Saturday, December 30, 2006

Team Canada Advances To Final

While Canada's popular U-20 Jr. Team takes on Slovakia in a meaningless game tommorow of which the goal is to avoid injuries, Canada's Spengler Cup team takes on Davos for the gold medal (Rogers Sportsnet, 11am MT, tape delayed).

While it isn't at the level of the NHL, and the reffing is often sub par (even for Euro refs), and the tournament is set up so Davos will win, you have to give it to the Team Canada guys that go over and play for the country every year. This year Hockey Canada put together about a star studded roster as is possible at this tournamet, including former Jr. Gold winners Justin Pogge (who has played quite well so far) and his backup Devan Dubnyk, Danny Syvret; fomer top prospects Krys Kolanos and Brandon Reid, and has hired Pat Quinn on to coach.

If you watched the game today you know that this group plays with as much passion and pride as any other group wearing the Maple Leaf, but often without the same level of support as other Canadian national teams. The games get just as heated as well - in the middle of the second period today Justin Pogge felt a Berlin Polar Bears player was taking too many liberties in his crease, so Pogge went off on him. An all out melee ensued after, something you don't see too often in European hockey.

Something I just found out today, veteran game caller Paul Romanuk (who I always enjoy) has a bit of a blog going about his experiences over in Switzerland during the tournament.

Good luck in the final boys, lets send Del Corto a message he can't refute!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Two games into this tournament and Canada is 2-0, and while there is still a long ways to go, a lot of questions have been answered.

Game one was a clinic by the Swedes on how to play on the big ice surface, using their forecheck and positioning to really difuse the Canadian attack most of the time. I thought that if the Swedes didn't actually outchance the Canadians, it was damn close. The difference was that Canada buried its chances, while the Swedes managed to find a way not to score on every occasion. This game was proof that the Canadians are not going to run over the competition ala the Dream Team in 2005, and that the Swedes are true Medal contenders.

The number one question answered by game 1 was that of goaltending. Carey Price was outstanding all game long, stifling the skilled Swedish attackers, including what Pierre Maguire has dubbed 'the killer b line,' consisting one of the most skilled players in the tournament, Niklas Backstrom. While I did say earlier that the game was close, I never felt (one the Canadians were up 2-0 especially) that it was particularily in doubt. Carey Price was simply playing too well.

Game 2 verse the Americans today was a much more exciting, North American style game, and it was also notable for several bizarre events.

The Good? Canada wins 6-3 on the strength of 2 goals in the last 2 minutes, and Jonathan Toews (pronounced 'Tayvs') emerged as one of the tournament's best. He had several impressive shifts including a dominating cycle shift in the first, a great rebound goal (also in the first) and a breakaway in the third which led to a converted penalty shot goal, killing whatever momentum the Americans were playing.

In addition, Canada faced some adversity with the Americans scoring two quick goals in the second, and coming within one in the third, but played smart hockey and never altered from the gameplan. In addition, the coaching staff has to be commended for keeping cool under the pressure from both the Americans and the poor reffereeing.

Although Skille got the player of the game award for the Americans, I thought Bill Sweat deserved it as he had a goal and rushed the puck into the Canadian zone for an assist on another goal. One of the better American players on the night.

The Bad? The officiating. From the start of the puck there were several bizarre calls and non calls. A slashing call from a poke check, a cross-checking from a push, several phantom slashes, culminating into a Claude Lemieux on Mike Vernon Stanley Cup finals type play, in which and American player blatantly ran Carey Price, which directly led to a goal for the Americans. The officials could have called the play on either the goalie interferece, OR man in the crease without the puck, but blew both calls, cutting Canada's lead in half.

The American's duo of Jack and Eric Johnson were impressive at times, but also got caught several times for goals against. On Toews' third period breakaway Jack Johnson actually threw his stick at Toews to try and stop him. Eric Johnson took a badly timed penalty (can't remember what the actual call was, but the penalty was an elbow) to give the Canadians an extended 5-3 when the Americans only trailed by one in the score.

To be fair though, the duo played fairly well all night, with Eric scoring a goal, and both at times controlling the play in the Canadian end especially.

The Ugly? The poor state of Team USA Hockey's program. The team is year after year living on the edge of mediocrity but they refuse to change their outdated development system or their strange player selection process. Bobby Ryan not on the team?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bah Humbug!

The most reason Flames road trip went exactly how every other road trip in the past year has gone. Manhandling the basement dwellers and folding against the difficult teams. Of course the Flames still have the potential to even this trip to .500 when they get their make up game against Colorado (whenever that will be), but it really is exasperating watching this group flourish at home and flounder on the road. Like the early part of the season, this team really needs to look within itself and figure out a way to win.

The Oilers are following their southern neighbour's consistency (of sucking on the road) by consistently playing dreadfully inconsistent. If there seems to be one thing that Oilers fans can expect, its that you never have any idea what team will show up on any given night. While it hasn't been mentioned a lot in the media, the Oilers are also dreadful away from Rexall place, winning only 6 games on the road, losing 11. Sure Smyth and Moreau are out, but this team should have enough veterans and skilled players to win a few hockey games without those two. Some players that really need to step it up in my opinion are Sykora (who was next to useless without Hemsky spoon feeding him) and Joffry Lupul, who seems to refuse to get his nose dirty. Lupul especially (whether fairly or not) is expected to be a contributor on this team, and he's simply not a very complete player right now.

Over the next couple weeks the focus of this blog will be shifting to the annual U-20 World Junior Championship. After dropping their game vs the CIS 'All Star' Squad, and now their second pre tournament exhibition game, i am a little worried about team Canada. Apparently first day in Sweden head coach Craig Hartsburg had to tear a strip off the team because of their general unpreparedness, and Pierre Maguire said the veterans in that game looked 'dopey.' This is not the attitude of a winning team.

One of three things will happen in my opinion:

(1) The team gets a wake up call from that exhibition loss, gets refocused and wins the tournamet

(2) The team has lacksadaisical attitude, experiences some early in tournament trouble, re-focuses and wins the tournament

(3) The team has a lackadaisical attitude, runs over the competition early and when they hit adversity in the elimination round they fold and are done until next year.

I for one, am hoping for option (1) or (2).

First game December 26th, 12:30 pm ET / 9:30 am PT on TSN, Canada faces host team Sweden. Carey Price will be starting for Canada in net.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I Think I Have ESP(N)

In a wierd synchronicity of sorts regarding yesterday's post, I came across this article today, ranking 60 major sports in terms of difficulty. Hockey (of the ice variety if you're American) ranks 2nd only to boxing.

Of note, hockey ranks number 1 in terms of difficulty of 'ANALYTIC APTITUDE;' the ability to evaluate and react appropriately to strategic situations.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bigger Nets No Solution to NHL Problems

As the Flames -Avs game has been postponed, I have now been given the opportunity to write about the continuing idiocy of NHL brass.

Two issues have been gnawing at me over the past week; the NHL's Paternalism over the Penguins, and Colin Campbell's plan to increase net sizes.

The years have not been kind to the Penguins franchise. After almost folding in the 70s, (saved by new owners), the 80s (saved by the (alleged) throwing of a season and the emergence of Mario Lemieux,), and the 90s (when Lemieux brought the team out of Chapter 11), the Penguins are now up for sale once again.

It is clear there are not many buyers interested in this franchise, and I am no Harvard Business grad, but here are partial reasons:

  • The Penguins play in the oldest (and from what I hear, the most dilapidated) arena in the NHL. Steve Staios referred to it as a prison. The Penguins were depending on Isle of Capri Casinos to build a new $290 million rink if they won the slot license for the city, but that bid was quashed on Wednesday

  • If history does in fact repeat itself, then getting fan support for the Penguins is going to be next to impossible. This franchise routinely ends up in the bottom end of NHL home attendance figures. Possibly explains why the franchise almost folds every 10 years

Jim Balsillie, owner of Research in Motion, made what I understand to be a very generous offer to buy the Penguins, even without the Isle of Capri deal guaranteed. However, if the rumours are true, the NHL faxed him several demands before the Isle of Capri deal went down, including a stipulation that he keep the team in Pittsburgh for a given amount of time, regardless of the new arena deal (or apparently profitability). Balsillie promptly withdrew his bid, the Isle of Capri deal fell through, and Lemieux has stated that any future deals with Balsillie are off the table.

From a Canadian fan's perspective, these last minute demands from the NHL are a slap in the face, especially for Winnipegers and Quebecers. Where were these demands when those franchises were shipped south, in some cases to cities where the idea of hockey looks as if it'll never take hold. Is the idea of a Canadian billionaire taking a failed American franchise north to Hamilton or Winnepeg (where there is a new arena built even without a franchise) so disturbing to the market mad NHL that they'll stop the deal at any cost?

Well good luck to Mario and Gary, but right now it looks like for some reason Basillie is still somewhat interested, otherwise they're going to have to go to Frank D'angelo, hockey fan/bad beer ad extraordinaire (to be fair, the ads are supposed to be bad, and they're somewhat hilariously so). Right now nothing would make me happier than see both the current Penguins ownership and NHL brass get screwed for not heeding the age old advice of beggars not being choosers.

My second rant concerns the proposed increase of net sizes (by the same guy who hands out disciplinary decisions no less. Lets get a handle on that first, sound good Collie?) I don't understand the NHL's obsession with increasing scoring. Why do they believe that increased scoring will result in increased viewship or fandom?

Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and its almost always a low scoring affair. I doubt the average soccer game gets half the goals scored of the average hockey game. Contrarily, Lacrosse games probably average twice the number of goals of a hockey game, but its not half as popular, at least in terms of viewership.

This is only speculation on my part, but I think there are multiple attractions to hockey. Firstly, the athleticism involved in skating and puck handling is astounding. Few athletes in terrestrial sports could understand the complexity of puck handling, checking, positioning in skates. Many hockey players can run and catch a ball with a high degree of competence. Few pro football players could even skate.

Secondly, there is a great amount of strategy and planning in hockey. Few people who even watch the game understand how an individual player should position himself, let alone how a group of 5 people consistently position themselves in accordance with one another and the other team to maximize their chances of success.

Third: Shifting on the fly. This brings an element of explosiveness and strategy to the game itself. In other sports coaches can send everyone out and tell them exactly who to cover. In hockey its a constant battle to get the right matchups between one player and another. In addition, it allows player to stay fresh and play at a very high rate of speed, keeping the total game speed up. NBA starters play up to 45 minutes a game. Baseball players sometimes play double headers (two game in one day). A great hockey player might play 25-30 minutes a game, but usually only if there isn't another game the next night. If there is a game the next night, usually players don't play much past 20 minutes.

Finally, individual efforts and awesome plays. Sometimes you just have to watch and wait for the unexpected. Most nights (for me at least) a player will make a play that simply inspires awe due to its precision or creativity or effectiveness. Whether its a coast to coast or a great 1-1 battle, its what makes hockey worth watching.

So lets put an end to these bigger net ideas. Goals aren't all hockey fans look forward to, and if people simply want to see them they can watch the highlights at the end of the night and miss the real game.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Keys to the Game - Review

Alright, lets review:

Shut Down Selanne - Fail
Although he was held to 1 assist on the scoresheet, Selanne made the play in the offensive zone as the last seconds of the 1st period ticked away. Instead of going into the intermission up 1-0, the Flames must settle for a tie after 1. A heartbreaking event for the Flames.

Giggy vs. Kipper - Fail
I'm not going to sit and say Kiprusoff played a bad game, after all, he made 37 saves, including many in spectacular fashion in the first and second, however, I thought he let in one softy, and it was arguably the difference in the game. With the Flames having just lost the lead about 3 minutes earlier, Dustin Penner had a step on Phanuef and unleashed a wrister. Kipper misplayed it and the bad angle shot slipped between Kipper's body and arm. I'm calling that play the turning point in the game. Meanwhile, Giguere let in one early in the first and shut the door after that.

Secondary Scoring - Fail
I said that if the Flames were to win someone other than Langkow, Iginla or Tanguay had to show up on the scoresheet. Well the Flames lost and guess whose names were on the scoresheet for the Flames lone goal.

I am officially writing off this road trip as a failure, as determined by the conditions I set here* over at Five Hole Fanatics.

*By tournament I meant roadtrip. Brainfart...


The Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks are the best team in the NHL today. Since day 1 of this NHL season they have been dominating, running off 25 wins, scoring more than every team in the league save one (Buffalo), and they have more points than any other team in the league. They show no signs of slowing, having the best record (8-2-0-0) in the league in their last 10 games.

Not that I think this is a particular suprise to hockey fans. After having won the Scott Niedermeyer sweepstakes thanks to an ace in the hole (Damn you Special Neids!) the Ducks (or more specifically Brian Burke) aquired the disgruntled Pronger from Edmonton, thus having locked up possibly the best 1-2 defensive group in the history of the NHL. Supergenius coach Randy Carlyle has determined playing them apart at about 25 minutes a night (usually more) assures that at any moment one of the two of Niedermeyer and Pronger are on at any one time, creating an unstoppable defensive force. Who is Pronger paired with? Who is Niedermeyer paired with? Does it matter? All apologies to Beauchemin and O'Donnel, but I'm pretty sure Zyuzin could play with Neids or Pronger and look like all-star material.

That is why the Flames' game against the Ducks tonight is of the utmost importance. Already Calgary has had what could be termed as huge success against the Ducks with a home shutout victory (1 of only 4 regular time losses the Ducks have accrued all season). But the Flames are no longer at home. The Flames are facing their nemesis - the road. With a road record hovering around .500 and 10 straight home wins, you can do the math and figure out the Flames are having a second straight Jekyl and Hyde season.

The current road trip has been much of the same, loss against division rival Canucks, but a win against the basement dwelling Coyotes. Tonight though, is the real test, D-Day, if you will. Tonight's game could become a turning point for the Flames this season; pull their proverbial shit together, beat the best team in the league and prove to themselves AND their critics they have what it takes to be the best, or fall back into old patterns of being good to great at home and terrible on the road, leading what could be another first round playoff flop.

To be fair, the Flames have a slapdash defensive group tonight, the pairings being Regehr/Ference, Phanuef/Giordano (hope Mark is ready for a 20+ minute night) and Regehr/Ference II (by the way, how wierd is that?) But there are always ways to find excuses, always ways to find reasons to win. The Flames need to find reasons to win.

As Rod Stewart sang, "tonight's the night." But will it be alright?

Keys to the Game

Shut Down Selanne - The Masterton Trophy winner has been a Flame killer in the past, and he's simply on fire this season. He is the key to the Ducks' offense.

Giggy vs. Kipper - Giguere couldn't get the job done in the playoffs last year but his record this year is a stunning 21-3-5 with a .922%. Kipper played very average against the Ducks in the playoffs but shut them out once already this year. He may need a repeat type performance for the Flames to win.

Secondary Scoring - Don't count on the Flames winning without at least a goal from a line other than the Iginla Langkow Tanguay one. Huselius has had his moments versus the ducks, in my opinon, he's the one to watch.
  • check out Finny for the view from the opposition!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Team Canada U-20 Final Roster Announced

You can find the full roster here.

I would say the biggest non-member of note is Brendan Mikkelson whom I touted as being a top defender the other night. Obviously there were only two defensive spots open and his chances were slim, but I thought he had a step over both Franson and Alzner (assuming all the returnees would make it). While Pierre Maguire agreed with me, the Team Canada coaching staff clearly did not.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oil's Well?

In late November the Oilers were on shakey ground to say the least. After decimating the pitiful Hawks they blew a late 3rd period lead to the hated Ducks and then got routed by Colorado the next night. Two nights later they lost their third straight, and during that three game losing streak they lost the sublime Hemsky and heart and soul Ryan Smyth, one of the few Oilers giving a consistent effort game in game out. Any reasonable person would have said it was time to push the panic button. I was pretty worried myself, it looked like the Oilers had only one direction to go.

Enter ex Team Canada captain Jarret Stoll. After being labled by many as the man to go in Edmonton's cap crunch, Stoll had been looking largely ineffective for large stretches this year. Enter Raffi Torres, the bulldog who couldn't seem to find a reason to rip out someone's throat. Enter Pisani, the man with overburdened with unachievable expectations. Enter the group that I said would be the best 3rd line in hockey should they stick together.

Over the next 6 games, without Hemsky and without Smyth, the Oilers have 4 wins and 2 losses, including a game in which they put over 40 shots on Chris Mason, which could hardly be called a weak effort. Sure they were caught sleeping in Chicago, but there were 3 posts by the Oilers in that game, including two by Stoll in one shift in the second period.

During this effort, Stoll had 2g and 6a, Pisani had 2g 2a, Torres 1g, 5a. But its not just the points this line is putting up - its their sheer dominance. Stoll has played like a man possessed, and is undeniably the team's current inspirational leader. Torres has started to lay guys out again (several Wild bailed tonight in puck races with Torres) and Pisani has started to bury his chances.

Whats the difference? Your guess is as good as mine. I thought it was ice time difference but that theory doesn't really pan out when you examine the numbers, especially when you compare it to the same players output during the playoffs (of course those number are slightly skewed because Pisani exploded so far out of his usual statistical distribution output). Stoll's ice time has increased from about 17 minutes a night to about 21 minutes a night over the last 3-4 games, but that seems to be more a result of his strong play, rather than his strong play being a result of his ice time.

Whatever the reason, I think Oilers fans can't help but smile, both at the team's recent suprise success, and the lack of faith they had in the team's ability to win without Smyth and Hemsky. I admit, I was one of the doubters, but I can't help but watch Stoll and be impressed.

Ok, so maybe I was off when I predicted they would be the best 3rd line in hockey. The way they're playing now I probably would have been more accurate saying they would be the best line in hockey. (A little hyperbolis humour there).

therealdeal of the night: Jarret Stoll - He was physically dominant, won a key faceoff that led to the first goal, and simply made good plays on every shift. 1g, 1a performance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Team Canada U-20 Intrasquad Game Roundup

I attended the Team Canada U-20 intra-squad game tonight so I thought I'd quickly post my thoughts.

The shots may have been close after the first period, but team White dominated team Red with their forecheck and cycle. Red had absolutely no counter when team White gained the zone, and the chances for White were about 8-1.

In the second period team Red decided to show up and held zone control for long periods of time. They actually managed to tie it up 2-2 at one point. However, the 2nd half of period 2 saw White adapt and mostly keep Red to the outside, and in fact they pulled ahead later on.

The third period was more domination for Red. They scored two (including a highlight reel 3-1 goal) to put the game away, then scored a 6th to really put an exclamation point on the win.

Of particular interest to Flames fans is goaltender Leland Irving who played the 2nd half of the game. I was impressed with him, he seemed very composed and had excellent rebound control. Hard to say a lot more about him as he didn't have to make very many saves, but he only let in 1 goal, the least of any goalie in the game. I would say he's the front runner for the number 1 position. Price didn't look very impressive, and Cann really didn't make the saves when he needed to either. Bernier let in a couple but he was being bombarded so he looks like the possible backup.

Of interest to Oilers fans was Andrew Cogliano. I thought he played a real sharp game. He made an excellent defensive play in the 2nd period to check a man in front with the puck, he used his speed to create room for his teammates, including a dominating shift in the third where he simply owned the ice which resulted in a goal. He had one breakaway in which he went glove side on Price, but was denied. I thought he got better as the game went on. He ended with an assist and a tip in goal.

Therealdeals of the night had to be Sam Gagner and Steve Downie for team white, Brendan Mikkelson and James Neal for red. The 17 year old Gagner had an 'encouter' with Bourdon in the first after the whistle, and as he skated off the ice he kept his eye on Bourdon. On his next shift he challenged Bourdon a second time, proving that he wasn't going to back down from the returnee. From then on he dominated in the offensive zone and transition for the rest of the game, getting a goal and two assists, including a shorthanded highlight reel marker (seriously, its on TSN's highlights of the night) on a 3-1 from Downie.

Downie had 3 assists and was nasty all game. He took two penalties in the first and went after Bourdonwith a slash in the offensive zone in the third, resulting in Bourdon retaliating with a roughing penalty. I really respect Downie a lot and he reminds me of Messier the way he retaliates to get room for himself. He's proven that he can hold back when he needs to as well.

James Neal created a few of the few offensive zone chances for team Red all night and got one of their 3 goals. He did have some neutral zone giveaways though.

Brendan Mikkleson in my opinon was Team Red's best defenseman. He provided good outlet passes all night, made good defensive decisions and he skated well. He got Red's first goal as well, not a bad night for a new fish in a sea of returning defenseman. I would say he's got a very good chance of being the 6th or 7th defenceman based on tonight's performance.

Also of note was 17 year old Drew Doughty on defence for team White. He looked extremely composed with the puck, making several very good outlet passes and dominating on the point in the offensive zone. Cogliano's tip in was shot by Doughty, and in tonight's game he was one of the top 4 defenceman.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Roman Rule?

Watching that Minnesota/Calgary game last night I was impressed with Calgary's tenacity. This team seems to be more able to comeback from a small defecit compared with earlier in the season. In the first period the Flames did not look good, but the second period brought several positives including Rhettro's shorthanded marker (who would've called a Rhettro goal before the game, especially a SH?). I though Iggy looked possessed, especially after he scored his 300th goal of his career (he's closing in on the recently retired Joe Niewendyk, and the immortal Theoren Fleury.)

John Garret proposed before the game that Roman Hamrlik has been the Flames best defenceman of late, and while I won't go ahead and agree with him, I will say he's played suprisingly well lately. He's been jumping up into the play more often, he's been in better position defensively and it's been showing up in his +/- and the scoreboard (in the sense his strong play is correlated to the Flames success). The other pleasant suprise about Hamrlik is that he's much less overpaid than he was earlier in the season. Given the inflationary rate of defenceman salaries, and given his ice time, Hamrlik right now is, dare I say it, being paid at a fair rate.

Why are the Flames so bad on the road? Someone was saying to me that this is either a testament to Calgary's coaching (in that when the coaching staff are able to get the desired matchups they DOMINATE) or a sad exposition of the coaching staff (in that if they don't get the exact matchups, their poor systems get exposed and they consistently lose).

Obviously there are other explanations, (like maybe the players are totally spooked about playing on the road and they're gripping their sticks), but its an interesting theory.

And what about Kiprusoff and shootouts? How can a goalie be so good during the game, and so bad at shootouts? Look, a lot of times the shots Kipper faces in the shootout are next to impossible to save, but he needs to find a way. Speaking of, Calgary's shooters need to find a way to put the puck in the net.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I Miss Mike Commodore

I've made no bones about it. I miss Mike Commodore. While Calgary was having its cinderella season, there is no doubt Mike Commodore was the cinderella player. Pressed into regular shift duty when Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier went down, Commodore formed one half of 'The Dores' defensive duo. While it was Montadore that scored the famous beaver tail slap winner against the Sharks in OT, Commodore became famous for his gigantic red afro. I think though that fans appreciated him even more for his clutch play.

Commodore is back in town playing for the first time since Game 6 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals, and while Flames fans still feel the sting of that defeat, Commodore has surely soothed his somewhat by winning the Stanley Cup exactly one season later. Less than two full season in the NHL, and already a Stanley Cup Final veteran.

Another Calgary cast-off is joining Commodore tonight in a Flames reunion type of way. Cory Stillman was traded away for Craig Conroy, and I remember being furious at the time. Stillman was a proven playmaker, Conroy was some defensive centre. While the trade worked out for Calgary, with Conroy leading the way during the 2004 playoffs, the trade worked out even better for Stillman - eventually.

After languishing on a talented but hapless St. Louis Blues team where he got 2nd line ice time behind Weight and Tkachuck, Stillman was traded to the Lightning for a 2nd round pick (at least Calgary got SOMETHING back...). There he went on to have nearly a point a game season, and he won the cup with Tampa. He was benched for the finals, but his name got on the cup. He was criticized for being soft. Turns out he was hurt. Tampa wasn't willing to give him a multi-year deal, so he signed with the 'Canes, and ended up winning the cup again. But this time, nobody called him soft. Scoring key goals throughout the playoffs, Stillman proved he was a clutch performer.

Come to think of it - I miss Stillman too.

Andrew Ference said tonight's game will be like a benchmark for the team. I think right now the Ducks are the true benchmark, they're playing better than any other team and its showing in the win column. The 'Canes have without a doubt lost some of the mojo from last year, so its not as big a deal as maybe some are making it up to be. It is important though in the sense that the Flames are a team that needs to put forth a consistent effort game to game.
Keep an eye on the Huselius-Kobesew-Lombardi combo - Playfair has challenged them to be more consistent as well.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

NHL Disciplinary Committee an Embarrassment

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the NHL's disciplinary 'policies' are a joke. While the rest of the hockey world debates about whether fighting is dangerous, or whether perfectly legal hits should be outlawed, I am going to continue to decry hits from behind.

When Ryan Smyth was knee'd by John Liles, some people asked if it was Ovechkin was the victim, would the penalty assessed to Liles be as leniant? Now I am asked to ask the converse question: If the disgusting hit against Briere last night had been committed by anyone but Ovechkin, would that person be suspended? Would Ville Niemenen gotten away with such a play? Think about it, Ville got suspended for a cheap hit on Curtis Joseph during the 2004 Western Conference semi-finals. I agree with that suspension, but at least there was no chance of an injury from Ville's 'hit' (which was more of a grazing elbow).

Not only was Ovechkin's hit from behind, it was totally late, it was obvious Briere was out of the play and heading towards the bench, AND the bench door was open. Thats the perfect storm of a dirty play. The chance of injury on from that hit was astronomical. Briere was lucky, but eventually the luck of hit from behind victims will run out.

Of course, Ovechkin was thrown out of the game, (Gastaud also got thrown out for trying to punch Ovechkin, ya, thats the same as a blatant hit from behind...) and he apologized, but is that enough? I don't think so, and I don't think anyone other than a blind deaf and dumb Washington Capitals fan would disagree.

So what is the Disciplinary Committee smoking? Your guess is as good as mine.

Video of the hit in question:

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Vote For Rory

America doesn't vote for a new president until 2008. Canada will not have a federal election for some time either (barring unforseen circumstances). In Alberta there is a leadership race for the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. But in the hockey world, there is only one current campaign that matters: Rory Fitzpatrick for NHL All Star Game 2007.

Sure, he hasn't played a game since early November. And sure, he has no points. But Rory deserves your vote, and here's why:

Steve Schmid, The organizer of says that Rory is your classic lunch pail guy who never gets acknowledgement for his hardwork. He claims the all-star game is full of pretty boys who don't always deserve their recognition. He'd like to, just once, have a hard working no-nonsense guy in the game.

The reason I think you should vote for Rory is because I think fan voting for the All-Star game is stupid. Fans are unlikely to vote for 'no-name' players who are performing well, and they are unlikely to vote for very good players from small market franchises. I especially think its stupid to stage the voting so certain players are more likely to be voted in from the get-go. There is always a short-list of players in every position, and then the hassle 'write-in' vote. Shouldn't the ease of voting be equal for all players?

Schmid agrees: “It's not who deserves it, it's who has the biggest fan base.”

Voting in Fitzpatrick would prove to the league that All-Star voting is a joke, plus it would be nice to see a hard working lunch pail guy in the game.

So from now, until All Star Voting closes, do the right thing: Vote For Rory.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I Wanna be Like Mike

Of course everyone in Flamedome has heard by now that the
diminuitive keeper Mike Vernon will have his jersey number retired to the rafters. In one sense I feel it is long past due that another jersey should be retired in the 'dome. Lanny's number 9 looks pretty lonely up there. But I have mixed feelings about Vernon's number going up.

To Vernon's credit, he's the classic 'hometown boy does good' story. He grew up in Calgary, as I recall he played for the AJHL Royals, made the NHL and backstopped his hometown team to their only Stanley Cup victory. He eventually got traded and won a cup with Detroit, their first in 55 years, he was awarded the Conn Smythe for his effort.

On the other hand, was Vernon good enough to be 'banner worthy?' This is supposed to be for the best of the best, not just a good goalie, or even just a winning goalie. He has to be a GREAT goalie. Fairly or not, my two biggest memories of Verny are Gretzky going slap-shot roof daddie and Roy and Vernon teeing off on eachother. Vernon had a reputation for giving up bad goals, and also for not making the important or 'key' saves.

And what about the other Flames retirees that were great for the club? We must be planning on retiring MacInnis' jersey (it would be a travesty not to) and I would hope the Flames plan on retiring Fleury's. Should Vernon's numbers be raised before the aforementioned Flames?

My conclusion? Vernon is good enough to have a banner name, even if it's maybe a bit premature in light of other Flames that have been great.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hey Pronger!!!

The gap in your story is bigger than the gap in your teeth!!!!!!!!!

Take that!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Star Whine III: Revenge of the Smid

In an attempt to be slightly different from every other Oilers or Ducks blog/fan around the NHL, I don't particularily want to comment on the Pronger situation. I'm still disappointed he's no longer around, but like Kevin Lowe said, the absence of Pronger's salary could help keep the rest of the Oiler's core (ie. Smyth) around. (Now sign Ryan Smyth for god's sake!). Besides, I actually thought the Big Dude's blog on Sportsnet was one of the most interesting.

I was however hoping there would be some funny sign's posting in regards to Pronger's return. I heard of one that said 'I hate Pronger but I can't say why because it's personal.'

Lyle Seitz of Professional Skate fame is reffing the game tonight. If there are any hockey players reading this blog that are looking for a place in Calgary to get a skate sharpening I would highly recommend Pro Skate.

There were some indications this morning that Danny Syvret would get to play for the Oilers tonight. Staois is still not ready to go which is bad news for the Oilers, but I was really interested in seeing Syvret play. He dominated in Jr. and the only real rap he gets is that he's undersized. Well I know of another undersized defenceman that does a pretty damn good job, (a couple actually) so I don't particularily like that explanation. The question of why Markennan missed the Oilers' superskills is answered, as he's suffering from some sort of ailment, in his place, Jeff Deslauriers was called up and is suited up for the game.

Some thoughts:
Marty Reasoner is continuing his strong performance from the 'Hawks game. His line with Winchester and Torres is one of the Oilers' best. They've got a goal, Torres laid down a nice hit, Winchester fought, and they've gotten several very good scoring chances.

I've been saying it for a week or so, but Pisani is playing better hockey. He had the PP chance in the first and scored the beauty rebound backhand in the second, but he just tends to make good decisions all over. *** edit - The goal has officially been changed to Ryan Smyth, it went off Smytty's skate. Regardless, it was a good effort by all involved.

Roloson is VERY vocal. He's quite the interesting goalie case - not cool, calm, but he is very collected. Got ran once in the first by Selanne, then by Niedermeyer (Rob) in the second, but still had the sense to scream at Smid to 'let him go' because the penalty had been called. Another peculiar thing about Rolie is that its easy to get under his skin, but its not easy to get him off his game. Some goalies (Belfour) are such that once you get in their head, they're off their game.

Smytty LOVES the wrap-around. Its been ineffective thus far, but we'll see how she goes the rest of the night. Maybe Smyth can just make Giguere go bonkers again.

O'Brien gets in a fight with Winchester, thereby making my and Finny's day. (I have O'Brien in my hockey pool).

more thoughts after the game.

Ouch- that one hurt. Even though the Ducks dominated that third period, the Oilers gave themselves a chance to win. Not just a chance, they SHOULD have won that one. Anything less than a win when you have a lead going into the final minute is a disaster.

Hate to scapegoat, but the same group of players was on for the last 2 goals against for the Oilers. Smith and Smid, and Smyth and Horcoff (Pisani was on for one, but couldn't be on for the second).

Thats simply unacceptable. Smyth was the culprit on the winner (very uncharacterstic), and Horcoff's man scored the tying. It's a cliche, but the Oilers' best players have to be their best players.

This may sound like sour-grape ranting, but I've come to a conclusion (and I came to it while the Oilers were winning): The Ducks have found a way to make a high pace, quick forechecking game very boring. They're simply not a pretty team to watch. That isn't to say their style is ineffective; in fact its very effective. But its like watching a reverse forecheck. I guess I shouldn't criticize too loudly, I have been a Flames fan for a long time and they've correctly been identified as a boring team to watch.

They managed to blow out the Avalanche tonight though, just as predicted by MG at Five Hole Fanatics. Good call by him, but can you expect anything less when the Avs play at the dome? I've seen them stink up that place more than once over the past couple years.

It would have been nice to watch it, but the devil in me had to see how Rexall reacted to the return of Pronger. Obviously the Oilers game was closer and more of a hockey game, but sometimes a blow-out is funner to see than a heartbreaking loss.

Revenge is a dish best served with a 'W,' not an 'L,' or in this case, an 'OTL.'

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Route! Route! Route!

3 hours to Edmonton, 25 minute train ride to the game, 25 minutes back, and 2.5 hour drive back to Calgary the next day, all for 60 minutes of Oiler action. And it was totally worth it.

I'm disappointed to say that I am picture-less. I forgot the camera just before we left for the game (I'd like to say it was because of the pops we had consumed but basically I just wasn't thinking).

The game was awesome, the Oilers basically dominated in all areas. I didn't know this while watching, but I guess Bergeron was screamed out in practice earlier in the day. Well he played a very solid game, I thought he made some very nice defensive zone decisions, and he scored a goal (albiet a pointless one). Very interesting to see today that in the Superskills competition Bergeron was the fastest skater AND had the hardest shot at 103.5mph.

Hemsky had one crazy shift where he just went headhunting. I didn't catch what set him off but it was a very strange site indeed.

Obviously one standout was Sean Horcoff who has definately increased his level of play of late.

Sad to see the first game Staois had missed in 224 (I think) in a row.

Seabrook was probably the one positive for the 'Hawks, he played tough and smart the whole night and laid out Marty Reasoner (another standout Oiler on the night).

Funniest moment of the night: The enthusiastic chorus of boos let loose when the Oiler's next home opponent, the Ducks, were announced.

Some distressing news the other night during Sattelite Hotstove: Eric Duhatschek claimed that the Oilers wanted to sign Smyth to a 4-5 year deal, but were only prepared to offer him about $5 million, which was an unnacceptable number to the Smyth camp. Note to Lowe: DON'T lowball Smytty. As McLean pointed out, how can you give Hemsky just over $4 million a year, but offer Smyth just under 5?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hitchcock vs. Murray


Obviously the decision has been made by Columbus GM Doug MacLean: Hitch is back. Personally though, if I was in charge I would have gone with Andy Murray. I really like a lot of things Andy Murray has done - two Gold Medals for Team Canada at the World Championships. He really was a very good coach in LA and I think that if it wasn't for a constant flow of injuries to key personnel he would have had a lot more success. I also believe Murray has proven his touch with younger as well as older players. In general the teams that Canada sends over to Europe for those IIHF tournaments have a lot of younger developing stars along with one or two older-established stars for leadership.

Sound familiar?

Columbus is loaded with great young talent like Nash, Zherdev, Brule, Leclaire etc. but they also have the established stars like Adam Foote and Sergei Federov. Hell, Andy Murray even managed the impossible: Getting a worthwhile effort from Anson Carter! In that 2003 tournament, it was Carter who scored the OT winner in the gold medal game. Maybe Murray could have even gotten Carter going in Columbus.

Hitchcock has more of a reputation for taking established stars and getting them on a new and more focused gameplan. He really has no particular reputation regarding young players.

That isn't to say I think Columbus will flop under Hitchcock. I think Hitch will get the ship righted and I stand by my earlier opinion that Columbus has the on ice personnel to be a contender. I just would have chosen Andy Murray to right the ship instead.

Road Trip! Going to Edmonton friday night to see the Oilers take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Pics and story to be posted Saturday or Sunday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BREAKING NEWS: Oilers sign Staois to 4 Year Deal! Plus: Battle of Alberta Tonight!

Staois resigning huge news for Oiler fans. Steve has been like a fine wine, he keeps getting better with age. The Oilers signed him for $10.8 million over 4 years, which is a decent rate for a top 4 defenceman. Of course, theres the possibility (and perhaps likelihood) that Staois' performance will decline over the course of the contract, I think he's still one of the best bang for your buck defensemen out there.

Plus there is a very interesting clause in his contract: He gets paid at a DECLINING rate. The contract will pay Staios $2.9-million in each of the next two seasons, followed by $2.8-million in 2009-2010 and $2.2-million in 2010-2011.

Thats not only an astute asset management move by Lowe, it's a clear indication that Staois is willing to concede salary for a better chance to win.

"Steve exemplifies what it means to be an Edmonton Oiler and we couldn't be happier with this long-term extension. He is one of those players who leads by example and will do everything it takes to accomplish the task at hand."

-Kevin Lowe

Oilers recalled tough guy Zach Stortini. Stortini knows he has one job: Fight. Who will be his partner? I'm betting on Darren McCarty.

-live (or near live) game updates and analysis during the game tonight

  • Calgary is starting Kipper, and Edmonton Rolie. Both Bold moves...
  • Calgary's forecheck is looking good early
  • Reasoner sounds like a funny guy. "I'm wearing the mich tonight so everytime I come to the bench say I did a good job!"
  • Jason Smith dominated Hamrlik physically when he came out of the penalty box. The captain is setting the tone early
  • 1-0 Flames - Tjarnqvist miscommunicates with Roloson, immediately panics and turns the puck over. Good hustly on the forecheck by the Flames on that one
  • Excellent chance by the Oilers created by: who else? Ryan Smyth. Overall there were some good chances by the Oilers over the course of that shift and the previous one.
  • Iginla gets himself open in frot and lets a nice one go. He doesn't miss often on those.
  • Both teams are really keeping it simple. Get in the zone, one guy drive to the, other guy get the puck to the net.
  • SMOKED!!
  • Nice work by Torres, driving hard to the net. Zyuzin continues to suck.
  • Smyth is dominating down low. Amonte was basically forced to take that one.
  • Hemsky took a shot! Then gave it away...
  • 1-1 SHockey game
  • Sykora, beauty shot. Excellent pass by both Bergeron and Hemsky. Despite oilogosphere insistence, I think Bergeron is the Oiler's best option on the point for PPs.
  • Good hustle by both teams. A little tightness on both sides. Can't wait to hear more Reasoner talk...

  • 2nd period
  • Calgary's aggresive forecheck continues to yield quality scoring chances.
  • Smith falls and hockeygirl's favorite Flame gets another chance off a Tjarnqvist giveaway
  • Offensive zone penalty on Brad Winchester. Thats a bad one to take, especially with the Flames having all the momentum this period
  • After that bounce I was going to say I'm starting to believe the Oilers are out to get the refs - until Ray Ferraro showed a good ref bounce from the Wings game.
  • Hamrlik first couldnt control a simple pass, then upon retrieval of the puck throws a piss poor pass up the middle...
  • Mesmorizing move by Hemsky which results in zone control and a half decent scoring chance
  • I think when Tanguay and Staois got tangled up Staois was asking Tanguay how the family was...
  • Zyuzin looks hurt off a MA Bergeron shot. Hopefully he can still play...(note the sarcasm)
  • Did anyone catch who had that defensive zone giveaway for the Oilers? Brutal. Good composure by Bergeron to secure the puck and find the open man on that play though.
  • Great defensive zone coverage and physical play by Bergeron. Greene on the other hand should have had a penalty on that play.
  • Pisani vs. Regehr - my money will be on Regehr every time.
  • Almost a goal off of Smyth's hustle. Ference did his job for the Flames, can't say the same for Zyuzin.
  • Oh my god, awesome clip of Smytty's first NHL goal, against the Flames in November 1995.
  • If you're a Flames fan, that clip hurts...Trevor Kidd? Ouch.
  • Iginla drives to the net. I honestly doubted his claim of losing weight=getting faster, but he has legitimately been beating people with his speed this year
  • Tangauy needs to shoot the puck...
  • Nice work down low by Dion, and again on the foot race .
  • Is it just me, or is this game lacking in big hits?
  • This time it's Greene who has the good shift but has to take a penalty because of Bergeron's giveaway
  • Wow, nice save by Rolie.
  • Rolie! Rolie! Rolie! Rolie!
  • Nice try by Tanguay from behind the net. Thats the sort of creative play he's paid to make.
  • Boy there IS a lot of snow on the ice. It's like playing on the pond out there.
  • The Oilers got outplayed that period by a longshot. Thats probably a worse sign for the Flames than the Oilers, as if you outplay a team that badly you expect to be up by at least 1 goal. And lets face it, while the Flames goal was due to hard forechecking work, it was also due to a pretty botched play by Tjarnqvist and Roloson. The Flames will probably need to score a real goal to win this one.
  • Ice time leaders: Phanuef for Calgary, Tjarnqvist for Edmonton

  • 3rd Period
  • Damn, what was Reasoner saying? The mich was too heavy?
  • Torres needs to keep up his enthusiastic play this period. His footspeed was really good on that shift.
  • Oilers' second offensive zone penalty. You simply cannot take penalties like that and expect to win.
  • You know it doesnt look like that was offside from the TV perspective
  • If I were Playfair, I'd be giving Ference more PP time. He doesn't have Dion's shot, but he's very good at picking his spots
  • Another good save by Roloson on Iginla's chance. Iginla's speed comes into play again, he was simply beating Smid in the footrace.
  • Its hard to say if the Flames PP is that bad, or the Oiler's PK is that good. While the Flames PP has been looking somewhat decent over the last few games, they have been shut out handily tonight. The Oiler's PK is ranked #1 in the NHL though...
  • I don't think there was any doubt Miikka was going to make that save on Petersen.
  • Ohhh...Zyuzin IS hurt and can't play tonight...that sucks...(note sarcasm again)
  • Roloson is no Kipper, but there is no doubt he is playing very very well.
  • This pressure by the Oilers is a great example of Pisani and Horcoff using their speed to overwhelm the defence
  • Iginla makes a shifty move and forces Smith to take a penalty. We shall see if Edmonton's PK dominance continues.
  • Horcoff's positioning during that shift was just perfect. Same with Smytty.
  • Flames PP woes continue.
  • Flames are really pouring it one, but Ference got lucky at the point. This Oiler line really needs a change though.
  • Smytty should have had a penalty on that forecheck
  • 2-1 Oilers
  • Sykora jumps on a HEMSKY rebound, scores the go-ahead goal
  • WTF was Amonte doing on that? He could've had the rebound, but instead skated AWAY. Thats classic Bones for you.
  • Oilers are really roped in their own end again. This reminds me of last year's playoffs, the bend but don't break philosophy.
  • Ouch. After the Oilers had some nice neutral zone checking going on, Smid makes the poor pass to the covered Staois, who throws it out of the field of play, taking a delay of game penalty.
  • Roloson is NOT afraid to clear it himself
  • In hindsight, maybe taking a penalty was the smartest thing the Oilers could have done at the end.

therealdeal 3 stars:

3. Jarome Iginla - Despite not getting a point, Iginla was the Flames most dangerous player all night.

2. Petr Sykora - Two goals, including the winner. Sure, the rest of the time he was pretty much invisible, but he provided the only offence for Edmonton.

1. Dwayne Roloson - Besides from an early miscue, Roloson was perfect.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Calgary's Ference NHL's Renaissance Man

There are a lot of hockey players who would never be accused of being too 'booky.' Most of them don't spend too much time worrying about politics, or current events or what's happening to children in the 3rd world.

When most players give an interview, the specifics are pretty general. Most players give the same interview and only replace certain nouns like the teams or players involved, while the adjectives and narrative remain the same.

Do not count Andrew Ference among this group. Ference is a renaissance man.

Listening to a pre-game interview on the Fan 960 the other night I realized how easy I found it to pick out Ference as the interviewee. His comments seem...contemplated. When asked if (paraphrased) this team (the Flames) could continue to mirror last year's performance, Ference asked the interviewer to clarify the question:

"This season looks like last, but is it realistic to expect a 7 game winning streak again?"

"Well that's only 2-3 games away, I don't think thats unrealistic. I think we could go to 8-9 games..." (again, paraphrased.)

Then, this weekend in the Herald, an article about how Ference got to sit and chat with an idol of his: David Suzuki. Seems one of Suzuki's assistants read in an article that Suzuki was one of Ference's idols. Ference said it was like the first time he met Lemieux; sky high expectations met. Suzuki was a hit.

I actually saw Ference at the Olympic Oval on Saturday night, promoting the Right to Play organization, an athlete-driven group that promotes the use of sport in 3rd world countries to promote health and peace. (Canada's speed skating/cycling olympic champ Clara Hughes was also there, in fact, being the main event). Once again, Ference takes the road less travelled. (only a handful of other NHLers are in the organization, including Pettinger, Gretzky, Steen, Ovechkin).

Seeing Ference in person was quite an eye-opener in more ways than one. When you see Ference play, you know he gives up an amount of size of players - what you might not have known, is how much. Ference is not 5'10 as claimed by TSN. Ference is 5'8, 5'9 tops. This just further shows how smart a player Ference is. To give up 3-4 inches on the 'average' NHLer, and still be effective and at times dominant is nothing less than impressive. Impressive hockey player, impressive man.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gorgeous Georges States His Case

You can count me as one of the few hockey fans left who believes that an enforcer can still be a useful tool to an NHL team. What I find difficult, is how enforcer is defined. Most people think of a slow moving hulk patrolling the neutral zone contributing nothing but intimidation. And when people use this archetype, the example tends to turn to one Georges Laraque. "There is no place for guys like Laraque inthe 'new' NHL," or "You can't have a one dimensional guy like Laraque taking up a roster spot" etc. (Quotes made up by me, but I don't think many would have to stretch to imagine pundits spouting them). Here's the problem: I've seen Georges, and while he IS the best fighter in the league, he's not one dimensional.

While Georges will never be known as a sniper, a big hitter or a defensive specialist, he has been known (on many occasions) as a pretty good hockey player. I've seen him dominate the offensive boards and create sustained pressure down low, I've seen him be effective causing havoc in front of the opposing team's net, I've seen him make good outlet passes from his own zone, I've seen him make good defensive decisions. I've seen Georges change the pace of the game and I've seen him inspire his teammates.

Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Georges should be on the All-Star team, or that Georges should be named the Captain of the Coyotes, or should be playing 20 minutes a night. But the fact remains that if utilized sparingly in the correct circumstances Georges can be very effective.

Take his performance a couple nights ago: The lowly Coyotes should be a write-off team for the Wild. The Coyotes were down 2-0, which should be an even bigger 'gimme' for the Wild. Enter Gorgeous Georges, taking on the league's largest pugilist, Derek Boogaard. Georges wins the fight. Less than a minute later, the Coyotes score a goal. Oleg Saprykin then scored two goals(including the winner), both set up by Georges. Coyotes win.

Now someone please tell me that 'enforcers' don't have a place in the game.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Public Relations, NHL Style!

If in fact the eyes have it, then Mark Messier has IT all. Intimidation, skill, leadership, heart. These are just a few of the words used to describe the Moose. In honour of Messier's most pointed to quality, that of leadership, they have decided to create the Mark Messier (leadership) Award.

"The NHL is fortunate to have so many players that embody all the attributes of great leadership," Messier said in a statement. "This award provides an opportunity for me to acknowledge the players who lead by example and bring out the best in others, both within their sport as well as in the community."

I have some mixed feelings about this award. While I think its especially cool that Messier himself has some say in the award, is it really neccessary to hand it out 5 times in a season? The best leaders lead all year, not just for a month or two. And what happens if (when?) Messier gains a management position with a team (Rangers) in the NHL? Will he still have a say in who the award goes to? Won't that be a conflict of interest?

And while I have no problem naming an award after Messier, I still feel there are a couple of the best players of all time who still have not had a 'memorial' (in quotes because I don't think we should wait until they're dead, memorial could refer to memorializing their careers) trophy created.

Either way, congratulations to Brendan Shanahan for being named the first recipient of the Messier Award.

Obviously, I would like to reprimand the NHL for not giving JM Liles even a 1 game suspension for what was an obvious knee. The NHL is claiming that since Smyth isn't hurt (who knows for sure yet, although its being initially diagnosed as a charliehorse), its no harm, no foul. This is exactly the sort of idiotic logic that I've been decrying. If players do not see like-punishment for like-actions, the actions will never altered. Basically what the NHL is saying is that really its ok to knee the living shit out of your opponent, so long as you do it at the end of the game and it looks like the victim will probably be back next game.

I would bet that if that play was earlier on in the game, Smytty would have still missed the remainder as a precaution, and Liles would have been suspended simply because Smyth missed more of the game.

This is typical NHL. Raffi Torres lays down a clean hit on Jason Williams who has his head down WITH the puck, and everyone scrambles to try and stop that play from happening again (hint, skate with your head up). But Liles knees a player who doesnt even have the puck and the NHL says no big deal.

You can expect payback as long as next game is out of reach for one team.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jesus on Skates

I was going to write about how pleased I was the Oilers put together 60 minutes worth of hockey, or how their puck pursuit was the difference in the game today, or even how impressed I am with Brad Winchester. But there's only one thing worth talking about in Oil Country.

Ryan Smyth.

As Mike Brophy said during the intermission, there aren't many guys in the NHL who compete as hard as Ryan Smyth game in and game out. He's not just a leader, he is still the Oiler's best player. He showed it again tonight, scoring two goals, drawing several penalties, and doing something all great leaders do: sacrifice.

Its just unfortunate that no Oiler made John Liles sacrifice as well. I think Laraque would have sacrificed Lile's body, body, then face. Sure Horcoff went after him, and I'm sure he'll be marked next game, but this is the kind of hit that was taken well past the level of competing. I've talked a lot about how fighting and head-shots aren't nearly as big of a problem as is checking from behind. Obviously, kneeing is another big problem in the NHL.

Now you could argue that Liles was just desperate and didn't mean to knee Smyth. Its possible, maybe he'll release a post game statement indicating such. But you could also argue it was 'premeditated.' Think back to the second period, Marty Reasoner sends in a stealthy dump, Smyth picks it up and beats Liles for the game winning goal. Does anyone think Liles didn't get totally embarrassed on that play? Perhaps he was looking for a little revenge, a little payback for Smyth's one-man clinic tonight.

Will the NHL factor that into Liles' punishment? I highly doubt it. Most casual NHL fans are not sophisticated enough to understand how dirty and devastating a knee is. The NHL tends to punish not for intent or damage, but rather how brutal the crime LOOKS and how much general media attention it receives. I think Liles will get 1-5 games, and as usual, the punishment will not fit the crime. Who knows how long Smyth will be out? We know he's had knee problems before, but we know he's a quick healer. One thing is for sure, the Oilers are going to miss him big time.

Come back soon Jesus on Skates...

edit: Here's the video of the play in question:

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yeah Baby!

Although I didn’t get to see any of the first period (who knew it’d be impossible to watch the game at a bar?) I would have to say this is the Flames most impressive win yet. Vancouver may not be the best team in the league, but they play a defensive style and boast Luongo in net. To fall behind 2-0 and then come back is the sort of character proving game the team needed. Nice to see all three goals were scored in ways that showcased the Flames potential offensive flair as well.

  • Iginla (Tanguay) on a breakaway that once again proved Iginla’s dominance over Ohlund
  • Warrener (Tanguay, Iginla) on a nice fake->pass->pass->shoot play.
  • Huselius (Lombardi) in which Lombardi showcased his speed and Huselius his hands.

Actually I thought Huselius looked good all night again. He might not always get points, but he often draws penalties and creates good chances.

Once again, congrats to Peter Maher, going to the hall of fame. If you ever catch a game being broadcast by FSN you’ll realize just how truly great Mahar is. Plus Jim Hughson said tonight that Maher has done 2700 straight games for the Flames. How many other employees do you know that have shown up for 2700 straight workdays? Of course, I doubt many jobs compare to Peter’s! Anyway, all Flames fans know and love Maher, and he really deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Alls Well in Alberta

As Sportsnet said before the game, Columbus is exactly what the Oilers needed. Hemsky came out of his aimless stupor long enough to score one early in the 2nd, while Lupul finally made an offensive winner a few minutes later. I thought the Oilers basically dominated the game start to finish, even though Leclaire's lackluster goaltending perhaps inflated the difference between the two teams.

I'm wondering if someone can tell me specifically why Tjarnqvist has been benched the last couple games. How does one go from top ice time eater to benched in the span of about a week? Now I haven't been a huge endorser of Tjarnqvist, but I really think the Oilers missed him, especially in Detroit. He tends to make good first passes, and the rest of the Oilers' offensive system flows from that initial pass.

Andy Grabia at BOA was complaining/questioning MacT's insistence on playing Winchester and Petersen on the PP against Detroit late in the game, rather than some of the other higher profile under-producers on the team. Quite frankly I am behind MacT 100% on this issue, for several reasons.

#1 - The number 1 PP unit was simply not getting it done in any way shape or form. Its not like they didn't get a chance- they did on multiple occasions that night. But the PP was terrible, and save Ryan Smyth, none of them looked good or were playing particularly well.

#2- Winchester (and his linemates) was responsible for the Oilers' best scoring chances of the evening. Not just on one shift, but on several. He was one of the few people out there making things happen. Petersen has also looked good. While he his touch around the net has been sub par, he plays his position well and got scoring chances. I don't think its crazy to give the ice time to the hottest hands.

#3 - MacT has always been a firm believer of rewarding players that play well with ice time. But if you only use that tactic as a punishment, it eventually loses its motivational power. There's obviously intrinsic motivation for Winchester to play well all the time, but what would it say about his coach if he plays better than anyone else on the team but there's no reaction by MacTavish? MacT has proven over and over and over again - he does not play favorites.

Anyway, the Columbus win tonight was nice, but the Oilers need to beat a somewhat respectable team. Obviously their recent record does not bode well, but Oil Country patrons need to remember that one of their recent loses was a Magoo-Screw and the other was in a shootout where Sykora hit the post. The Detroit game was pretty distressing, but the guys played the night before and LOOKED very tired. Even finely tuned athletes can get rundown. That wasn’t the only issue, but it was still a big one.

Onto Flamesville - I'm not going to start partying yet, but I almost have this feeling inside like the Dallas game was some sort of turning point. I think a key step to this turnaround was the separation of Regehr and Phanuef. I think oftentimes putting two dominant defenceman together is counterintuitive. Think about it, most of the time Dion is used to doing the job of about 1.5 defencemen. This affects his positioning, pinch-pullback thought process, physical commitment decisions, etc. Regehr has the same issue, generally, high end defenceman partially carry their partners. Now put the two together and they're both overlapping each other's jobs. Its clear Regehr and Phanuef never really gelled at all, and its nice to know now that one of them will be on the ice almost all the time.

Not only have the Flames won the last two games, they did it against good teams, playing solid defensively. I would think these two wins have made a significant difference in the mood of the locker room, and perhaps this will help the Flames get their swagger back.

Can someone explain to me what happened to Amonte over the last 4 days? Did someone put steroids in his soup or something?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Three Stars - Bones Edition

I attended tonight's matchup between the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars and I must say thats the best game I've seen the Flames play all season. Obviously it wasn't perfect, but there were a lot of positives, including some sustained pressure, chance generation, good defensive play and some innovative playmaking. I've come up with a three star selection from the game.

3rd Star - Andrew Ference
In general I thought Ference put in a solid defensive effort, he made virtually zero defensive mistakes or turnovers. Most of all though, he stood up for himself in the 1st period when he was blatantly checked from behind...again. Where the rest of his teammates were, I don't know (obviously Ritchie wasn't on the ice again) but this time Ference took matters into his own hands and pumelled Barnaby (couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.) One of the longest and free-est swinging fights I've seen all year, Ference gave a huge boost to the crowd and his teammates. Less than a minute later, Calgary scores the opening goal.

2nd Star - Miikka Kiprusoff
Mikka let in one odd angle goal, but otherwise shut the door. He made several brilliant saves, including stopping Brendan Morrow on a cross ice one timer. Kipper also looked good in scramble situations, even with his own teammates falling on and around him. 25 saves in 26 shots, what more can a team ask for?

1st Star - Tony "Bones" Amonte
Far and away the best game Amonte has played in a Calgary uniform. He looked speedy, he looked crafty, he won board battles, he drew penalties, he was in position, he scored two goals and hit one post. There wasn't a shift where Amonte looked less than good, and several where he was spectacular.

Honourable mention goes to Kristian Huselius who put in a nice effort tonight. Skated hard, looked sharp offensively and was responsible in his own end. Could've had 2 goals on the Flames 5-3 PP, he was unable to finish. Although Huselius was benched last game, Playfair showed newfound confidence in Huselius by putting him on the ice in the last minute to protect the lead. Huselius did just that, adding an empty netter to seal the deal.

Finally, I'm a little worried about Tanguay. After making his first his of the season, he grabbed his shoulder, limped off the ice, went straight to the dressing room and never came back.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mr. Magoo, Where Are You?

I'd like to preface my mini rant by saying the NHL is in general a very well refereed sport . The speed of the game is such that it is very difficult to see everything going on at every given moment, but the referees in the NHL tend to get things right more often than they get things wrong. But in the parts of two games I was able to see tonight, I saw two calls go very wrong.

The first instance relates in my opinion to player safety. While journalists and hockey lovers everywhere have been debating the inclusion/exclusion of fights and headshots, and while Bertuzzi's sucker punch has been pointed to as everything that is wrong with hockey, I'd like to talk about the forgotten (and the far more dangerous) hit from behind. I'm not going to say the rate of hits from behind is steadily increasing, I'm not gonna decry the 'diminishing state of player-player respect,' but what I will do is point out the obvious: hits from behind are not penalized as harshly or as often as they should be.

Case in point tonight; Columbus' Gilbert Brule on Andrew Ference in the second period. Ference has the puck, turns to protect it, Gilbert approaches Ference, sees numbers all the way, and blatantly and intentionally hits Ference into the boards from behind. Byron Ritchie sees this happen, and rushes in to retaliate Brule's actions. As this is happening, Ference gets up, and is instantly met with a crosscheck to the face from Jody Shelly, who then goes after Ritchie. Now I understand why Ritchie was forced to retaliate - you simply do not let the opposition hit your teammate from behind with impudence. I also understand why Shelley was forced to deal with Ritchie, because regardless of who's at fault, you always have to defend your teammate. What I don't understand is how Ritchie and Shelley ended up with penalties, but Brule didn't.

I predict someone is going to get very injured from a similar play, and what will the NHL do? Scapegoat the perpitrator and act as if they had no control in the matter. It's only a matter of time.

Next up is the call thats going to be heard around the leauge for the next few days. Having not seen the rest of the game live, I can't say how well Mick McGeough reffed the game. There was an obvious missed goalie interference call on Dallas' first goal, but in both referees defence, you can't call what you don't see, and maybe they just didn't see it.

Unfortunately, McGeough completely reversed this line of thinking on the Oilers' apparent trying effort with under 10 second to go in the game. He believed that on that fateful draw, in which Horcoff (who won another important draw about 10 seconds earlier) used his glove to pass the puck back to Stoll for the point shot. Viewing the game live, it was apparent this event did not take place. Viewing the replay, its was disasterously obvious this event did not take place. However, from his vantage point, Mick McGeough insisted the event took place. The call was non reversible, non replayable. That play single handidly cost the Oilers at least 1 point in the standings.

17,000 live fans, 23 players, 4 coaches and untold Oilers support staff were incensed, and so they should be. I did however enjoy MacTavish's post game anti-McGeough diatribe in which he described the pure insanity of the call, the spasticity of McGeough's movements upon making the call and basically called out McGeough's reffereeing integrity. I think the fine MacT receives from the League will be well worth it. Some other choice quotes:

"It was a retarded call," Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish snapped. "There is no other explanation for it. I know he is a veteran official and at times I have found his antics humorous. But if this is the product of that there is a problem.

"It was a ridiculous call. I had no idea what he had called. Nobody saw the hand pass on the play because quite clearly there wasn't one. It's beyond reason.

"He should be suspended."

I will also say I am impressed that patrons of Rexall refrained from pelting the ice with debris until after the game was done. Many patrons from arenas across the league would have done it immediately following the blown call (and I don't blame them).

For his part, McGeough is admitting fault.

"It was a blown call on my part," he said after the game. "It was poor judgment on my part. I thought he had his hand on the puck on the face-off but it was his stick. My judgment was poor on the play."

Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes, even referees. Sometimes its just part of the game. Still, expect Stephen Walkom to make a statement.

In final, I'd like to say that the announcers claimed Hemsky was the one who scored the waved off tying goal. In actuality it was scored by Ryan Smyth on one of the greatest leaping on the ground goals I have ever seen. I would expect nothing less from the man I refer to as Jesus on Skates.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Is There Still A Pulse?

Tonight's Flames game means more to one man than any other on the team - Jim Playfair. I know his ass is on the line, you know his ass is on the line, and you better believe HE knows his ass is on the line. Despite the fact Columbus is desperate for a win as well, anything less than a win for Playfair and the guillotine slides closer to his head.

In my opinion, this road trip will determine his short term fate. Its hard to say exactly where the cut off line is, but zero wins is probably an instant firing upon arriving at Calgary international. 1 win would give Playfair a 3-4 game reprieve, 2 wins might give him until the end of the month, 3-4 wins and he'll be spared until the Flames start tanking again.

Many writers talk about the coach 'losing' the dressing room in situations like this. I don't know about losing the dressing room, but I do know that the post Wings game interviews from both Tanguay and Iginla on Sportsnet exhibited how much the atmosphere has changed in the dressing room. Insiders said it was upbeat but business like last year - this year (after the Wings game) I think one could describe the atmosphere as 'funeralesque.' Iginla and Tanguay looked as if both their mothers had just died, Iginla couldn't look at the camera and was the most downbeat I've ever seen him. You know the interviews players give right after they've lost the Cup in game 7? It was like that.

I don't know if that’s a sign of losing the dressing room, or a sign of being beaten so thoroughly so often. In any event, the only remedy is a few wins, preferably a few close ones so the team remembers how to fight through adversity and win.

Leadership and Consistency

I have to say, despite not playing well in the last week or so, I'm still not overly concerned about the state of affairs in Oil Country. There is obviously a lack of consistency, but there are still flashes of try and I've never felt the Oilers were totally out of any game they've played. I do wonder though how much of the problem is due to the absence of Ethan Moreau. Obviously he doesn’t get a lot of goals or assists but if there's one thing you can say about Moreau it's that he's consistent. And he's a leader. How much of his game/attitude filters through the rest of the team purely because of his presence? Certainly this is a younger team this year, and unlike last year when the Oilers boasted several high profile leaders, this Oilers' edition is scaled down. The leadership load will be more concentrated within Smith, Smyth, Staois, Stoll and Horcoff. Can they handle it? I would think so, but maybe this post Moreau play is the result of an adjustment period.

I'd just like to comment on how pleased I am Toby Petersen made the team. He's clearly a good 4th line fit, he's speedy, he likes to hit, and tends to make solid defensive plays. Who knows, he probably has more scoring touch than Moreau! Anyway, I was a bit surprised he didn't make the team right out of camp, but Thoresen's play has proven MacTavish made the right choice. With Moreau out though, Petersen will get a fair shot, proven by MacTavish's decision to put him on the ice while the Oilers were looking for the tying goal vs. Nashville- even though his errant wrist shot that spiraled out of the zone possibly cost the Oilers the game.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mind Blowing!

Flames lose again, and are outshot 34-15 in the process. Now I'm really worried...I mean if neither Byron Ritchie nor Brandon Prust can solve all of the Flames woes I don't know what to think!

Lundmark, Ritchie Out

Jamie Lundmark and Byron Ritchie are the odd men out this evening, and there are rumours Jamie (Noodles) McLennan might start. Good thing management has identified the REAL problems within this team. I've always suspected the Flames have been playing terrible because of Lundmark and Ritchie!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let the Speculation Begin...

The Hammer has fallen. Or will fall. Soon. Maybe. What is certain is that with the call-ups of Brandon Prust and Dustin Boyd from the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, a message was delivered. That message? Get your asses in gear or you will be replaced.

Of course, its possible no one will be replaced anytime soon, or if they are replaced soon they won't necessarily be replaced for an extended period of time - the aforementioned call-ups could end up sitting in the press gallery. But that wouldn’t be very Sutter like. I would suspect they'll get playing time - but at who's expense? Let the speculation begin!

Right now the list of players that are deserving of replacement is longer than the Flames would like, but lets simply narrow it down by assuming they will replace players at like positions. Prust plays left wing, and from top to bottom, Calgary's LWers are; Tanguay, Huselius (LW/RW), Friesen, Amonte(LW/RW), Kobasew (RW/LW).

Even though Tanguay isn't even noticeable on the ice most of the time, he plays a different role than Prust, so he's safe. Huselius at times looks like Calgary's only forward with hands, and he's been playing on Iginla's line (the only productive one) over the last two games. He's safe as well. Apparently Playfair singled out Amonte as having been one of the Flames better players lately (I don't agree, but it’s a plausible explanation of why the Flames are so bad), so he won't be looking over his shoulder. That leaves Kobasew, and Friesen.

Kobasew is really the odd man out on his line. Lombardi has speed, Tanguay has speed, puck handling skills, and a scoring touch, Kobasew has the ability to get hit. Prust on the other hand doesn't take hits. He gives them. While his scouting outlook is not as offensively optimistic as Kobasew's, perhaps his actual offensive output could be. Players like Tanguay have made mediocre players look good before.

Friesen referred to his last season as an embarressment. I hope he's learned to deal with the feeling of being embarressed, because so far he has not exactly shown why last year was the exception and not the rule. I give the guy a little credit, he is playing with Amonte and Yelle, so he probably won't look like an offensive powerhouse even if he was playing well. But that line has very little cohesion and I don't think his play is a symptom as much of a cause. It could be an ace in Friesen's sleeve that Sutter went out of his way to aquire his services-or it could mean that expectations from above are high.

I would say its more likely Friesen will sit, simply because Prust is scouted to be more of a 3rd liner than a 2nd, though I wouldn't mind seeing him create some room out there for Lombardi and Tanguay, both of whom are not known for their physical play.

The most obvious choice of replacement is Darren McCarty simply because McCarty doesn’t seem to be in Playfair's goodbooks judging purely by ice time. However, it would seem strange to me to replace a guy you're not willing to play anyway.

Boyd shares his position with Langkow, Lombardi, Nilson and Lundmark. Technically Ritchie as well, but he's been playing on the wing, and Boyd is more of a natural centre, so Ritchie is off the hook. Despite the fact Langkow looks lost on the first line and is desperately trying to keep up with Iginla and Huselius, I would be very surprised if the Flames called up a player with no pro regular season experience to be their number one centre. Therefore, Langkow is safe. Lombardi has been one of the Flames most consistent players, and still leads the team's +/-. He's safe for sure. This leaves Nilson and Lundmark.

I would also be very surprised if Nilson is replaced by Boyd. Nilson plays a checking role, while Boyd plays an uptempo offensive style. This leads us to Lundmark, who may play on the 4th line, often thinks like a 2nd or 1st line centre. Despite giving a beautiful breakaway pass to Iginla yesterday, Lundmark often makes defensive positioning errors. The question is, will Boyd be an improvement? I don't know how much sense it makes to bring Boyd up only to make him sit on the bench for 50-53 minutes per game.

So will Boyd replace a centre? If he does, I would say Lundmark is the best bet. I believe the second most likely person he will replace is Chuck Kobesew. If he can adapt his positioning his style of play is much more suited to that of Lombardi and Tanguay's. My money will still be on Lundmark however.

The only thing Flames fans needn't speculate is that management is in denial of the problem. Clearly management now believes the staying the course is not enough, and are now willing to implement some personnel changes. The question now is, will it work?