Saturday, October 27, 2007

Calgary Flames vs Colorado Avalanche Post Game Report

Watching the Flames play the Colorado Avalanche last night I have to admit; I was a little impressed.

After seeing this team sleepwalk through many nights, the Flames actually looked like a contender- for about 55 minutes.

OK, so Tanguay took a(nother) bad offensive zone penalty that forced the Flames to give one up, and sure, Dion Phaneuf chose a incredibly inopportune time to pinch in deep in overtime, but there were a lot of positives.

1: Improved PK
The penalty kill looked better than I've seen it in years. A steady forecheck, combined with better defensive zone positioning forced the Avs into bad passes and an ineffective powerplay for most of the night. As mentioned, the Flames gave up the tying goal on a with about 5 minutes left in the game, but it was scored as the PK expired. Every PK is going to give up some goals - but the Flames really eliminated a lot of chances.

2: Decreased Opposition Chances
Despite Sarich and Regehr both being a -2 (the only problem with killing off that penalty is that it artificially deflated their plus minus for the night) I thought they played a very good game. Sarich in particular made multiple excellent defensive plays, cutting off passes through the slot and laying some nice hits. It made me not regret his signing with the team.

3: Increased Offensive Chances
I could not understand why Theodore got the start ('he beat us last game' was one fan's explanation when I asked about the logic, 'ya,' I replied, 'that 4.00 GAA that night had to impress the coaches...') but Theodore stole the game because in all truthfulness, the Flames had multiple quality scoring opportunities on a very consistent basis. A quick whistle and some bad luck is the only thing that separated the Flames from a couple more goals last night, and sometimes that happens.

Really, 3 mistakes sunk this game for Calgary:

1. Tanguay takes yet another bad offensive zone penalty. High sticks a guy in the throat and then complains as if it's a bad call. Not quite Alex...

2. Dion makes a bad pinch; When Sakic and Smyth are on the ice, you need to know where they are- and they shouldn't be behind you.

3. Aucoin can't play a 2-1. Granted there was another mistake that caused it, but Aucoin needed to either; (a) force the pass to Smyth (b) force Sakic to shoot by cutting off the pass to Smyth. He did neither.

As an aside, it was nice to hit the Dome again last night, as it always is; some sights and sounds from the game:

20,000 people booing Mick McGeough

Two guys behind me booing Smytty all night, calling him a crybaby etc., only to have him score the OT winner

Me wearing my beauty Team Canada Smyth jersey, the fan behind me joking, why'd you wear a Yannick Perrault jersey?

Recalling last year's Oiler/Mick McGeough incident when Ryan Smyth told him 'you're wrong Mick,' and tapped McGeough with his stick because Smyth talked to him in the same sort of fashion during a TV timeout, the conversation ending with another stick tap.

Charlie Simmer picking Flames players 1 and 2 in the 3 stars and Joe Sakic 3rd, despite the Flames losing

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oilers 5 Man Units

As per this post I promised to come up with some potentially successful Oilers line combos (MacT is a fan of mixing it up, so why not?) Here I suggest pairing the tough minutes guys on offence/defence together, the soft minutes guys together etc. Obviously it'll work better at home than away, but is there really anything to lose? Here's the diagram:At least hope is completely snuffed out right away and we don't have to drag on the painful death...

Luck or Perseverance

The Flames played yet another game I was unable to watch last night, which perhaps makes me unqualified to comment on it, but I will anyway because I'm accountable to no one. And besides, I've admitted it so technically I'm not doing anything wrong.

I was...disheartened, to say the least, when I found out the Flames were down 0-3 last night. It made me wonder; Did we look good on Saturday because the team is coming together, or because the Flames played the Oilers who to no ones suprise are completely hapless. I thought I had my answer when the Minnesota Wild, the misers of the hockey world (both in GF and GA) had an early 3 goal lead.

And Kipper was booed to boot.

But Iginla and Co. (officially Tanguay and Langkow on this night) took over. That's the thing about this group, the part of this team that has kept the Flames-blog-o-sphere so interested and given us our (so far) false hope. This team, regardless of it's weak coaching and poor defensive group (at least the bottom half) have so much fire power that it has the potential to win any game.

The fact that Minnesota hadn't lost in regulation yet this year (or lost ever when leading by 3 goals according to MG). The Wild had the Flames in perfect position, this should have been a walkover.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not sold. The Flames teased us all last year with this sort of play - greatness one day, embaressment the next. And hell, even though the Flames were the first team to beat the Wild after trailing by 3, my position on streaks is that they're all due to be broken eventually. A team has won 31 in a row, it just seems more likely they'll lose that 32nd game. And even though Kipper wasn't stellar, it helped that Niklas Backstrom was probably worse.

But I'll say this about the team - they're keeping me intrigued.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dustin Penner Sure Does Suck

I’m going to preface this by saying last night’s edition of the Battle of Alberta was actually pretty good through the first two periods (and I didn’t get to see the 3rd). Edmonton looked pretty good even though they were mostly in the game thanks to the Flames taking bad (but legitimate) penalties. At 1-1 an Oiler fan watching with me said ‘at least the Oilers are in the game,’ and I replied, wait till it’s even strength. I think the minute the Flames killed that PK the game turned and Langkow and Iginla took over.

Huselius continues to be the most sublime Flames player since Theoren Fleury and Mike Keenan has yet to trade him. The Flames are 4-3 and quite honestly look better than this time last year. At this time of the year though it’s still the Oilers who are the more intriguing story.

Sam Gagner’s time with the club this season could be running out, but he has probably done just about everything to stick. He’s been a good player on a bad club who are running out of options. His first goal last night was the result of good position and some hard stretching by Sean Horcoff. Hell, even Matt Greene made a nice play (and had a good hit on Kristian Huselius in the game as well, a guy who is elusive to the best of defenceman).

Cogliano had a couple more good chances, and I thought he looked good with Hemsky (who really needs to bring his A game sooner rather than later).

There is one question that keeps running through my mind though; Why does Dustin Penner suck so bad?

Or perhaps more specifically, why did Kevin Lowe believe he could play the tough minutes and succeed?

Here is a guy who by all accounts cannot skate very well, cannot handle the puck very well, and who has very average instincts. He is downright bad at the transition game and is not great at finding open ice in the offensive zone.

I suppose there is no real answer to this question besides Lowe was desperate to keep his job and running out of options. I guess the plan worked for Lowe anyway.

MacTavish made some comments at the beginning of the year about possibly playing Horcoff on a shutdown line rather than on the top line, but so far I see little evidence of that idea being put into action. I haven’t been specifically keeping track of Horcoff’s opponents, but last night he was playing with Sam Gagner, and there is no way Gagner is on any type of shutdown line.

Right now the Oilers don’t look terrible, they really don’t but they aren’t finding ways to win. I think MacT’s time (rightly or wrongly) is running out and it’s time to play with some ideas.
What about 5 man units, stabilize the team a bit and give the guys out their some chemistry and a definitive role.

I’ll examine possible units next time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

There has always been a debate among NHL observes about which division(s) in hockey are the strongest and which are the weakest. I myself have personally espoused the view that much of the eastern conference's recent success in Stanley Cup Finals (past year excluded) is that the eastern based teams tend to have an easier road to the final and are therefore more rested and are more likely to win. But the last couple of years I have heard many sportscasters (and fans alike) claim that 'the NW division may be the best division in hockey.' I would like to take a look at the current veracity of this claim.

Let's start with the best team in this division. Who is it?

That's the point, there's certainly no obvious answer. Right now we'll start with Minnesota simply because they're in first place right now.

How well has the Wild done over the past 5 years? Jacques Lemaire has unquestionably done a great job with the team he has - but historically speaking, that's the best that could be said about the Wild. One post season loss in the Western Conference Quarter Finals is as close as they've ever got. Last year they lost in 5 games to the Mighty Ducks in the Division Quarters, and the two years in between they didn't even make the playoffs.

The Wild have consistently been a good but not great team (as if memory serves me had a similar start to their season last year) and they have a lot of good but not great players. Gaborik traditionally spends long portions of the season hurt and the Wild spend a large portion of the season scoring 2 goals or less. Being consistently difficult to play against does not mean the Wild are a top tier team. Not enough has changed this season to convince me the Wild are a top tier team, yet they are still arguably the best in the division.

The Canucks are arguably next (or at least equal) to the Wild. Roberto Luongo consistently gives the Canucks a chance to win. The Sedin twins have already come what Brian Burke imagined when he drafted them and their defensive group is steady if not impressive. Fill that out with a very good coach (or at least a smart one) in Alain Vigneault and the Canucks are a pretty good team. Their offense is shallow but they have enough guys to play tough minutes it's not a deal breaker - until you play teams who don't have that problem - Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit, etc. Again, I don't think many people would argue with me and say Vancouver is a top team. In my opinion, Vancouver and Minnesota suffer from the same flaw - good but not great.

This brings us to Colorado - great offensive team; Sakic, Hejduk, Statsney, Smyth, Wolksi, Svatos, Brunette etc. Their defensive group is alright - Hannan, Leopold, Liles, - again, it's a good group although not overwhelmingly great. But their goaltending is questionable at best. Jose Theodore has been Mr. Implosion since the lockout, and Peter Budaj is simply inexperienced. They've got a 3.00GAA this season (including tonight's come from behinder versus the Flames) and besides tonight are either blowing away the weaker teams (5-1 over Columbus) or getting smoked out themselves (4-1 loss vs the Blues and 4-0 loss vs the Predators). The Avs may suprise a few people, but their team seems very young and inconsistent, again, not what I would call a top tier team.

The Flames are a whole enigma unto themselves. Great offensive group (although weaker 3rd and 4th lines) and geat goaltending. A terribly inconsistent defensive group and terribly inconsistent efforts. Witness tonight's game vs. the Avalanche. The Flames blow a 4-0 lead and lose in the shootout. The follow up 3 straight opening losses with a win over Dallas and then blow out the Predators. Who knows what is going on with this team.

As for the Oilers...well they just aren't a good team anymore. They're gonna make other teams work for it most nights, but lets face it, there isn't any particular reason to rank them above the Chicagos, Columbus' etc anymore.

I would say the top of our division, the Canucks or Wild are comparable to say, Dallas, who has both Anaheim and San Jose in their division who are arguably better. I sure as hell wouldn't want to play in the Atlantic conference. You have Brent Sutter and Martin Brodeur in NJ, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal in Pittsburgh, Jagr, Gomez, Drury and Lundqvist in NY, Briere Gagne and co. in Philadelphia and finally, the Islanders...well ok they're no good but at worst they're comparable to Edmonton and at best comparable to the best in the NW.

Let's face facts, fans of NW division teams telling themselves it's ok they're team is doing poorly because they play in the toughest (or at least a tough) division no longer cuts it. The NW division is not what it used to be.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Raffi Torres

Possibly the most inconsistent Oiler on the ice game in and game out. Has a terrific shot and can score at key times (see WCQF Edmonton vs. San Jose Game 3). Is the best hitter on the Oilers and one of the best in the NHL, when he does it, but is not consistently physical enough. Sometimes has shifts where he plays like a chicken with his head cut off.

Reports are that Raffi dropped most of his bad off ice habits and friends to focus on training and winning. Needs to be a better even strength player for the Oilers this season if the team is to have any success, but I also believe he should get more PP time. Is lucky enough to often shotgun for Jarret Stoll and is one of many ex World Jr. Championship alumni on the team.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Season, Same Result

So we're two games into the Calgary Flames 2007-2008 season and I feel like I've seen it all before. Don't get me wrong; last night's game vs the Canucks was wildly entertaining, and there were in fact some positives.

Cory Sarich's play was much improved. Sarich looked lost against the Philadelphia Flyers (especially on the PK where he positioned himself below the goal line to stop a player who was above the goal line.) Against the Canucks Sarich made a simple but nice play for the Flames first goal, was physical and just overall made better decisions. He finished the game with a goal, +1 and was second only to Dion Phaneuf in ice time.

Robyn Regehr inexplicably played only about 20 minutes to Dion's 28 minutes. Dion played awesome and after the game remarked to the Fan 960 that (referring to the penalty he took in OT) it was 'a bad time to take a penalty.' In my opinion the problem may have been that Phaneuf played about 4 minutes in OT - he could have been a bit fatigued.

Aucoin was off and on and a seatmate remarked that Aucoin was 'like a box of chocolates.' Fill in the rest yourself but I think an astute comment.

The penalty kill still doesn't look good. This is a problem that has plagued the team for the better part of a season - the Flames play a passive collapsing box that refuses to assign coverage to the slot. So not only are points constantly able to push towards the net, rebounds are in general unrecoverable and passes through the slot are unimpeded.

The most distressing issue that continues to plague the Flames (besides the rookie glass ceiling which MG has been appropriately vocal about) is that we are continuing to find ways to lose. Calgary looked awful initially against Philadelphia but eventually pulled it together..until a Zyuzinesque play happened and the Flames found a way to lose again. The Flames looked great initially against the Canucks - the Flames dominated physically, carried the play and even grabbed the league. A lackadaisacal 2nd period put the Flames behind the gun again and after clawing their way back into the game in the third, and then tapdancing over the Canucks in OT, they made one mistake and instantly fell apart.

The Flames were one faceoff win/ice away from bringing the Canucks to OT. But they once again found a way to lose.

I will say though, it's been (and is going to be) entertaining.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Kevin Lowe Fire...Given Contract Extention???


TSN has learned that the Edmonton Oilers have signed Kevin Lowe to a multi-year contract extension.

The team will make the announcement official at a media conference on Saturday morning. (Source)


Black Dog Hates Skunks : Critical Thought
I like Kevin Lowe. I think he has drafted well. Not great but pretty well. I think his track record before the recent fiascos is decent. I also believe that giving him a contract extension makes no sense. Riversq posted over at IOF the other day that the idea of waiting to see how this year plays out before deciding on Lowe drives him crazy. Apparently EIG decided not even to wait on that. Souray could go minus forty. Penner could score five goals. The kids who have everyone excited right now could all be buried in the minors by November. Doesn't matter. Based on '06, I guess, Lowe has gotten his reward. (Source)

Lowetide : What, EXACTLY, Is Up Around the Bend?
Love the town team. Today Kevin Lowe will receive a contract extension. I'm not going to argue with the extension, but the timing really casts a shadow over what the Oilers are trying to do here. Are they really interested in winning? Or is it more important to keep up appearances? I do believe that the EIG would have been better served by waiting out this season to see how things went and then deciding on the future in the spring based on results. (Source)

Battle of Alberta: Conspiracy Theory
Before this morning, I didn't believe whatsoever that there was any kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge to Brian Burke's ranting ...and then picking up the red phone to Lowe's office (. Now? Sorry, but I can just see Cal Nichols reading the newspaper on Thursday morning, saying, "Run this team into the sewer? We'll see about that!""Multi-year it is!"). (Source)

My reaction is that this is pretty unreal. I think Black Dog's post sums up quite nicely why Kevin Lowe doesn't deserve a contract extention, (and why at the very least the EIG should have waited the year out). I (and Lowetide especially) have speculated at what point Kevin Lowe would be fired this season. At one point, Lowetide even questioned whether Lowe would last the summer. The EIG has suprised us all.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Craig MacTavish Quotables

One of my favorite things about MacTavish is he is well spoken and more than willing to be frank. He doesn’t do platitudes, and so for this season I’m going to keep a collection of either funny or relevant MacT quotes that I come across. Here’s my first:

October 02 2007
He reminds me of the wizard of Oz, where you comb his hair, put on a white shirt on and wheel him out in front of the camera and he’s gonna say whatever you guys want…clearly it’s a crusade of self promotion on his part at this point…you know, what goes around comes around in this league

-MacT responds to Burke's comments about Lowe 'running his team into the ground.'

October 13 2007
"I laugh at coach's interviews between periods because how many different and creative ways can you put pucks and bodies to the net? 'We want to get traffic to the net,' 'We want to get in front of the goaltender,' " recited MacTavish.

"You know it's tough to justify a pretty significant salary by just saying that over and over again, but in fact, it's the mantra. It should be more sophisticated than that, but it's really not." (Source)

September 30th 2008
"The game really poses questions more than it gives you answers that's for sure."(Source)

"It was one of those games you're almost appreciative of at this time of year."(Source)
-MacTavish after a 4-0 preseason loss to the Calgary Flames

When we signed Dustin, we thought he'd be a top two-line player. We thought the contract was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line...

I can't watch it, certainly for another two-and-a-half years...

You can't throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that's his competitiveness. He's not competitive enough or fit enough to help us, so why put him back in? (Source)
-Craig MacTavish on Dustin Penner

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

9 Games

The news has come down today that Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson (as well as JF Jacques and Kyle Brodziak) have made the Oilers' opening night roster, while Ladislav Smid, Patrick Thoresen and Zach Stortini have been sent down to the minors, this raises a number of questions.

Firstly I think we have to ask whether these three players are truly ready for the big show. While I have strong feelings about Cogliano being ready for the bigs, at least in a small role, and think it's reasonable to try out Nilsson, it seems like there could be ulterior motives for Gagner making the team.

Now I have been regularly singing Gagner's praises. I loved his fight in his first World Junior tryout, and obviously he had a fantastic Super Series. Gagner however only had a mediocre World Junior tournament, and it's obvious he matured significantly in that 8 month gap, both physically and mentally. The question to me is whether he has matured enough from dominating mediocre 20 year old Russian players to be good enough to be a good player in the NHL (let alone an impact player). I didn't get to see him when the Oilers came to the 'Dome, but I know his preseason numbers weren't overwhelming.

So was the motivation to put Gagner in because he is ready for the NHL (or close) or was the motivation to put Gagner in the lineup because management is hoping he is ready for the NHL? Kevin Lowe is still trying to desperately keep his head above water and having his 07 1st rounder arrive to the big show early would be great 'proof' he's doing his job well.

Adding fuel to the fire, a 'typical' MacT guy, Patrick Thoresen, has been a victim of this training camp competition and has been put on waivers to be sent down to the AHL. It's a move that forces idle observers like me to at least raise the question.

Now Gagner, as well as Nilsson and Cogliano, have 9 games to prove they belong on this club.
I think Bob McKenzie explained it best:

Now it's up to Gagner to prove what he can do against NHL talent in NHL regular-season games. The Oilers will evaluate him over the course of nine games played – by him, not the team – and decide before his 10th game whether they want to burn the first year of his contract or return him to junior and have the contract kick in next season. Even if Gagner plays 10 or more games, it does not count towards a year of pro service for the purpose of determining free agency down the road unless he plays in 41 games, or a half season.

So the Oilers have plenty of time - before his 10th game and again before his 41st game – to make a call on where he's best to play this season, both from a development and business point of view. (Source)

update: I think BD highlights the the important question regarding Ladislav Smid's send down:

Of course sending Smid out just emphasizes what a complete joke last fall was when they played him with Staios on the second pairing rather then paying a little bit of money for a veteran Dman and letting Laddy get his feet wet on the third pair or playing big minutes in the AHL. The kid is likely going to be a good Dman but the handling of his situation has been a farce since day one. (Source)

Could Smid's early callup been a result of Lowe trying to prove his return for Pronger was decent?

Obviously there's a huge potential I'm way off on this, but I still feel these are questions worth asking. In 9 games we'll have an idea of the answer.