Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shea Weber has a message for Germany...and Russia

Shea Weber has broken many things with his heavy slapshot in his NHL career--Martin Erat's leg, Jordan Tootoo's foot, panes of glass--and now he can add Olympic twine to that list. In today's qualification game against Germany, which Canada won handily by a score of 8-2, Weber's second period goal caused some confusion when the puck left his stick with such velocity that it flew past German netminder Thomas Greiss in a blur and ripped right through the net, leaving a hole surrounded by what appeared to be black rubber singe marks. It was originally thought that the puck went wide until a stoppage in play allowed for a review, which showed the puck soaring under the cross-bar and exiting through the back of the German net. Don't believe me? Here's the video:

Shea Weber has a message for Germany, and more importantly, Russia: Shea Weber eats nets for breakfast.
He is gonna score goals and no pansy-ass piece of twine is gonna stop him. His skill and sheer force cannot be
stopped by man nor his constructions. I'd like to see the great Russian shot-blocking machine Anton Volchenkov
step in front of one of these babies. It'd probably make a hole right through his leg.

I'm totally scared shitless about playing Russia, by the way.

This moment may end up being the only real memorable one for Team Canada at these games, provided Babcock
doesn't nail Crosby to the bench in some epic shootout with the Russians; so lets savour it, shall we?

Russia tomorrow.

Pray for us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Long time no blog--Olympic edition

Canada's international hockey supremacy seems to go through peaks and troughs, much like my blogging tendencies.

Prior to 2002, the men's Olympic team hadn't won a gold medal for fifty years. After that, the tournament titles and medals seemed to come with ease once again: the world cup in 2004, five straight world junior championship titles, world championship titles, world under-eighteens, women's world championships, the Spengler Cup--you name it, Canada won it. That all changed about two years ago, however. Canada lost back-to-back world championships to the Russians and women's world championships to the United States, and then there was this year's loss to the Americans in the gold medal game at the world juniors and other tournaments like the world under-eighteens in which Canada did not meet expectations.

Now, Canada finds themselves in sixth place at the Olympic tournament, on home ice, after falling to the Americans last night in a back-and-forth affair where mistakes proved to be too many and too costly. Despite out-shooting and out-chancing the Americans almost 2-1, uncharacteristic gaffes by veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur and defencemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer cost Canada the game, combined with Ryan Miller's other-worldly performance in the U.S. net. The stars seemed to be aligned for the United States: fifty years since they had last beaten Canada at the Olympics, and thirty years since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team won the country's only gold medal in men's hockey.

Canada is now left searching for answers after going 1-1-1-0 and accumulating just five of a possible nine points in the preliminary round. Much like four years ago in Turin, and eight years ago in Salt Lake City. Who plays with Crosby? Who starts in goal? What's wrong with the powerplay? We should've chosen Green/Bouwmeester/St. Louis/Lecavalier/Jordan Staal/Stamkos/Smyth/Insert-name-of-Canadian NHL-player-here!

Sure it can be argued that Canada was the victim of some bad bounces last night against the Americans, maybe even that they were subject to some questionable officiating, but for two games now their defensive game has looked shaky and they have been consistently out-worked in their own zone. It's nice to see Doughty, Keith, and Seabrook, and Weber rise to the occasion when Pronger and Niedermayer, and to some extent, Boyle, struggle, but it would be even nicer to have them all on their game, all on the same page.

Today's practice supposedly focused primarily on defence and special teams, an area of this team's game that has irked me, specifically the power play. In the final minutes of the game against Switzerland, Canada had a golden opportunity to take the lead and win the game on the powerplay, but Babcock deployed the "Sharks unit" instead of putting Crosby, arguably his best player, on the ice.

The Shark line and the powerplay unit made up of Heatley, Marleau, Thornton, and Boyle has been largely ineffective with the exception of Heatley's four goals and Marleau's one. Thornton has zero, and just one shot on goal in 48:38 of ice time. The purpose of all three of these players making the team was the supposed "instant chemistry" that is purportedly essential in a short tournament like the Olympics. Why not go back to the Getzlaf-Heatley-Nash line that has been so effective in the world championships? This line does not have to be kept together.

Another qualm I have with the line combinations is the constant rotation of wingers on Crosby's line, partially because it makes me feel like I'm watching a Flames game but also because I fail to see any real faults with the original combination of Nash-Crosby-Iginla. Iginla had a hat trick in the first game they played together while registering under ten minutes of ice time, and Nash has been one of Canada's best players through three games. Why change that? Kent points out the futility of chemistry in these games and in the sport altogether over at Five Hole Fanatics, so can we assume that there are just too many players on this team not playing well enough to create chances and score goals? Canada's highly-touted depth has not yet been much of a factor in this tournament, and it remains to be seen if it ever will be.

Finally, we have the goaltending conundrum that seems to have emerged after Brodeur's shaky performance in goal. During the game against Switzerland, he was the victim of a perfect shot and a deflection off of a teammate's skate, and was unbeatable the rest of the way; there was no question that he would start the game versus the Americans. Sunday night was the complete opposite.

Brodeur created the bad bounces for himself by making bad decisions with the puck and finding himself out of position on more than one occasion, and now the job falls to Luongo who, although not tested against Norway, looked solid in the Canadian goal while the rest of the team struggled to find their legs. I'm usually the last person to support Roberto Luongo given my NHL allegiances, but Brodeur's performance last night in such an important game was unacceptable, and Luongo deserves an opportunity to better him; we all know he is more than capable, especially based on his stats leading up to the Olympic break versus Brodeur's numbers.

If Canada is to medal in men's hockey at these games, they have certainly taken the hard road there. This tournament was supposed to be about redemption. Canada was supposed to come into Vancouver, on home ice, and avenge a seventh place finish four years ago in Torino, and it'll likely be nothing short of a miracle if they manage a better result this time around. I don't know what it is going to take to get this team and this country back on top. They have the talent, without question, as do other countries in this tournament, but the desire and commitment seems to come in fits and starts, which perhaps explains the perplexing problem of Canada's wavering dominance at the international level.

Up Next: Canada takes on Germany in the qualification game on Tuesday, and will face Russia in the quarter-final on Wednesday, should they advance. I'll be over here crying into my pillow if you need me.

Go Canada.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crunch time

In 2004, Darryl Sutter motivated his Flames team, largely made up of grinders and checkers, by dividing the remaining games left in the regular season into seven-game playoff series. In each series, the team had to win four games with the reward being a playoff seed. With a hard working, never-say-die mentality, they approached each and every game as if it was a must-win. It was this strategy that not only got the 2003-04 Flames into the post-season, but prepared them for their lengthy run to the Stanley Cup final and made them virtually unstoppable throughout four rounds of playoff hockey.

Making the playoffs this season will be one hundred times more difficult than it was six years ago. This is a new era. We're talking about a Calgary Flames team that is only ten points ahead of the fourteenth-place Blue Jackets, six points ahead of twelfth-place Anaheim, and four points clear of the Dallas Stars. On top of that, they have to contend with other teams in their division as well as teams that are, admittedly, more skilled, faster, and younger than themselves. It would seem that now more than ever, a resurrection of the "mini-series" strategy is required.

The Flames now sit in an extremely precarious position. Theoretically, they could catch Vancouver, sitting only five points behind, but having played two games more than the Canucks. A lot of things would have to go right for that to happen, however. In a less-than-ideal situation, the Wild, currently five points back of the Flames, could catch their division rivals with a hot streak of their own. For a team whose mettle has long since been in question, especially with the recent personnel changes, separating themselves from the pack and making the post season will be a very difficult task for the Flames.

After semi-encouraging victories against the Hurricanes and Panthers, Saturday's overtime loss against a slightly better Tampa team in the same position as the Flames was a major letdown, especially considering that it was Daymond Langkow's 1000th game, against the team that drafted him. They controlled the play for fourty minutes, holding the Bolts to only ten shots on goal, and carried a one-nothing lead into the third period.

The Lightning poured on the pressure to start the period and tied the game before the two-minute mark of the third. After that, the Flames completely fell apart. Playing on back-to-back nights, some fatigue was to be expected, but not when they had played so well for two-thirds of the game. Tampa spent what seemed like the majority of the period in the Flames' zone, outshooting them 13-6 and scored a goal that should never be scored to win the game in overtime when Andrei Meszaro's shot found its way between Kiprusoff's arm and the post.

All this on top of a cheap shot by Kurtis Foster, who blind-sided Rene Bourque coming out of the penalty box, causing the Flames forward to miss time with a shoulder injury. Losing Bourque doesn't hurt as much now as it would have without the recent additions to the team, but the Flames still lose one of their best and most consistently competitive players for an unknown amount of time. There was no penalty on the play and it appears Foster will escape further punishment. Typical.

Every point the Flames can earn is of critical importance, so I won't complain too much about an overtime loss, but I'll take a win over a loser point any day.

Finally, I'd like to offer my condolences to Brian Burke and his family after his son Brendan was killed in a car accident this weekend. I really can't imagine a pain greater than losing a child. Brendan aspired to a career in professional hockey like his father, and was best known for his dedication to making sports more tolerant and accepting of homosexuality. He was a brave, smart, and courageous young man whose work should never be forgotten and will hopefully be built upon. Wrap Around Curl has a lovely tribute to Brendan over at Pension Plan Puppets and on her own site as well. Donations can be made in his name to either PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Canada or the Xaverian Leadership Institute.

Up Next: The Flames visit the Senators tomorrow evening (5:30PM, Sportsnet) to conclude their three-game Eastern road trip. Jamie Lundmark will draw into the lineup with Bourque out.

Go Flames Go.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Flames vs. Panthers--Mr. 1000

The Calgary Flames have won two of their past three games. That puts a positive enough spin on things, doesn't it?

In a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes on Wednesday night, the new Flames finally got the warm welcome they deserved after a less than inspiring effort against the Flyers on Monday night.

Now, they hit the road for a three-game tour of the Eastern Conference, starting in the Sunshine State with games against the Panthers and Lightning. Matt Stajan scored a beauty for his first as a Flame, which also proved to be the game winner, and Ales Kotalik set the tone with a hard hit on the 'Canes Andrew Alberts to start the game (this is actually a video of Regehr sending Kotalik flying into the Sabres bench, because I couldn't find a video of the other hit. Entertaining, nonetheless)

Today, however, is not about the new Flames. Quite the opposite. Today is about the man who has set franchise records for most games played, most goals, and most points. The man who, since a mid-nineties trade brought him to the Flames as a young prospect, has arguably been the face of this franchise. The man who twice scored fifty goals with little to no offensive support and came within one win of leading his team to its second Stanley Cup. Today is about Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla, Mr. 1000.

There are many memories that stand out when thinking of Jarome Iginla's NHL career: His first game as a Flame, a playoff game against the Blackhawks in 1996, in which he registered an assist. His fifty-two goal season, culminating in him being awarded the Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson, and Rocket Richard trophies.

Being named captain in 2003 and subsequently leading his team to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals, leading all playoff scorers with thirteen goals.

During the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Iginla broke franchise records for most games played, most goals, and most points, surpassing Al MacInnis and Theoren Fleury, respectively. He scored his four-hundredth goal in a losing effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning in March of '09.

In 2007-08, Iggy would go on to score fifty goals in a season for the second time in his career, culminating in one of my all-time favourite memories. After scoring his fiftieth goal in the final game of the season, Iginla lead his team in a salute to an outgoing Trevor Linden (around the 4:50 mark).

This game cemented Iginla's status as one of the best players in hockey. This moment cemented his status as one of the best people in the game. I will always remember coming home from vacation just in time to catch the last few minutes of this game, watching in speechless awe as Linden received a rousing standing ovation, and Iggy skated towards him and led his team in shaking the retiring veteran's hand, one by one. Players that had already entered the dressing room reemerged to follow their captain's lead in one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship in recent memory. The fans at GM Place reciprocated, cheering when Jarome scored his fiftieth goal and when he was named the second star of the game. In the storied and nasty Flames-Canucks rivalry, this moment stands out as one of the more warm-fuzzy variety in its history.

The 2008-09 season was largely a forgettable one for Iginla and his teammates, and some began to wonder if, at age 32 and having played the way he has for thirteen seasons, he was starting to wear down. His goals and points now seem to come in bunches, but he still has the ability to change a game with one pass, one shot, or one fight. He has survived playoff droughts, trade rumours, contract negotiations, and personnel changes, and through all of it has grown into the calm, classy, well-spoken leader that Flames brass envisioned when they acquired him from the Stars fifteen years ago.

Here's to you Jarome; 1000 games, and many more to come.

Puck drop is 5:30 on Sportsnet West. Jay Bouwmeester will be celebrating his 400th consecutive game against his former team and Curtis Glencross, his 200th NHL game. It is indeed a night of milestones that will hopefully culminate in a "W." I'll be at work serving wine to a bunch of pretentious suburbanites, so indulge in nostalgia and cry your eyes out for me.

Go Flames Go.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An ode to Olli Jokinen/Sex Panther/Pumkin Head/Olli Postagain

On deadline day one year ago
Your arrival in Calgary caused quite the show
A number one centre, he's here at last!
But your effort was rumoured to be half-assed

"He's a cancer!" they said, "he's not worth the trouble"
And for Lombo, Prust, and a 1st-rounder? You paid double!
Then you scored twice in Philly, and all was well
But soon, everything went to hell

Bourque went down, and Gio soon after
Then Glencross, Reggie, and Lanks--what a disaster!
At the worst possible time, your failed to score
And your deficiencies we could no longer ignore

We made it to the playoffs, fifth in the West
Against Chicago, a very tough test
You scored twice, five points in six games
One of the best players for the Flames

As summer wore on, there were some changes
Coaches fired, and player exchanges
Cammalleri was gone, and in came J-Bo
Both are making lots of dough

As the season began, you got off to a slow start
And the deal began to look less smart
Playing with Iggy, you two lacked a spark
With you on his line, it was a shot in the dark

We tried every line combo, nothing seemed to work
And it was driving Brent Sutter bezerk
The losses mounted and frustration grew
And we began to get pretty blue

We all thought you'd be gone in the summer
But on a Monday night, along came a stunner
You were dealt to New York with Brandon Prust
For Higgins and Kotalik--what a bust!

"It makes no sense!" we said in a panic
We began to wonder if Darryl was manic
In Calgary you wanted to finish your career
Too bad you had to leave to a jeer

So farewell Olli, I can't say you'll be missed
Without our first rounder, we're all pretty pissed
Good luck in New York, I hope you do well
On your absence, we shall not dwell

In April you might need a caddy
And apparently your wife hates Puck Daddy

So long, Sex Panther.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Late to the Party: An ode to Dion Phaneuf

In 2003, Darryl Sutter took the floor
"The Flames select Dion Phaneuf," he announced to a roar
Your ticket to the big league was instantly booked
And from the beginning, we were all hooked
"He's the next Chris Pronger," they whispered, "Scott Stevens, too"
Little did we know, it was too good to be true

After a 20-goal season, most fans were in cahoots
But three years after that, you got too big for your boots
You blew off Team Canada at the Worlds that spring
Then we saw you in Hawaii, having a fling

You started hanging around with some Hollywood bimbo
And your fan-favourite status was now in limbo
Then it came time for a new deal
At 6.5 million? Come on, get real!

We grimmaced and groaned as Sutter worked his magic
The 2008/09 season would prove to be quite tragic
You were injured throughout it, but played through the pain
Our patience with you was beginning to wane

As injuries mounted and cap troubles grew graver
You began to fall out of favour
They shouted: "You're lazy, you're stupid, you look like a troll!"
And your shot, well it rarely ever hit the goal

Darryl hired his brother, your coach as a kid
In hopes that he could stop your skid
As the season went on, you didn't progress
Then the team started losing, and it was a mess

Then came the rumours; Oh, how they flew!
He fights with his coaches, his teammates too!
The fans they were vicious, they booed and they jeered
And you wanted out, or so it appeared

So Sutter dialed up his old friend Burkie
And your future as a Flame was looking quite murky
On a cold Sunday morning, he pulled the trigger
And shipped you away to Toronto with vigour

Now you're a Leaf, I hope you're happy
I'll try to keep this short, and not too sappy
Good luck in Toronto, you'll be a star
Word is they have a good karaoke bar

The media is tough and the fans can be mean
But score lots of goals and they'll treat you like a Queen
Just don't pull a Brian McCabe
Or they'll run you out of town, you and your babe.

So long, Double Dion.

Search This Blog