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!