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?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ok, I'm worried

Ok, here's the thing; the Flames have a shitty schedule, big 6-1 win, 3 day layoff, momentum dead. We missed 'Double' Dion Phanuef and his 29 minutes of bone crunching, one timer, keep your head up play. The Flames always seem to have trouble with Nashville. But still…

Let's end the excuses.

No one can convince me the Flames are not a very good hockey team. We have franchise players in every single position, (Iginla, Regehr, Phanuef, Kiprusoff) we have some young talent (Lombardi) some undeniable skill (Huselius, Tanguay, Langkow) and a whole lot of heart.

And we do not look good at all.

It's not that I'm worried we won't make the playoffs. 'I don't know why everyone is worried' my friend told me. 'If we're not .500 by Christmas, then you can hit the panic button.'

Fair enough.

But this team should be better than .500. I'm not worried about .500. I'm not worried about the playoffs. The Flames have too much talent and too much heart to not hit those achievements. Here is what I am worried about:

The Cup.

Its my general guess that within the new rules it takes team's about 3-4 years to peak, and then about 2-3 years after that the team begins a rebuilding stage. Players that win get bigger contracts, and theres a limited time you can keep bargains on the team, and bargains are what is needed to win.

Kiprusoff at $3.5 million? Phanuef at $850,000k? Regehr $1.9 million (Hamrlik makes twice what Regehr does to keep it in perspective).

Does anyone think their salaries won't skyrocket come negotiation time? Is there one human being on the planet that thinks Regehr won't make more than Hamrlik?

What I'm trying to say is that the Flames have a limited - scratch that - very limited window to win the cup before we have to blow it all up and start again. I think this team is good enough to at least contend. A less talented Calgary team contended only two seasons ago. So I have to ask myself, when I watch the Flames play, do they look like contenders? Do contenders get beat by the bottom dwelling Bruins? Do they give up soft SH overtime goals? Do they come out flat against division bench mark teams?

You tell me.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Breaking News!

I'm so excited - Pisani has scored his first goal of the season!

There was something in the air that night

The stars were bright, fernando

They were shining there for you and me

For liberty, fernando

Though I never thought that we could lose

There’s no regret

If I had to do the same again I would, my friend, fernando

In other breaking news, the Oilers are getting worked by Phoenix...


Perhaps it was karma for beating the Coyotes so soundly two nights before that caused the Oilers to collapse last night. Perhaps it was unlucky bounces. Or perhaps, and this is more likely, the simply weren't the best team on the ice.

The score doesnt tell the whole story of course. The Oilers handily outshot the Ducks, but Roloson had an uncharacteristically 'off' night, from the botched coverup on the first goal, to the Getzlaf post-back-in goal, Roloson just did not look good.

Not that the rest of the team looked great either. The Smyth-Horcoff-Lupul line looked pretty ineffective, and although the Hemsky-Sykora-Thoresen line looked dangerous, they were unable to convert. I would have to say the best line of the night was a toss up between the third line or fourth line, both played an aggressive offensive forcheck all game and developed chances off of said pressure. Pisani was held goalless but played his best game of the season by far.

The Oilers' best player was Marc Andre Bergeron. He controlled the point well during the PP, was defensively responsible all night and made good outlet passes (and there were some bad ones last night by the Oilers). The fact that Bergeron was the Oilers' best player is probably a key sign of why they lost however.

The Oilers have not been good on the road this season, so tonight's game against the Coyotes will be a good test of their mettle. Then again, it is the Coyotes...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Public Enemy #1

Its a banner week in Oil Country in terms of villians. First ex-golden boy Mike Comrie returns in a Phoenix jersey, now Chris Pronger in a Duck's. Its hard to say who is more hated in Edmonton, but personally, I'm much more dissapointed in Pronger. Mike Comrie had a lot of pressure to succeed and perhaps not enough ability. After a dissapointing series against Dallas he was called out by Mac T and simply never resigned.

In contrast, Pronger signed a 6 year agreement to workfor the Oilers. At last, Edmonton had a bonified franchise player. Within a year, the Oilers made the cup final and missed out by a couple goals. Mysteriously, Pronger took a trip to Mexico (Hawaii?) and demanded a trade, citing personal reasons. Now, I'm not going to speculate (theres been enough of that) on his reasons for wanting to leave, but they're irrelevant. For the first time in his career Pronger experienced playoff success, played in a hockey town, had a good (great?) team behind him and was living in his native land. Call me a dreamer but that sounds pretty ideal to me.

The remaining Oilers, for their part, seemed to have taken the whole incident well, and appear to be using it as motivation this year. Many suggested the Oilers would not have a good team this year because Chris Pronger was such a key to the team's success, but the Staois' and Moreaus disagreed claiming it was a 23 man commitment that lead to success. So far, they're proving themselves right.

Keys to the Game

Special Teams - Pronger and Niedermeyer will probably see about 60 combined minutes on the ice. They're both expert PKers and PPers, and it shows up statistically (5th ranked PP in NHL at 24%). Edmonton's team PK is 90.2% (5th) effecient, while Anaheim's is 88.9% (9th) effecient.

Public Enemy - I don't expect the Oil will pay any particular attention to Pronger, at least no more than a franchise defenseman usually gets. Speed is Pronger's only weakness, but he uses his wingspan well.

Chemisty - Will the Torres - Stoll - Pisani line stay together? If they do, it'll be the best 3rd line in hockey today.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Flames vs. Coyotes - The Basement Battle!

There was an article by George Johnson in the Herald today that basically said if the Flames lose to the Coyotes, THEN its time to panic. I think we can all agree on that. Gretzky's desert dogs are simply not good, and losing to them would be a huge problem. It could however put in perspective how badly this team needs changes.

Keys to the Game:

  • Let the Coyotes self destruct
  • Don't suck

1st Period Summary - Flames 2, Coyotes 1

Zyuzin made his best play of the season on a defensive zone puck retrieval where he faked a pass and quickly circled around the fore checker. Unfortunately he also took a hooking penalty and is currently minus -1.

Dion put his emphatic stamp on the game (or rather, on Owen Nolan) early, flattening Nolan in the defensive end. One Phoenix player tried to hit Phanuef right after and also got bowled over. Eventually he got up and tried to fight Phanuef, at which point McCarty jumped him from behind like an octopus on a submarine.

The Flames took a couple penalties and were down 3-5, but the big story on the shift was both Kiprusoff making a beautiful toe save on a Jovanovski slapshot from the high slot, as well as Andrew Ference's quintuple hit shift, including, what I would call a Triple Ference, in which during about a 5-7 second stint he put three solid hits on Coyotes players and then got the puck out.

The Flames' PP looked overall better, including improved point movement. I think the wingers on the play still look too low, but both Kobasew and Huselius put pucks in the net from near behind the net angles.

Nolan scores a late one for Phoenix.

Good guy fighter 'Gorgeous' Georges Laraque beat the crap out of McCarty. Despite this, McCarty has a smile on his face as he is pummelled to the ground.

2nd Period Summary - Flames 3, Coyotes 1

The Coyotes PP has looked woefully ineffective the last couple nights. This trend continues with bad passes, poor positioning and a bad (line change?) that leads to a two man Flames breakaway. Amonte scores on what appears to be a semi weak shot.

Morrison is pulled.

Freisen makes a nice pass to a streaking Lombardi who streaks in on the Flames second best chance of the period.

A desperate Ladislav Nagy blatently runs Kiprusoff after his shot is stopped by the keeper. Ference, who was conspicuously absent on the play, streaks in and tackles Nagy off of Kiprusoff.

Jovanovski takes his 80th penalty of the game.

Enver Lisin gets the Coyotes' best chance of the period with about 10 seconds remaining, getting two great shots on Kiprusoff. Kipper of course saves them both.

Is it just me, or is Roenick playing better than expected? Also, Comrie loks worse. And where is Shane Doan?

Game Summary - Flames 6, Coyotes 1

Ding! Thats the sound Langkow hears as his penalty shot careems off of Joseph's shoulder and hits the post. Nice play by Morris on that by the way, that guys is still all heart!!!!!!! How in god's name does he have an 'A' on his jersey, even on Phoenix? I think he must have pictures of GMs or soemthing to not have been traded more often.

Doan does not play a minute in the 3rd period because he is suffering from an injury. Total ice time was about 9 minutes.

Calgary looks much better in the neutral zone, and the breakout is much improved. Overall, team speed has significantly increased, although I have to wonder whether thats due actual improvement or due to the opponent (or lack thereof).

The PP at times looked great, and at other times looked terrible. The last few minutes of PP time were a joke with a complete reversion back to 'the old way.' Maybe its just lack of focus due the game already being over.

Mike Comrie and Fredrik Sjostrom are plus +1 in a 6-1 loss. Dion Phanuef is Calgary's +/- leader at plus +3.

Watching Gretzky on the bench physically hurts me. Seriously. Also, I think Phoenix is the worst team I've ever seen. I don't know if they have any positives going for them right now. Somethine is going to break, I just don't know what.

Convincing win for the Flames, but hopefully that dominance continues over NHL teams.

Around The League

Try and catch the Devils/Penguins highlights if you can. Malkin's goal is sick.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Evening Post

  • Hitchcock got fired and Bobby Clarke stepped down today. The fact that Clarke is no longer in charge of the Flyers organization is huge news for Philly fans, and by huge, I mean good. While Clarke was a hell of a hockey player, he was not a hell of a GM, (in his more recent years anyway). I will however always remember him for proposing to bring Gretzky into the Hockey Canada management group. There are rumours flying around that Mike Keenan might take over in Philly. Out of the frying pan and into the fire…
  • Speaking of coaches that are concerned about their jobs, you have to believe Bryan Murray, John Tortorella, Wayne Gretzky, Gerald Gallant and Jim Playfair are mildly watching their backs. Murray and Playfair appear to have lost the confidence of the fans, Tortorella looks like he's losing control of the players, and Gallant and Gretzky are failing under increased but still low end expectations. My pick for first to go would be Tortorella. The first currently unemployed coach I think will be hired? Andy Murray.
  • It turns out Luongo's relationship with Keenan was pretty strained after all. The Edmonton Journal ran a story today claiming that the final straw was when Keenan was screaming at Luongo about his contract demands on a plane ride in front of all Luongon's teammates. Good luck Flyers?
  • Is the Edmonton Oilers' organization having an identity crises with one of their players? While most media outlets have spelled Patrick Thoresen's last name as 'Thoresen,' some (including the Edmonton Sun) media outlets, as well as within Rexall displays spell it 'Thorsen' without the 'e.' Can someone in Edmonton figure this out? edit: Thanks to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal for getting back to me so quickly.

Kyle: It's Thoresen. Mind you this comes from a guy who wrote a story on evgeni malkin today quoting petr sykora, then had sykora on the brain and called him ziggy palffy's agent, when palffy's agent is petr svoboda.
thanks for the interest,

I actually read the article he was referring to today, and it was about how Malkin tends to have his head down in the neutral zone. Something to keep an eye on for sure.

  • Aaron Downie is claiming Regehr is lucky he didn't get up, cause he would have taught Regehr a lesson. Listen Aaron, the fact is you couldn’t get up because you had your brains scrambled. That’s like saying Ken Shamrock would have destroyed Ortiz had his limp head stopped bouncing off the canvas from Tito's relentless barrage of elbows.
  • Actually, I'm sorry I didn't comment on that hit earlier. Wow, that his was amazing, no other word to describe it. And anyone that’s calling it dirty doesn't know hockey or physics. You can hit a guy anywhere you want on the body, but if its at the same velocity theres going to be a fair amount of damage done. Regehr is one of the best finishers in the league, you can ask Ville Pehltonen once he recovers from the hit he took in the Gold Medal game of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
  • Have I mentioned yet how much I like Rexall Place? Sure its old, crowded, has overpriced beer, and is small, but something about looking up and seeing all those championship banners, the retired jerseys, that imposing 'WELCOME TO OIL COUNTRY.' And where else but Edmonton can you see a team multimedia introduction where players are drag racing ford trucks? Does anyone remember that?
  • Theodore, way to show Canadian fans what they're missing daily, nightly and ever so rightly.
  • Ted, I wouldn't call Crosby a diver, look at what happened to the last guy who did that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Flames +/-

Unfotunately due to the Flames awesome PPV schedule I was not able to catch the game tonight. But simply looking at the highlights I had a few thoughts to share:

1. I think that one day Phanuef will be this team's best player and leader, and at times he even plays like that now. Having said that, he is currently not the Flames best player, not even our best defenseman. Tonight Phanuef played 29 minutes while Regher only played about 21. Regher, although offensively challenge, is a horse. Phanuef, although still playing with vigour, has looked overwhelmed at times playing against other team's top defensive pairings. Even though a lot of the time difference was due to the PP, I think Dion would be more effective playing less minutes. At least for a while. On the other hand, if we're gonna lose either way, the experience he's getting is invaluable.

2. Miikka may not be looking as good as he did last year, but I'm not worried. His last October stats were underwhelming, and he went on to win the Jennings, Vezina, and was the team's unquestioned MVP. Why is Miikka a little off? I have two theories: (a) He's a 'slow' starter. I'm less inclined to believe this one because I think Miikka has already at times looked really sharp, and has been the key to every Flames victory this season (all two of them). (b) Is that the team's sloppy defensive play has Kipprusoff overthinking his positioning, trying to do too much and is psyching himself out. I think even the coolest player in the league is starting to realize how much his team relies on him, and maybe its starting to get to him a little bit. I mean, he even looked a little pissed off at that Sundin overtime winner last Saturday, and Kipper never shows emotion. When the team pulls together and plays better defensively, as they did last November, then Kipper will start to ease back into his regular self. That’s assuming of course that the team did pull together defensively last season and the reduced GAA wasn’t simply due purely to Kipper's miracle work.

3. At this point, Matthew Lombardi is giving the Flames the best individual offensive efforts. His shorthanded marker against Toronto was part luck, but it was also part persistence and effort. Include his two goal performance against Montreal and his almost break-away goal tonight and you see a trend. Lombardi has had individual 1-1 offensive victories all season by using his speed and beating defenders to the outside. He is proving that he is a natural pivot for the speedy Tanguay and is no longer a second thought in Calgary's offense, (first on team in goals, second on the team in points, leads the team in +/- at a +5). If it were up to me, Lombardi's PP time would be increased - what have we got to lose?

4. Bring back Giordano and send Zyuzin down to the farm. On TSN tonight Duthie asked Dreger 'what is wrong with the Flames defence*?' to which Dreger replied 'the defensive pairing of Zyuzin and Hamrlik is not working well*' to which my brother replied 'thats the understatement of teh century.' I agree, and I can't think of a single aspect of the game in which Zyuzin appears to have more competency than Giordano. Better yet, lets put Hamrlik on waivers and hope someone picks him up. Maybe Bobby Clarke would be willing to part with Nolan Baumgartner...

5. Come back soon Stephane...

6. Another loss. Is anyone getting a little worried yet? Even though the highlights made our effort appear better tonight, the Flames couldn't muster a victory against one of the most hapless organizations in the league. When do we get to play Philadelphia?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Canuck's, Oilers, Home and Home

Although I predicted Vancouver to hit a wall this year, they're a team that plays much better than the sum of their parts. The Sedins (always assumed to be playing together of course) are very dangerous, so much so that it almost seems like Naslund is now the third wheel on that line. The former first line third wheel (Brendan Morrison) is having a 'frustrating year.' Quite frankly, I think Morrison was lucky to benefit from the skill of Bertuzzi and Naslund and had pretty inflated numbers over the past few seasons, especially after seeing him play in the World Championships. Overall they just appear to be a very well coached team this season, and their new style of play is due to frustrate a few teams.

On Monday, the Oilers were one of those teams. Although they gained the lead early in the 2nd period on a goal from (who else?) Canuck killer Raffi Torres, the Oilers had a lot of trouble penetrating the dangerous parts of the ice, thanks to some significant team defence efforts from the Canucks. Coupled with relentless forechecking, the Canucks went on to score two unanswered goals.

In the final minute or so, MacTavish pulled netminder Roloson and put out what one would assume to be his top 6 grouping. This grouping did not include Shawn Horcoff, but it did include Thoresen. Obviously Horcoff is a very good hockey player, but put quite simply, he is not playing as effective as he could. There is a lot of skating going on, and not a lot of physicality or offensive creativity. He was the Oiler's forward ice time leader until his minutes were dramatically cut in the Vancouver games, and to be blunt, he's expected to be the Oilers' top two way forward. Obviously, in MacTavish's eyes, Horcoff has failed to live up to expectations this season.

This is highly contrasted with Thoresen. He looked dangerous when he got his chances on Monday, he always brings energy to his shift, and was one of the Oilers' more consistent forwards. He was rewarded with Horcoff's position when the game was on the line. On Tuesday night, his effort was rewarded with his first career game winning goal.

Another player that is being rewarded with ice time for strong play is Marc-Andre Bergeron. Although his season average ice time per game is only about 17 minutes, in the first Vancouver game he played 20 minutes, and in the second game he played 22, the second highest among Oiler's defenceman. Bergeron has some decent PP instincts and is not as bad a defenceman as some Oiler fans would like to think.
I am a little surprised however that MacTavish hasn't been a little more outspoken (as he's known to be) about Hemsky's inconsistent play this season. Hemsky is the Oilers' most talented player, and if they're to have any long-term success they need him making smarter plays. Obviously a guy like Hemsky needs a bit freerer reign then say, Ethan Moreau, but some of the shooting opportunities he's given up this year are absolutely ridiculous. Is it still accurate to say a player has good instincts if he makes a cross ice no look laser pass - if he gave up a breakaway to do it?

I'm not going to say the Oilers were lucky to split the series against Vancouver. They could have won both games, (as could have Vancouver). There wasn’t a lot separating these two teams. But it was nice to see the Oilers win a game with a simple blue collar 'lunch-pale' (thanks Burkie!) effort on Tuesday night. It was maybe even nicer to see Jussi Markkanen put in such a solid effort. Is this the same goalie that had Oilers' fans holding their breath on every shot last regular season? In my opinion, there are two differences since then that have really contributed to Markkanen's success. Number one is that the Oilers are playing a different and much more effective overall defensive game. The Oilers last year didn’t always give up a lot of shots, but they gave up more than enough juicy scoring chances most games last season. Secondly, Markkanen seems to have benefited from having Roloson around. Roloson takes the heat now, and Markkanen is no longer expected to shoulder a load he obviously wasn't prepared for, and I also think Roloson has a calming influence (NHLPA aside…).

Notes from Around the League
  • Did anyone else see Philly get absolutely tuned the other night? Nedved, along with a couple other Philly players, was placed on waivers as a result of that game. Sophmore Mike Richards was so disgusted that he told reporters it was a 'classic Flyers hockey.' I can only speculate on what Clarke was saying.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Yay Dion! Boo Dion!

Well it seems Phaneuf's awesomeness has given him the ultimate honour: being featured on a Coach's Corner segment. Of course Cherry is right, Phanuef dominated the other Norris nominated defenceman in several categories, including hits and game winning goals (those don't matter do they?) I would also say he's right in claiming that most journalists wouldn't know a hockey player if they slept with Bobby Orr. (There was a 3 count on the Orr references on tonight's Coaches Corner if you were keeping track)

The problem in this case though may be precedent, rather than journalism. Since Orr the Norris has tended to go towards the highest scoring defenceman, rather than the best defenceman, and I for one think it’s a shame. We have a category for best defensive forward, so why not best defensive defenceman? Better yet, lets make the Norris the award for best defensive defenceman, and create a separate award for the highest scoring defenceman, (I saw we call it the Bobby Orr award).

Regardless, Phanuef did not have a stellar night. Although he looked good early and helped set the tone (by which I mean he creamed Maple Leaf Pohl from behind), he looked bad on two goals, including the game winner. Forget that he potentially kept Kiprusoff from identifying the puck trajectory, he helped set the whole play in motion with a bungled point pass, and was also slow to identify which man he was supposed to pick up. Perhaps he was thrown off by being the sole defenceman on the ice, but whatever the reason, it was quite a costly set of mistakes.

I was however pleasantly surprised by the game and the fact the Flames got back into it. It was especially nice to see Giordano rewarded on two occasions for his head's up play. I really think that him and Ference should be the 2nd defensive pairing, but I wonder if they are not because Ference appears to be on the number 1 penalty kill unit and Playfair wants him fresh for that.

The Flames' special teams still do not look good. Even though it looked like the Maple Leafs scored only once on the PP, that number is a bit distorted because for all intents and purposes the Flames were still shorthanded when Sundin scored in the first, as the Flames penalized players had yet to return to the play. The one positive is that Lombardi managed to score a nice shorthanded goal. He was actually one of the better-looking Flames all night.

The Flames PP didn’t look much better. Although on the Flames' first powerplay there were some early offensive sparks the Flames managed to not only NOT score, but also on one occasion take two penalties on the same power play, and on another occasion, allowed Sundin to score the shorthanded winner.

If in fact the Flames have learned to score goals, the next step is probably relearning how to keep the opposition from scoring. The Flames have allowed 4 or more goals on three occasions this year already. This is not a recipe for success, especially if you only generate about 2 goals a game.

Notes from Around the League

  • An article in the Calgary Herald today lauded Kobasew's Kamikaze style of play, describing him as a player who takes the hit to make the play. I guess someone else DOES notice Kobasew tends to get hit quite often. Quite frankly it would be nice if Chuck would become known for something else…maybe scoring goals?
  • Did anyone else catch the Senator's shootout lineup? Vermette, McAmmond and Fisher. No Spezza, no Alfredsson, no Heatley. If that is not the coach sending a message to his top players, I don't know what is. By the way, good on Vermette and Fisher to score.
  • Despite the hard time I've given Tjarnqvist of the Edmonton Oilers, it seems he still has a few supporters, including coach Craig MacTavish. No, I don't have a quote of Mac T endorsing the game play of Tjarnqvist. What I have is his ice time statistics - 23:59 on an average night. Evidently he's Edmonton's number 1 defenceman.
  • Sounds like Evgeni Malkin is set to return from his dislocated shoulder perhaps as soon as this week. That’s good news for the Penguins and its good news for me. I have him in my pool.
  • Dear Cassie Campbell, you're a much better hockey player than you are a colour commentator. I'm saying this nicely because you won two gold medals for Canada, but seriously.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Random Thoughts: Flames/Sens, Oilers/Sharks

Flames vs. Senators

  • I won't complain about a shut-out win, but it still bothers me that the Flames have to play PERFECT in order to win. The Flames are talented enough to be able to score more than 1 goal a game, and this win won't put the worrywarts to rest.
  • Double Dion!!! Ok, well just a single tonight, but its always nice to see Phanuef put his stamp on the game.
  • Does anyone but me notice that Chuck Kobasew takes one big hit a game? Watch for it, its happened for every game thus far this season, and it happened in virtually every game last year. Keep your head up Chuck.
  • Huselius is the Flames best offensive weapon right now. Got an assist on the only goal of the game and had a couple nifty moves on the play, but the goal was really a result of good digging and driving to the net for a shot. Who'd a thunk it?
  • Congrats to Kipper on what I hope is only the first of many shut outs this season.

Oilers vs. Sharks

  • Tjarnqvist is the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde. One minute he's making a blundering defensive error or forcing shot opportunities on the PP, the next he's making highlight reel 2 line breakaway passes. Consistency Daniel, consistency.
  • God dammit Hemsky, keep your stick on the ice, not on the opposing player's jersey/arm/face etc.
  • Steve Staios on a breakaway. What more can one say?
  • PPs, PPs, and more PPs. Both teams looked dangerous, but I couldn’t help but think the Sharks were going to score on just about every chance. The way Cheechoo was burying them early it looked to be a long night. In the end, the Sharks went 3/10. The Oilers PP went to work though, and punished SJ twice on a double Kyle McLaren hooking call. Edmonton finished 2/4.
  • The Oiler's PK does not look as good as it did with Pronger. That might be where the Oilers miss his 12 foot wingspan the most
  • Smyth pulls out a natural hat trick in 2:01s. This beats the previous fastest 3 goals in Oiler history, set by a little known player named Wayne Gretzky back in 81'. His time? 2:18s.
  • Nice to see Thoresen get his first NHL goal. Couldn’t have played much after that, as he only logged just over 3 minutes of ice time.
  • Here is the current main difference between watching Flames' games, and watching Oilers' games. If the Flames go down 3-1, you can't help but think, 'its over.' When watching the Oilers go down 4-1 you think, 'this is quite the hole, but lets see what happens.' For those that didn’t tune away in disgust tonight after the 2nd period, you were rewarded by a tremendously exciting game.
  • I guess lots of talent up front is a good problem to have, but it’s a shame quality players like Jarret Stoll and Fernando Pisani have their 5-5 ice time reduced so much. Tonight Pisani made most of the lost 5-5 time up by playing PK, but really, he (and Stoll) are good enough to play on the 1st or 2nd line. Stoll played just over 6 minutes of even strength time, only Thoresen and Winchester had less
  • Shawn Horcoff is looking a bit invisible offensively. Can't score if you don't take any shots.
  • therealdeal turning point? Thornton breaks off the check of an Oiler along the side wall and drives to the net. He pulls out a fantastic move on Dwayne Roloson and has a wide open net, only to have Roloson make a stick save out of nowhere. 10 Seconds later Lupul gives Smyth a beautiful breakaway pass and bangs home the rebound.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Underachievers, not Underdogs

It was remarked to me the other day that the Flames are getting harder and harder to cheer for. One of the problems, as I see it, is that as a team, the Flames have gone from Underdogs to Underachievers. Gone are the Niemenens, Clarkes, Donovans, Gelinas, Montadores, Commodores Lydmans and Conroys. Replacing them are the Amontes, Friesens, Hamrliks, Mccartys and Kobasews, and to a lesser extent, and perhaps unfairly, the Langkows.

Whereas Flames fans used to be able to say 'can you believe how well x played last night? That guy is all heart!' now you hear:

'What happened to Amonte? He used to be a 25 goal man garunteed, now it looks like he doesnt even know what hockey is.'

'Why is Hamrlik getting paid $3.5 million a year while we traded away Stanley Cup champion Mike Commodore, receiving near league average despite being a turning point catalyst in Carolina's championship series?'

'How badly must Chuck Kobasew be playing to lose his 2nd line spot to Tony Amonte???'

'Is that Mike Leclerc? No wait, we traded away Reinprecht for him, then benched him, then never resigned him.'

So lets take a look at some of the guys that are still underdogs on this team.

Stephane Yelle - He has never taken a night off in his life, always skates hard, always plays smart. Will block shots with his eyeball if it helps the team. Coincidently, he's also the team's scoring leader right now.

Andrew Ference - The little defenceman always brings it. Although almost always outmatched in terms of size, he never is in terms of intensity. Watch his physicality as he plays and you'll see how much of himself he puts into every hit and stride.

Miikka Kiprusoff - Yes, he's still an underdog. If you've witnessed lately how the Flames play defence you'd realize any Calgary goalie is an underdog. Always calm, always acrobatic, always sharp.

Kristian Huselius - The player who I initially believed to be soft is now responsible for almost all of Calgary's decent scoring chances. Although he has yet to register a point, its only a matter of time as he's now playing with Iginla.

Marcus Nilson - Missed the latter part of last season due to injury, and his smart play was severely missed in the playoffs. Has Calgary's sole GWG this season.

Mark Giordano - a 7th defenceman callup last season, he will be expected to fill that role again this year. Is moderately unsure of himself right now, but at last nights game made several great defensive plays, including a textbook 2-1. Is one of the few Flames defenceman that can skate WITH the puck.

Sharks Eat Flames Alive

Last nights 'game' (and i put game in quotation marks because it arguably wasnt even a game) was a perfect example of how far removed this team is from its 2004 almost Stanley Cup triumph. In part, our biggest problems are coming from our players whom we depend on most. The Flames top defensive duo, Regher and Phanuef, combined foulups for two goals against last night. In one instance there was a miscommunication where both players identified the same defensive target and left a streaking SJ player all alone in front of the net. In another, a hapless pass from Langkow to Regher lead to a giveaway on the blueline, which turned into a bizarre and desperately pathetic 3-3 situation which SJ took advantage of once again. In one of Calgary's many PP tries, Tanguay, the $5.5 man, made several ill advised and downright terrible passes, often to phantom teammates. At other times he looked invisible at best. Calgary's man for all seasons, Jarome Iginla, at least tried. He really did. 7 shots on net, maybe even two of them legitimate scoring chances. Langkow remains unable to finish, and Hamrlik and Zyuzin looked totally innefective.

After the game all team members reported for a mandatory 30 minute workout, however, I'm going to have to start to question Calgary's offensive system as being a bigger problem than the players themselves. As it stands Calgary has been goal starved for over a year. Tanguay was brought in to supplement Calgary's sputtering goal engine and has looked really innefective. In the preseason, Playfair commented that the Flames needed more north south movement from Tanguay, and less East West. However, Tanguay has good offfensive instincts, perhaps his east-west playing is part of what allows him to score goals. Shouldn't an offensive system encourage creative offensive players to use their instincts rather than fight them?

Why are the Flames still using an offensive system that encourages perimeter play? 30 outside shots are clearly not as valuable as 25 Opposition teams have figured out that the offensive system is to pass it to our defence for the shot. If our defence really do have the ability to score, why not 'activate' them more, meaning bring them in on offensive rushes to create odd man opportunities? Or, for instance, if we're going to centre our power play along the points instead of along the wall, lets make sure players are moving around to create shooting lanes for the points. If we're going to have Dion out there ripping it, why not give the opposition a second man to worry about so they can't key on one guy. I'm thinking someone with a really hard shot, which will keep the opposition honest. Perhaps a guy like Jarome Iginla? Oh, and lastly, if we do get a lane, lets make sure we have someone in front mucking it up or tipping it. Most goalies are far too good now the simply let in a hard blast from the point. Even Al MacInnis needed Joe Niewendyk sometimes.

And quite frankly, I'm tired of people telling me the Flames are slow. While some individuals may be slow, team speed is created by breakout systems. I've seen teams with fast players become very slow because of poor breakouts and neutral zone control. This is what the Flames lack now. The good news is that along with conditioning drills, the Flames worked on fast tempo breakouts today in practice. Its a good place to start.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2006-2007 NHL Predictions Cont. - The West

As with the East, I reserve the right to disavow all knowledge of poor predictions, and gloat over correct ones.

15. Chicago - Some good things have happened for Chicago; they acquired Havlat, Seabrook should continue to mature, Aucoin and Khabibulin probably won't play worse than last year and…that’s about it. They are still plagued by injuries (Daze might as well retire, and Ruutu is certainly thinking about it), and still paper thin in depth in almost every aspect. Its another bottom feeding year from the team with the worst owner in the league. Oh wait, now Wirtz is the 2nd worst owner. Congratulations go to Charles Wang.

8. Columbus - This is most definitely a team on the up and up. The top two forward lines are littered with talent (Nash, Federov, Zherdev, Carter, Brule, Modin) and LeClaire looks ready to tackle the number one goalie position. With Klesla maturing and Foote continuing to be the steadiest defenceman in the NHL, this is a team poised for greatness. Just maybe not this year.

7. Detroit - Gone are the Greats of the past, (Yzerman, Shanahan) still here are the relics of the past (Chelios), and the never will be of the present (Datsyuk). But among the hopelessness has emerged some hope - Zetterberg appears as interested as ever, Kronwall looked very solid in his first NHL season, the consummate defenceman Lidstrom is still around - and the Wings still have one of the best minds in the game at the helm-Babcock.

1. Nashville - When most people think of the Predators, they think of puke. Puke yellow to be exact, the colour of Nashville's 3rd jersey. But what they should be thinking of is cup contender. Nashville has the goalie, the forward depth, and one of the best young defence groups in the league. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

14. St. Louis - Last year Keith Tkachuk was so fat on the first day of training camp that he was told to leave and not come back until he was looking more like a hockey player and less like a power lifter. Number 1 defenceman Eric Brewer missed most of the season due to shoulder problems. Weight left to pursue the Cup. Well now the whole gang is back together again, but now Tkachuk isn't fat, Jay Mckee will be blocking shots, Brewer is healthy, and American pal Guerin is along for the ride. This 1996 Team USA 10 year reunion team will get an A for effort, but don’t expect them to be a lot better than last year.


3. Calgary - Kipper, Regher, Phanuef, Tanguay, Iginla. Calgary has a mix of dominant players, a decent cast of supporters, and a work ethic burned into their brains. They will have more offence than last year, thanks both to Tanguay and the full addition of Huselius, and they will have the best goaltender in the league. Undoubtedly they are a cup contender.

10. Colorado - Blake, Tanguay, Forsberg Roy. Leopold, Svatos, Arnason Theodore. The first group of names is what the Avalanche have lost since they last won a cup. The second group of names are the replacements. If you think the second group of names is disturbing because Arnason couldn’t even crack a heartless Ottawa squad (forget the concussion theory) and Theodore went from being the MVP to the GOAT then you're probably among the majority who thinks this Colorado team is a step down. You'd also probably be right.

5. Edmonton - They went from almost sipping from the cup, to having cold water poured on them. Pronger, Spacek, Peca and Dvorak are gone. In their place are the more youthful and inexperienced Lupul, Smid, Mikhnov, and the underachieving Sykora. While the Oilers defensive depth is highly questionable, their forward depth is unmatched in the league. Will this be enough to get the Oilers over that playoff spot hump? I'm betting it will.

11. Minnesota - Lemaire's group used to be known for its defensive efforts. Soon it will be known for its offensive explosivity and creativity-well, sort of. Minnesota has a good forward group including Gaborik, Demitra, Bouchard, and Rolston. Their defensive has no single powers, but a solid group top to bottom. Fernandez will no longer have Roloson looking over his shoulder. They should make a push for the playoffs this year.

12. Vancouver - For the first time in franchise history, the Canucks have a franchise goalie. Unfortunately they don’t have much of a team to put in front of that Goalie. Vancouver's defensive group is unintimidating, dull at best, and once you get past the Sedins and Naslund, there's not much up front either. Luongo has yet to make the playoffs. Don't be surprised if that trend continues.

2. Anaheim - If Anaheim plays this correctly, they could have either Pronger or Neidermeyer on the ice during the whole game. If this doesn’t intimidate opponents, nothing will. While the Ducks still have goaltending issues (who's the number 1 today?) its not as if neither guy can handle the job. Their forwards are young, but last year proved they have what it takes to get the job done. Probably the Cup favorites.

6. Dallas - Modano 'lost' the captaincy to Morrow. Turco's playoff woes continue. Mike Ribiero and Eric Lindros are now a key figures of the team. Despite this, Dallas still has a decent depth at forward, including shootout wiz Jokinen. Dallas won't light it up, but they'll keep it respectable.

13. Los Angeles - A questionable goaltender. A lack of depth at all forward positions. Sean Avery. If this sounds like a trainwreck, and if this looks like a trainwreck, well, lets face it, it’s a trainwreck. With Crawford coaching the Kings will make it close most nights, but it'll take a second Mircale on Manchester for them to make the playoffs.

9. Phoenix - The Coyotes cleaned house last year in an attempt to get rid of people that didn’t fit the Gretzky motto - If you didn't practice hard every day and leave it on the ice every night, you were off the team. (Quick note to Gretz and Co. -How come Morris is still on this team??). Roenick swore off partying, playing for money and rededicated himself to focusing on the sport (then promptly signed for the highest bidder in a winless situation and instantly flew to Vegas to watch some UFC fights), Nolan dusted off his crippled hips and Gorgeous Georges put on his boxing gloves. This team now has some added heart (Jovanovski), a little bit of forward offensive depth (Reinprecht, Comrie, Doan, Nagy, Nolan, Roenick) and a pretty good defensive group. Still, I can't shake the feeling they're going nowhere.

4. San Jose - Thornton/Cheechoo, Marleau/Bernier. Those are two pretty potent line combinations. Unfortunately, there's not much behind them. Niemenen will fulfill his role of the NHL's greatest pest, Mclaren and Hannan will add some toughness, but both Nabokov and Toskala must have confidence issues. Two lines can only carry a team for so long.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

2006-07 NHL Regular Season Predictions - Eastern Conference

The Season is almost ready to start, so here's the first half of my 1st Annual Regular Season Predictions! I am going to have a disclaimer and say that any predictions that end up wrong were unforseeable by myself, and any prediction that are correct will be dwelled upon and gloated about.

Atlantic Division:

10. New Jersey - Brian Gionta remains unsigned, Scott Stevens shows no signs of coming out of retirement, and they are so far over the cap as of Oct 1. that they will be unable to play on opening night. Broduer will keep them competitive, but they'll miss the playoffs.

13. NY Islanders - Former backup goalie Garth Snow is now taking up cap space while simultaneously trying to manage it. Charles Wang abandons his plan to bring in Sumo wrestlers as goalies and signs his current one to a 15 year deal. Yashin is the captain. Obviously they're going nowhere.

2. NY Rangers - Jagr is healthy again, Lundqvist is now a proven champion, Shanahan was drawn by the Broadway lights and Petr Prucha aims to follow up his stellar rookie year. This transplanted euro squad will be dangerously talented all year. They're a top 8 team.

6. Philadelphia - Forsberg is the new captain, Gagne will take on a bigger role. Richards and Carter will show their performance last year wasn’t a fluke. Hatcher will slowly get worse, and the goaltending situation remains uneasy at best. Philly will be in the hunt for a spot, but it'll be touch and go.

14. Pittsburgh - Malkin, Crosby, Rechhi, Leclair, Gonchar. Do these names strike fear in you? Ok, do half these names strike fear in you? Ok, what about the first two only? Ok then! What about Colby Armstrong? Ya. That’s right. The Cheese (I made it up and I hope it sticks) is coming for you! Will do better than last year, but not a whole lot.


11. Boston - Thankfully, the Bruins ejected that Joe 'do nothing' Thornton guy, who was obviously the problem. Now the Bruins have a pair of skilled centres in Bergeron and Savard to take over, and are looking to supporting players Sturm and Murray (and Kessel?) to step it up. Chara anchors the defence.

1. Buffalo - Gone are several key playoff performers Mckee, Dumont, and probably Connolly. Still in town are Briere, Vanek, Kotalik, Drury, Campbell, Lydman and Miller. There will be an adjustment period, but Buffalo is still a force to be reckoned with.

12. Montreal - Aebischer or Huet? This team has plenty of skilled stars up front, (Koivu, Kovalev, Samsanov) but what they really need is some size and a good defensive group. Souray was on a lot of highlight reels last year, but for all the wrong reasons. Do not buy stock in Aebischer.

5. Ottawa - With Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, these guys will do fine. They will be just as much of a threat as last year, and if the leadership reigns begin to shift to Spezza, watch out. Gerber has proven he can do fine in the regular season behind a good team.

9. Toronto - Oh god. Alright, well they dumped a lot of dead weight. Unfortunately, they also picked up more dead weight, and then signed that dead weight to bad contracts. But that’s ok. The new look Leafs are improved, and they only barely missed the post season last year.


7. Atlanta - Last year they were high flying. They were tough. They were dirty. They were fiesty. They did probably everything they could to make the playoffs. But in the end, Atlanta's goalie problems cost them a spot. If Lehtonen stays healthy, Atlanta has a very good shot.

4. Carolina - No more Weight. No more Recchi. No more Johnson. But lets face it, this is a very very good team. Conn Smythe winner Ward will take the reigns in net and run with them. They have one of the best leaders in the game with Brind'amour. No one will be taking this team lightly anymore.

8. Florida - The Panthers have replaced Luongo with Bertuzzi. They will have a bruising 1st line, but for the first time in a long time, their goaltending will be rather questionable. Bouwmeester is now the team's unquestioned number one defenseman, but he needs to put the puck in the net more often if the Panthers want to win. Still, they're my darkhorse team in the East.

3. Tampa Bay - MVP St. Louis had an 'off year' last, and he will be looking to bounce back. This team is stocked with talent up front, with Lecavalier and Richards not yet even hitting their prime. Although their defence is anonymous, the Lightning will be bolstered this year by a true number one goalie in Denis.

15. Washington - Chris Clark is the captain of a squad of AHLers. Ovechkin will again dazzle the NHL, but will have little help from the rest of his team. Olaf Kolzig better have some painkillers behind that mask, because this whole season is probably going to hurt.