Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turnabout IS Fair play…

If a person simply got to hear the storyline of tonight’s game in Edmonton without using the names, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would pick the Oilers as the winners of the contest. Picture it: One team dominated the game tonight. They were all over the other team using their speed and depth of four lines and dominating the races to loose pucks. They generated at least more scoring chances and used their speed to garner 7 power plays to their opponents four. But the other team relied on one of the NHL’s top goaltenders to hold the fort and give his team a chance to win. Not only was he able to diffuse his attackers 5-5, he almost single-handedly stymied his opponent’s man advantage opportunities.

Wow… Talk about role reversal. So is this where the Flames fans start to hassle the Oilers fans about relying too much on goaltending, and the Oilers are just an over-rated team with a great goalie? They could, but it wouldn’t serve any purpose. The fact is, even though fans of both teams don’t want to admit it. These teams are a lot more similar in make-up than they’re given credit for. The Oilers went out at last year’s deadline to get a top notch goalie because they felt they needed one in order to take them to the next level… where Calgary was with Kipper. Even look at the make-up of the teams. Both teams have a local Alberta-born power forward as the face of their team, both rely on non-traditional #1 centers on their top lines. Both teams have a fairly solid young core of defenseman, and both currently have a lot of untapped potential in some of their younger talent (re. Kobasew, Pisani, Lombardi, Torres).

In a game that may have been exactly what one might have expected in a Flames road win if the scores were reversed, maybe what the game did do was show us all how similar these teams really are. It’s not a stretch to say that the Oilers would be on a losing streak if it wasn’t for the play of Rollie the last few games, and it’s no secret that many are convinced that the Flames would be fizzles if not for the play of Kipper. It’s an interesting hypothesis at the least; that perhaps these teams are more alike than their fans would like to admit. The last 2 teams to go to the Cup Finals… Both Lost in Seven… See a pattern???

But I digress… As much as Rollie helped steal the game, the Flames have to find a way to produce on the power play. Try something new. Flood one side… Send everyone to the front of the net and pray a shot gets through. No matter what they try, it will all come down to movement, and aside from the odd switch in the corner during the cycle, the Flames just don’t seem to be moving enough on their man advantages. Much like their play was 5 on 5 to start the season; it almost seems as if they just don’t want to take the chance on ending up out of position. That should give fans hope. Judging by their play in the last 3 weeks, their 5 on 5 has definitely picked up. Their PK has also looked a lot more aggressive over that span and it has shown in their improvement overall in that category. With guys like Iginla, Phaneuf, Hamrlik, Tanguay and others, you have to think it’s only a matter of time.

Kudos to the Oilers for winning one “Flames Style” :-P, the battle of Alberta is back!

Have a great day!

Monday, November 20, 2006

In Hockey, or all sports for that matter; there is no event that captivates the fan like a game against a traditional rival. In a season where hope is gone and a sad fate has been cemented for your heroes, nothing can save a season like playing spoiler to a rival. Making sure that they don’t make it either somehow makes all the pain worth it to a fan.
Some rivals are transient and only seem to last a short while, some are forced upon fans, but never seem to truly take hold. The best sports rivalries, however, are those that are created outside of the sports arenas. In locals that seem to pit themselves against each other in any possible competition. Once this aggression is planted though, it needs both teams to be on the verge of something special for it to truly become the type of rivalry that legends are made of.

No hockey fan will ever forget the great battles of Quebec. That rivalry is sorely missing under the “new” NHL. The battle of Ontario has found some strength in recent years now that the Senators have become legitimate cup contenders, but it still seems to lack the true distaste for each other that other rivals do. The Oilers and Stars still don’t like each other, but it’s not a deep-seeded loathing that is drilled into your skull the moment you start cheering for your team. For this emotional attachment in the NHL, there is no better rivalry than the Battle of Alberta. I still remember Messier and Otto dropping the gloves right off the draw. The pain of watching Dave Brown cave in the cheekbone of the Highly touted Stu “the Grim Reaper Grimson” in one of his first pro fights. I recall the elation of watching an unfortunate Steve Smith pay for an untimely leisurely skate by his goaltender in 1986 (YES it WAS Fuhr’s fault… It was a set breakout play… What goalie in history goes for a skate when the puck is behind his own net…? But I digress);The Crushing tumble back to earth in 1988 when the Flames finally won the Smyth and the President’s trophy only to be swept by the hated Oilers in the Smyth final. The euphoria of finally getting a cup in 89, which if Flames fans are honest they will tell you would have been just a bit sweeter if they had defeated the Oilers to get there; And who could forget the dramatic comeback in 91 against the Oilers when an errant Messier pass was scooped up by a young Theo Fleury in what became one of the most exciting goals in Flames history… Until the next game where the Flames lost a demoralizing game 7 in OT.

It wasn’t the same for a long time after that. Sure there was nothing better than beating the Oilers, but we all knew that neither team really had a legitimate shot to win, and all fans kept hearing about was how there was no way their teams could survive. But that’s all changed. Sure it may just be to keep a hold of a play-off spot at this point, and a 7 game series is what we all pine for, but tomorrow night the best rivalry in hockey will renew itself, and as much as fans may not like the other teams, they have to admit that it’s sure a lot more fun when fans of both teams think that this IS THEIR YEAR. (And not in a Leafs fans way who think they can win EVERY SINGLE YEAR)

Have a great day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Yeah Baby!

In a game between the two hottest teams in the NHL coming in, one team looked on top of their game and one looked like they would have rather been somewhere else. In a streak where the Flames have seemed to finally start to find their game and renew their identity, it has never been more apparent over 60 minutes as it was last night. Not only did the Flames play the type of high-tempo physical style that they need to play in order to be successful, they also were able to produce some significant offensive chances against the stingiest D in the league… And for once it wasn’t just the Iginla line.

Last night the Flames again showed just how much different this team is from not just the start of the season, but the last few seasons overall. It’s still admittedly a work in progress, but right now they aren’t just leaning on one line to win them games. The Flames are finally looking like they can start to count on more than just sparse secondary scoring. Kristian Huselius looks like he may finally be blossoming into the player the Panthers were hoping they were getting after they drafted him in 97 and watched him make the NHL all-rookie team in 2002. He’s scored in three straight games and is showing a lot more confidence with the puck. Oddly, he’s really caught fire since he was dropped to the second line when the Flames moved Alex Tanguay back up to the first line.

Speaking of the first line: can we PLEASE have Flames fans look logically at Daymond Lankow as a #1 centre vs Craig Conroy. On the ice, at this point in their careers it should be a no-brainer. But Flames fans all have fuzzy/cozy memories of a VERY media friendly Mr. Conroy who rode the highs and lows of the 2004 play-off run right along with the fans. He called the local radio show after the games and developed a relationship with the fans of a city that most athletes will never know. But that was then. He was a fantastic ambassador for the Flames, and did a fantastic job of insulating Iggy, but when one looks honestly at what he is making, and what a team gets for that salary, it makes no sense to bring him back. Craig had 4 goals that year as a #1 Centre. If someone can convince me of the fact that 4 goals is sufficient production for a #1 centre, then please show yourself. Was it an off year? Of course! Did his play improve in the play-offs? It did, but he will never be the offensive force that some fans seem to reminisce that he was. He did have one fairly impressive season, but aside from that one Daymond Lankow’s stats from last year are comparable to any season Craig Conroy has had in his entire Career. When you look at how he’s playing right now with Iggy and Tanguay, they’ve become one of the hottest lines in hockey right now, and I just don’t think that Connie brings as much to the table. If I wanted a guy to speak to the media for my team, it would be Connie, but as a #1 centre, you have to take Lankow… Time will bear this fact out, but hopefully the play of the top line has at least put the Connie rumors and desires to rest. If we were talking about a guy like Sakic or Forsberg or any ultra #1 centre then it would make sense, but we aren’t. Having a soft spot for a guy is great, and Craig was great for the fans, but logically it doesn’t make sense to bring him back.

Next up for the Flames are their archrivals from Edmonton on Tuesday night. Don’t look now, but the Flames are now only 1 point behind the ‘Oil with a game in hand. Depending on the outcome of the Oilers game tonight the game Tuesday night could be for second place in the Northwest.

Have a great day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It wasn’t that long ago…

So now the Flames are one game over .500. A team that was left for dead by many only scant weeks ago; an interesting series of stats for the Flames would be that at the same time last season, after the same number of games going into tonight, they had the exact same record, had scored eight fewer goals, and had allowed one more goal last year than they had this year. Interesting at worst, intriguing at best… The Flames extended a four game winning streak to five by defeating a team that they need to beat. It sounds so simple. Beat the teams that you should beat and the rest will take care of itself. Ask the Canucks who arguably DIDN’T make the play-offs last season due to a 1-3 record against the very same Blues the Flames beat tonight. If you don’t win the games you should, you don’t get a chance to go for the cup.

They’re getting better every game. The confidence is coming back… And not just offensively; In a game where the shot totals were very similar (the Blues garnered one more shot) the Flames dominated in the scoring chance category, and to be honest, Mikka Kiprusoff may have enjoyed his easiest shout-out of his career in the process. It would be hard to argue that the Blues even garnered a decent scoring chance at all. In the Flames recent run, Mikka has certainly had to stand on his head so to speak to win some games, but tonight he was fortunate enough to play behind a team that was on top of its game at both ends of the ice.Another 3-0 win was the result of what may be the Flames best all around performance of the season.

They weren’t as flashy as they’ve been and it wasn’t a blow-out, but the Flames made strides in areas that they needed to. The Blues were 0-5 on the power-play tonight. In all honesty, the Flames would likely have a better record if their PK had been better than it as. It was better tonight. Not only did they stifle the Blues, they didn’t even give up a sniff of a good scoring chance and even managed to pot a shorty for good measure.In reality, this is the type of game that fans fear. A team on a roll, after winning games that they need to win, faces a team that they should by all rights beat. The team comes out flat. We’ve all seen it before. But the Flames didn’t. They did what they needed to do to extend their streak to five games. Last year it was eight that brought them back. Could they do it again? That’s why they play the games. In the last five games the Flames have turned what was looking like a disaster into a hope. Sprinkle some confidence onto that hope and you have a team with a shot. And what more can any fan ask for than a team with a shot.

Have a great day.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Did you think .500 would feel this good?

If you asked a Flames Fan before the season if a .500 record a week into November would be acceptable you likely would have gotten a dumfounded look that questioned your sanity considering the fact that the Flames were to be a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender. However, had you submitted the same query for reaction a mere two weeks ago you may have gotten a laugh from those same fans considering the start and the unlikely prospect that they would be able to come out victorious in their last three games considering their opponents.

But they have. The Flames have taken a season that looked to be on the brink of disaster and are turning it into a season with promise again. The way it was expected they would at the beginning of the campaign. The most impressive part of their recent win streak isn’t even the fact that they seem to have turned it around, but rather it’s the competition they’ve faced and beaten in order to turn their season around.

In the last 3 games the Flames have beaten a red hot Dallas club, a previously undefeated in regulation time Anaheim club and last night a Vancouver club that jumped out to a two goal lead by the end of the first period. In the last four games overall, the Flames have managed to gain the type of confidence a contender needs by winning specific types of games over that stretch. The beat a team they should beat in St. Louis. They beat a team that plays a system they’ve struggled against historically in Dallas. They beat a team that stole their confidence in Anaheim, and then to top off their run they had to come from behind in order to notch a victory in the second game of back to back games in the schedule. The fact the Flames came back to win is more impressive than a simple win due to the fact that they had to fight back on the road to overcome an early first period deficit on a night where they could have been emotionally drained after their win over the Ducks the previous evening.

Oddly, the Flames had fro the most part what might be considered a decent first, garnering 10 shots and playing solid hockey throughout but giving up a couple of power-play goals halfway through the period and late in the period to put themselves in a compromising position to begin the second. That’s when logic left the building again. The Flames started getting less shots but scoring more goals: 0-10 in period 1, 1-5 in period 2 and 2-6 in period three. Another example of the Flames scoring goals with limited shots. Is it a problem? Well, you tell me. They’ve won 4 in a row. I’ll take that over their start in a heartbeat.

Iggy was the catalyst again scoring a goal on a feed from Alex Tanguay thet sent him in on a partial break, Iggy made a great move to his back-hand and was able to bury a quick shot to get the Flames on the board. The play seemed to spark the Flames and brought them out with what looked like a feeling that a comeback was possible on their faces which was a relief to all Flames fans that tend to fear the worst for their team as a general rule.

Even though Kipper game up 2 goals in the first, he was able to shut the door down on the ducks to ensure a Flames victory. In short, the old Kipper looks to be back.

After a very slow start to what looked like a promising season the Flames seem to have turned their fortune around in the last couple of weeks. A four game winning streak does not make an instant Stanley cup contender, but this was a team that was predicted to challenge for the cup in preseason but wasn’t able to play to their potential for the most part in the first month or so and it ended them up close to the basement after month one. Are they back in contender status? They should be. They beat teams in many different ways and situations and were able to string together the victories they need during a very tough point in the schedule. What does the future hold? We’ll find out as events warrant.

Have a great day

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pop Quiz Time People…

So the Flames aren’t having a good year, they haven’t looked the same since they unceremoniously bowed out to the ‘then known as’ Mighty Ducks in the first round, Le premier parcours (apologies if this isn’t the correct translation) of last year’s Stanley cup play-offs. It’s only been in the last few games that the Flames have started to take baby steps towards looking like the team that was a Stanley Cup contender last year and was reported to be improved this season.

The last few games have done incredible things for the Flames. They have given them the confidence they lacked and allowed them to believe that they actually could be a contender in what will definitely be a dogfight for the NW. The difference in tonight’s game is the fact that it accomplished two things. It exacted a measure of revenge for a team whose psyche was destroyed last season in loosing at home and also allowed this year’s version of the team to realize that maybe it can be the contender that it was assumed to be during pre-season predictions.

So that means that everything is better in Calgary, right? It’s all back to normal and we have a team that SHOULD vie for the cup? Well… Yes and no… in a sense… It’s hard to say… The team has been playing much better, and looked like they were controlling the flow late in the first after getting into potential penalty trouble to open the game. A total of 18 shots, however, even in a win, does not exactly inspire confidence and comparisons to great teams of yore.

Bottom line is this: The Flames won the game doing what has worked for them in the past. They played well defensively and Kipper was huge. The difference is, they actually capitalized on an extremely low number of shots and chances. This team is different. It can actually score. When you score 2 of 3 on a team that’s #1 in the NHL and on a goaltender that shut you down cold in the previous play-offs, you have to consider that a small victory. Why small? Because for the amount of time they spent in the Ducks zone in period one, three shots on goal wasn’t something to be proud of. Aside from the power-plays, the Flames controlled the game in the first the rest of the game, Kipper and some great D kept them on top. It’s a great win, but not a great way to win. Giving up twice as many shots as you take is not typically on the agenda of any team that wants to win, and although it worked tonight rest assured it’s not big on the Flames priority list. A win is a win, but if you give up twice as many shots as you take, winning becomes incredibly difficult and as much as the Flames trust Kipper they don’t want to burn him out.

Are we watching the resurgence of Tony Amonte? He’s been great effort-wise since the Flames signed him as far as many are concerned, but he’s finally been able to produce offensively the way most had hoped the last two games. Imagine a Flames lineup where Tony Amonte gets 25 to 30 goals, and things look good for the Flames.

Anyone else notice that since the team has stopped leaning on Iggy they’ve been winning? Jarome was trying to carry this team on his back for so long, and it’s about time that others have chipped in. It’s just odd how the last couple of games they’ve been winning and Iggy hasn’t scored, but in previous games where they would loose Iggy would score most of their goals and they wouldn’t win. An anomaly guaranteed, but also a likely side-effect of the team not just relying on Iggy to take them to the promised land but taking responsibility for their own actions and putting forth a complete team effort instead on leaning on a superstar.

Pop Quiz is this: Name all the teams that have beaten the Ducks in regulation time. For an added bonus, name all the teams that have done this by shutting the Ducks out.

Winning breeds confidence. A confident team can do incredible things. The Flames are starting to gain the confidence that they lost late in last year’s Anaheim series. This win was a big step for this team. Look for them to build on it.

Oddities: Game 7 last year was the same 3-0 score.

Notes: Dion Phanuef had one of his biggest misses of his carreer when he tried to label Perry of the Ducks in the game, it was a complete whiff, which is very uncaharacteristic of Dion.

Brandon Prust fought at least a weight-class above his own when he tussled with Thornton early in the first. It was a gutsy move by the rookie who was oversized but not outmatched. His determination helped set the tone for a Flames win.

Have a great day.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What The Doctor Ordered…

The Calgary Flames did 3 things they desperately needed to do on Tuesday night by: 1 – Winning more than one game in a row. 2 – Beating a play-off caliber team (note that when they beat the Sens, the Sens weren’t playing like a play-off team) and 3 – They put together a 60 minute effort at home.

Was it perfect? No, but it got the job done. In the end all that matters is that they got the two points. The good news? They finally held a team to less than thirty shots. The bad news? They couldn’t manufacture 20! But they got the all important two points by playing the style they need to in order to win. Oddly enough for a team that struggles to score, their low shot total resulted as much from them almost trying to be too perfect as it did from anything else. There were many moments in the game where a player had a chance to put a puck on the net but tried to make a play to a team-mate in order to get a perceived better chance. In most cases that might set off alarm bells, but oddly it almost seems like the Flames are finally getting some confidence with each other. They are starting to play as a team instead of as a collection of individuals and they’re starting to gel.

Tony Amonte had arguably his best game as a Flame. And if anyone was wondering why he was named to the first line to start the season, it was evident tonight. He was less than an inch away from a hat-trick when he wired a shot off the post during an early third period Dallas power-play. In addition to putting the Flames on the board and scoring the eventual winner, he was also able to play his inspired hockey throughout and was constantly in the faces of the Dallas players and playing the type of high pressure hockey the Flames thrive on.

In the nets, Kipper was back to his old self. The summer rust is gone. In a game against the man who will likely be his competitor in many of the statistical categories for goaltending, Mikka was simply brilliant. He started the season slowly for the second straight year, but after the last two games you’d have to say he’s back.

Alex Tanguay left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. In an unfortunate play after Tanguay had been sat in favor of the Hot-Handed Amonte during a power-play, Alex game out guns-a-blazing and went after the first Star he saw. Hit him hard too… Then went to the dressing room. Hopefully he’ll be ok, as the line of Tanguay, Lombardi, and Kobasew has really been putting pressure on teams with their speed and looks like it could finally be the type of second line the Flames have been looking for.

Next up are the Ducks on Friday. As a fan, this should be a great game. The Ducks haven’t lost in regulation yet, the Flames were upset by the then Mighty Ducks in last year’s first round. This is a team they’d love to beat, and in doing so, it would likely cement the fact that the Flames are back on track. With the physical games these teams play, it should be a great one.

Have a Great Day