath can argue that after Morency leapt over the boards like a man possessed and made a beeline for the Calgary blueliner, his path was unsuccessfully impeded by Mark Giordano/Daymond Langkow and he managed to engage in a brief tussle with Phaneuf along the boards in the Flames' zone. Johnson claims that Phaneuf diffused responsibility for his actions on his teammates, singling out Mark Giordano as the "willing but unfortunate" taker.

Johnson goes on to say that Phaneuf should emulate former Flame Denis Gauthier, whom he says frequently answered the bell for his often borderline hits--a concept D'Arcy McGrath of Calgarypuck fame finds laughable.

I know I am in no position to criticize a writer who is undoubtably more knowledgeable and successful than myself, but one only needs to read McGrath's argument to see that perhaps Johnson didn't do his homework on Dion Phaneuf, a big no-no for an Alberta-based sports writer.

Phil Kessel was officially introduced as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs today, a deal that has been in the making since the NHL draft back in June. Commence the "balls" jokes. Go on, get it out of your system before the season starts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Yeah Baby: a pre-season game of epic proportions

The Flames entered last night's game against the Islanders with a veteran-laden lineup, looking to redeem themselves after a stinker against the Oilers Tuesday night. One would think that would be an easy task against a young, tired New York squad sans Tavares, right? Wrong. What ensued was a battle-for-the-ages that could give a playoff game a run for its money. Here's the scoop:

First Period

The game started off innocent enough with Dawes netting the Flames' first goal on a sweet feed from Daymond Langkow. The Flames seemed to be carrying the play until a miscue by Jay Bouwmeester led to the tying goal. Olli Jokinen would try to ignite his club by dropping the mitts with the Isles' Mike Haley; he actually fared pretty well, but didn't provide the spark he was hoping for. The Flames would enter the intermission leading the Islanders in the shot department 11-4, but tied at one.

Second Period

All Hell would break loose about five minutes into the second period. With the Isles leading 3-1 after two quick tallies, this happened:

Kyle Okposo was cruising through the neutral zone with his head down when Phaneuf smoked the speedy forward with a trademark open-ice hit. Okposo would remain on the ice for a few minutes, immobilized, until he was finally strapped onto a stretcher and taken to hospital. Reports later indicated that he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and was cleared to join the Islanders for their flight to Saskatoon later that night.

Was the hit clean? Yes. Was such force necessary in an all but meaningless pre-season game? Probably not, but Okposo has been playing hockey long enough to know he has to keep his head up. When play resumed, the young Islanders seemed to lose their composure and got into some penalty trouble. The Flames would capitalize and even the score on two powerplay goals by Olli Jokinen. The Flames and Isles entered the second intermission tied at three, with the Islanders outshooting the Flames 13-8.

Third Period

With Fleury in the box, the Isles took the lead just over three minutes into the final frame. The Flames would tie it up a few minutes later on a powerplay goal of their own by David Moss. The boys in red would dominate the remainder of the period, outshooting the Isles 17-4. Isles goalie David Poulin, apparently possessed by the spirit of Patrick Roy, made a series of phenomenal saves to preserve the tie.


The Flames enjoyed a rare powerplay in the extra frame with Brendan Witt off for roughing, but were unable to capitalize despite firing seven shots at New York's keeper, who continued to steal the show. A shot off the stick of Olli Jokinen would trickle across the line just after the buzzer signalled the end of the overtime period, and was immediately called off.


The 'Dome erupted after minor-leaguer David Shantz secured the shootout victory with a save on the Isles' Matt Moulson, culminating in the pre-season's first ever "YEAHHH BABYYYY" from Peter Mahr. So epic.

Things I loved:

- Olli Jokinen: the big Finn completed a Gordie Howe hat-trick and dominated on the powerplay. Hopefully a sign of what we can expect from him come October

- Nigel Dawes: Redeemed himself after a mediocre performance earlier his week with a goal and two assists. Proved why he's competing for a spot in the top-six

- David Moss: Chipped in a with a goal and an assist, led the team with nine shots on goal

- Robyn Regehr: Steady performance, led all defencemen with five shots on goal and was +1

- Daymond Langkow: Steady, smart play and an assist from the gritty centre, +1

- The Powerplay: The PP was actually cycling the puck and getting traffic to the net, a welcome sight after a futile man-advantage unit faltered down the stretch and into the playoffs last season

Things that need some work:

- Jay Bouwmeester: A miscue in his own zone led the Isles' first goal, got better as the game wore on, especially on the powerplay

- Mark Giordano: Looked a little rusty in his first game back from off-season shoulder surgery, but like Bouwmeester, improved later in the game. Dropped the gloves twice and led all defencemen in penalty minutes.

- Jarome Iginla: Was invisible for most of the game, but demonstrated why he is one of the league's best power forwards in the third with his speed and strength on the puck.

- Dion Phaneuf: Bobbled the puck at the Isles' blueline during a Calgary powerplay leading to a short-handed breakaway, ended the game a +1 but still needs to work on his defensive positioning.

- Theo Fleury: Looked out of place in the first period but found his legs in the second, seemed to have some good chemistry with Langkow and Dawes. Scored the shootout winner in a perfect ending to his first game with the Flames in almost a decade

Things I'm on the fence about:

- Mikael Backlund: Spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and fired four shots on goal. Made some good plays with the puck, but wasn't especially noticeable without it.

- Keith Aulie: Didn't make any glaring errors in almost fifteen minutes of ice time, but didn't stand out in a good way either

- Jason Jaffray: Showed some jump but led the team with 17 PIMS.

- Craig Conroy: Solid on the PK as always, but didn't stand out much otherwise

Things that sucked:

- Miikka Kiprusoff: If Kipper really is in the best shape of his career, he didn't show it last night. Allowed three goals on fourteen shots and did little to quiet his critics. The Flames will need #34 to turn in a much more convincing performance when the puck drops for real in two week's time.

The Flames' pre-season record now stands at 1-1-0 with four games left to play. Overall, they seemed to have some trouble consistently adhering to coach Brent Sutter's more structured, defence-first system, but he will no doubt make sure they fine-tune that aspect of their game before September ends.

Up Next: The rematch. The Flames will take on the Isles in Saskatoon tomorrow in what should be another physical affair. No indication as to whether Phaneuf will suit up or not.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pre-season preview: Flames vs. Islanders and the second coming of Theoren Fleury

More than a few Calgarians will be rubbing their eyes and pinching themselves when they hear "#14...THEORENNNN FLEURYYYYY" ring out over the Saddledome PA system tonight when the Flames face the Islanders in their second pre-season tune-up, but this is no dream, folks, this is reality. 41-year-old Fleury will take the next step in his bid to return to the NHL tonight, as he joins fellow Flames veterans Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy, and Olli Jokinen, who will all see their first action of the pre-season when the puck drops at 7PM MT. Iginla and Jokinen are expected to skate on a line with Mikael Backlund while Fleury will be sharing second-line duty with Langkow and Dawes.

Fleury says he doesn't know how he'll react when he steps onto Saddledome ice for the first time in a decade, but he knows it'll be emotional; "it will be a special evening," he told reporters after Wednesday's practice. Jay Bouwmeester will make his highly anticipated Flames debut tonight, alongside fellow blueliners Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Cory Sarich, and Mark Giordano. Fredrik Sjostrom was also scheduled to suit up for his first game as a Flame this evening, but after taking a puck to the eye during Wednesday's practice he will likely sit out in favour of David Moss. Kiprusoff is expected to get the start in goal, but will likely split the duties with recently signed minor leaguer David Shantz. Here are more projected line combinations and defensive pairings, courtesy of the Flames Insider:

Stuart-Jaffray-Van der Gulik



Unrelated obsession of the day: Have a mentioned how much I love the new NHL 2K10 commercial? Because I do. A lot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pre-season Day 3: observations and eye candy

Televised pre-season hockey is a beautiful thing, my friends. I thoroughly enjoyed the Leafs/Bruins game tonight; it had speed, skill, fisticuffs...the only thing missing was an appearance from two of my favourite European-North American hockey hunks (who also happen to have a simmering dislike for one and other), Mike Komisarek and Milan Lucic:

These two teams are going to be fun to watch this season, not to mention nice to look at.

The strange thing is, I sort of found myself rooting for the Leafs. Are Brian Burke's promises of "pugnacity" and "truculence" finally luring me in? My grandfather would be so proud.

CBC announced three new additions to their HNIC broadcasting team today: former Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, former New Jersey Devils goaltender Kevin Weekes, and Glenn Healy, who returns to Hockey Night after a short stint with the NHLPA. I don't think anyone CBC employs could ever irritate me as much as Marc Crawford and his colour commentary. Except maybe PJ Stock.

In other news, I also watched the Oilers-Islanders game online (don't fret, I got the feed from the Isles' site) and it was a bit of a snoozer until the third period. NYI was leading 1-0 when all of a sudden, Dustin Penner decided to put down the cheeseburger and score a goal. After that, the whole game went to Hell in a hand basket. Sloppy play led to the go-ahead-goal by Sam Gagner, but the Islanders would tie it up five minutes later. It looked as if we were headed for OT until a couple of bone-headed New Yorkers failed to clear the puck after a harmless-looking play around the net, while Sheldon Souray lurked a few feet away waiting to pot the game-winner.

John Tavares looked alright in his pre-season debut, he had a few good chances but was credited with only one shot on goal, one blocked shot, and one giveaway and was -1 in 22:50 of ice time. He did dominate the faceoff circle, however, winning 10 of 16 draws.

I know I take pre-season far too seriously when I can't stand the fact that the Oilers are undefeated.

A shit-kicking from the Oilers always stings

Whether it occurs during the pre-season, regular season, or playoffs, it just plain sucks.

As you all know by now, the Flames prospect squad got their asses handed to them in their first pre-season test against a more experienced and better prepared Oilers team. I was unable to watch/listen to the game as I was partaking in a lovely dinner date/catch-up sesh with my girlfriends and fellow bloggers Sanja and Brittany, so I don't have first-hand knowledge of what went down last night, but I did my best to stay updated via Twitter. I was perusing Matchsticks and Gasoline, Calgary Puck, and the Flames game blog on the team website for post-game reports and here are my findings:

- Boyd looked good, as per usual in pre-season play. Moss was above average, Dawes was completely invisible. Overall disappointing outing for three players hoping to crack the top-six
- PP was terrible (surprised?) and went 1-8 on the night. According to Sutter Jr., they haven't really practiced the powerplay yet. Good.
- Stralman was solid and impressed viewers with his smooth-skating, until an errant pass led to an empty net goal and sealed the victory for the Oil. Played big minutes with fellow Swede Kronwall
- Colin Stuart is fast, but not much else
- Matt Keetley will likely be an AHLer for life
- Differing perspectives on Chucko, Greentree, and Lundmark, who set up the Flames' only goal
- Jason Jaffray scored the Flames' only goal
- As predicted, there were two fights in this game, one involving Prust and Stortini hoping to impress with a display of goonery
- The Flames took bad penalties at inopportune times and couldn't capitalize on their chances
- Adam Pardy didn't handle the pressure of being one of the lone "veterans" in the lineup all that well, and ended the game a -2. Pelech was also -2
- Negrin and Palin weren't especially noticeable on defence
- Eric Nystrom is all talk and no action

Yes, it is pre-season. Yes, it was good to get a feel for what these prospects are capable of at the NHL level. Yes, the result was to be expected. I just hate losing to Edmonton under any circumstances.

Up Next: John Tavares and the Islanders hit the 'Dome tomorrow night for their second game in as many days. I think it's safe to say we'll see a few more regulars sprinkled into the lineup on Thursday; expect Theo Fleury to draw big crowds as he tries to earn a job with the team that drafted him twenty-two years ago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pre-season preview: Battle of Alberta

"Hey, it's the biggest game of the season--absolutely," Eric Nystrom told the Calgary Herald about tonight's pre-season tilt against the rival Oilers. That may be a bit of a stretch, but for Nystrom, one of the few "veterans" skating in tonight's lineup, it's an opportunity to show the new bench boss what he's made of. The Flames will be icing a prospect-laden lineup when the puck drops in about an hour's time at the 'Dome, while the Oilers will dress a number of regulars in the first official Battle of Alberta of the new season. Here are the rosters and tentative line combinations for each team:

Jacques - Horcoff - Schremp
O'Sullivan - Comrie - Stone
Moreau - Potulny - Minard
Brennan - Paukovich - Stortini

Gilbert - Chorney
Plante - Strudwick
Staios - Arsene


Dawes- Boyd -Moss
Nystrom- Murray -Prust
Greentree- Lundmark- Chucko
Stuart- Jaffray -Cunning

Pelech- Pardy
Palin- Negrin
Stralman- Kronwall


The Flames' roster for tonight's game is interesting because it sets up the battles we'll likely be seeing throughout the pre-season for the bottom-six forward positions, seventh defenceman, and the one or two spots open in the top-six forward group. Out of the six defencemen in the lineup tonight, Pardy is the only one who has locked up a spot with the big club, while the most likely competitors for the opening at seventh defenceman are Kronwall and Stralman.

Dawes, Boyd, and Moss will all be competing for a chance to play on the top two lines, and players like Prust, Greentree, Jaffray, Lundmark, and even Nystrom will be vying for a spot on the third and fourth lines.

Given that the two goaltending jobs are already taken, the play of Keetley and Irving somewhat loses its significance, but a good showing with the Flames could earn one of them the starting job in Abbotsford. Competition in the Abbotsford crease heated up recently (pardon the pun) with the addition of David Shantz, whom the Flames signed to a minor-league contract.

Notable absences from tonight's game include: top prospect Mikael Backlund, comeback kid Theo Fleury, and summer acquisition Keith Seabrook. All will likely see some playing time, as the Flames still have six pre-season games on the schedule after tonight.

The game will be streaming live at

I know it's only pre-season, but what kind of BOA would this be without a little bloodshed? Expect a brawl or two between the likes of Zac Stortini, Brandon Prust, Eric Nystrom, and Oilers prospect Kip Brennan as they look to make impressions on their respective clubs.

Good Luck, boys!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The announcement(s) you've all been waiting for

When news of the Heatley trade broke early Saturday afternoon, it was only second nature for many writers to double-check the news after multiple false alarms throughout the summer. It's official, folks. The Senators organization and the city of Ottawa let out a collective sigh of relief as Heatley packed his bags and headed for the Shark Tank, citing the always trusty "personal reasons" for his discontent in the Nation's capital. I am now taking bets as to what those reasons may have been: knocked up a local TV personality? Slept with a teammate's significant other? General case of dressing room cancer? The list could go on and on.

I am not going to waste my time analyzing Murray's return in the deal, as he had to significantly lower his asking price for the two-time fifty goal scorer as the summer wore on and no prospective takers emerged. According to the Heatley camp, San Jose had been the desired destination from the start, and with their well-documented cap issues, it's a miracle Murray managed to swing a deal. A change of scenery may very well work wonders for former Rocket Richard winner Jonathan Cheechoo, who managed just twenty-nine points in an injury-riddled 2008-09 campaign, and underachieving Milan Michalek, who never fails to disappoint me in my playoff pool, but I digress.

In Flames-related news, training camp officially began yesterday with the veterans reporting to fitness training at 7 AM (yikes), the most notable addition being none other than former Flame Theoren Fleury, who received an invite to Flames camp Friday after being reinstated by the NHL on Thursday. Fleury had nothing but good things to say about Darryl Sutter and the Flames organization, stating, "I am just super happy, first of all, that I got cleared and, second of all, to earn a tryout with the team that I’ve had tattooed on my heart since my Moose Jaw days.” That's enough to give any Flames fan the warm fuzzies.

Craig Conroy, never one to be short on words, sang Fleury's praises in the Calgary Herald, saying, "He looks good. Everything looks good. He's working hard, came in here in great shape. He's been doing everything you could possibly do to get in shape. He looks ready to go. He can still score goals, if Westside is any indication." TSN's Calgary correspondent Jermaine Franklin even joked with Jarome Iginla that Fleury was back to reclaim his scoring records. Jarome laughed it off, but I think he's a little nervous. While Fleury will probably spend most of the season in Abbotsford if he does make the cut, he's quick to point out that he has no expectations for how his comeback bid will pan out, and doesn't want to regret not going for it while he had the opportunity.

The most encouraging news to come out of Day 1 of training camp was that new head coach Brent Sutter plans to cut Kiprusoff's workload, as he was quoted saying, "At this point in time, I certainly wouldn't expect him to play as many games as he has. You need your goaltenders to play well for you and it's got to be both guys." As I said before, I like this guy already. According to the Flames Insider, Kipper hired a personal trainer in the off-season and followed a workout routine given to him by Flames strength and conditioning coach Rich Hesketh.

Does this mean we will see a fitter, more inspired Kiprusoff when the puck drops for real on October 1st? Flames goaltending coach and former teammate Jamie McLennan attributes the goalie's "slow starts" to simply adjusting to the new players on the roster and the time it takes to develop chemistry, and believes that he "takes the brunt" of the team's lack of cohesion early in the season. With a new bench boss at the helm, hopefully we will see this disturbing trend come to a halt and the Flames will come charging out of the gate, ruthlessly demolishing the opposition. Hopefully.

In honour of Fleury's possible return, I rustled up this famous clip from Game 6 of the Oilers series in 1991:
Welcome back Theo.

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