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.

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