Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Damn you, Anders Eriksson.

And yes, JR. You are still a doofus.

The Open Ice Hits Guide to this Series

This series has been fantastically dead even. It's been great. The ups have sent us soaring, the downs have been lower than low. Being nervous and twitchy from school and the stresses of playoff time, I've decided I can't wait to see how this puppy gets decided, I'm taking things into my own hands.

We have here some of the players from each team. Phaneuf? Lombardi? Roenick?

It's obvious. Phaneuf and Lombardi win this for sheer angelic looks, and of course, for posing with gold medals in their hands.

Roenick loses for looking like a doofus.

Next, let's look at the leaders of both teams.

Jarome Iginla is all business. He has his eye on the goal.

Joe Thornton is still stuck prying breakfast out of the toaster.

Flames all the way.

One of the most important (yet still unrecognized) parts of making it through the playoffs is the ability to stay loose.

Now, on one hand, we have a stolid, family-friendly, and yes, cliche-ridden, stuffy holiday party. On the other hand, we have a rookie really gettin' down. I know which party I'd rather slit my wrists rather than sit through.

This round to the Flames also. See a pattern?

That's all I have to say about today's game. We're the full deal, obviously! Now, we just have to play some hockey.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

On the Edge

I was thinking back to last year's Detroit series and how much more one-sided that series seemed. By the time Noodles had done his lumberjack thing at the Game 5, it was a foregone conclusion that the Flames would not be advancing (as much as we all tried to deny it).

By comparison, the games this year have been a lot more even-handed. That, and the Sharks bloggers haven't really done too much bargin' in and making bold declamations (actually, we've been the ones doing that). That said, there just hasn't been the same air of desperation we saw at the end of last year's playoffs, and really, there ought to be. It is much more go-big-or-go-home time than it was at Game 6 last year.

I think this is the night all the chips go on the table. Right now, all the pieces, such as they are, are here. A top-heavy team, questionable secondary scoring, aging role players, spotty defence, young prospects more likely than not to be third or fourth-line grinders all the rest of their careers.

If we don't win tonight, Sutter can move on to an interesting summer trying to re-sign players with little cap space left, and trying to bring in reasonable replacements for those guys who don't remain. Iggy gets another year older before he has a stab at the Cup, and well, summer can start in Calgary anytime it wants to.

So let's say BOO to all that. Flames in 7.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sarich is a Catalyst for Good? // SJ@CGY G4 Pre-Game

I'm still in shock that something Sarich did was the catalyst this team needed to take it up to the next level (well, stratosphere in the microcosm of the game...). Let's just say I loved the hit. Clean, I thought. Anyone who thought it was a dirty hit doesn't know hockey. Let's leave it at that.

Needless to say, tonight is big. The Flames can take control of this series with a victory tonight, or the Sharks can even it out yet again. My money is going to be on the Sharks trying to exact revenge on their wounded pride, but I don't think they've got the heart, the balls, the strength, or the know-how to do it. I recognize San Jose's regular season excellence, but these aren't regular season games. What wins games for you in the regular season won't always win games for you in the playoffs. This series is a great example of that.

Despite this strong start to the season, I keep flashing back to last year. By far, the biggest difference between this year and last in the playoffs is the competence of the coach. Under Playfair, I never had any confidence in the team on a game-level (hold the lead), let alone on the series-level. Keenan is showing -- through what appear to be trivial moves -- that he's got experience in this area. The mind games he plays with the officials is a great example. The line juggling seems to be throwing San Jose's defense in a loop. Frankly, thus far Keenan has been out-coaching Wilson as opposed to last year, where Babcock handily out-coached Playfair. I've got to believe the lack of "Nervous Jimmy" biting his nails behind the bench as coach is one reason the Flames were able to have the confidence to come back as they did last game.

That said, I'm still going to cry if they get off to the same start as last game. We got away with that once, but let's not press our luck.

Your typical keys to victory:
1) Stay out of the damn box
2) Get the momentum and lead early
3) Keep up the physicality, make the d-men scared to touch the puck
4) Win


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Game 3 Postgame: Oh, ye of little faith.

Let's just pretend the first five minutes didn't happen?

We're all good?


Seriously though, fantastic hit by Sarich to really get the guys going. Great effort by Cujo to blank the Sharks the rest of the way, and did anybody else smile at seeing a reaction out of Sutter up top? Now, who knows whether we'll be able to maintain this momentum onwards to Game 4, but here's hoping we do.

More appropriately, I flipped to an episode of Family Guy after the game, and they were in the middle of a Kool-Aid gag.

Try it out, it's plenty tasty!

Belated Post-Game 2: This Game Will Self-Destruct in 3,2! Yep, period 2. Pre-Game also.

So, uh, yeah. How about that game? I thought we held our own in the 1st and 3rd, if not holding a bit of an edge in the 1st. But that was a remarkable perfect storm of ref inconsistency + lazy/undisciplined play that comprised our self-destruct in remarkable fashion. Does anyone know the record for consecutive penalties in a playoff period of hockey?

That said, there's positives to be found here. It was "only 2-0" due to Kiprusoff playing out of his mind again and outstanding penalty killing. San Jose has only potted two goals in both games, so if our offense can solve Nabokov as in Game 1, defensively we're pretty good.

Tonight's game will be interesting. We now know Bettman is to be there along with some relatively young officials, so my gut tells me tonight will be another penalty parade and special teams clinic. Not even going to bother with a prediction here, but GO FLAMES GO!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now that's hockey

How fantastic was last night's game? The refs kept their whistles down, the players played fast and hard, and Kiprusoff stood on his head. It's the best game I've seen in quite some time, it could've gone either way. There were stretches of domination by both teams, but the bigger top-end talent won out in this game with Iginla and Kiprusoff grabbing the game by its throat, and Yelle playing hard-nosed opportunistic hockey. Just incredible.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. As amazing as last night's game was, it was a close one. The Sharks are going to come out flying tonight and the Flames will need to buckle down and nail them with some Open Ice Hits to knock the senses out of the Sharks. I also have a feeling the officials will be a bit more whistle-happy tonight after an uncharacteristic game where they let the boys play. I disagree with Mike Chen of the Battle of California where he says "let the boys play" means "letting them get away with cheating". There was a lot of stuff on both sides that could've been penalties, including a completely missed double-minor on Nolan that drew blood. But the reffing was fair, even-handed, and consistent throughout the night from what I'd seen. It seems to me the Sharks (and indeed, the Sharks fans) simply want more penalties called because they know the Sharks are better on the special teams.

I'm pumped for tonight, but I go in without high expectations despite last night's game. San Jose is going to want revenge, and I expect for them to bring their "A" game as opposed to last night's "B" game now that they know this won't be a walk in the park.

Is it just me or does Joe Thornton shit himself playing the Flames? He had one good point last night, and was otherwise MIA. Clowe and Marleau were the only consistently dangerous Sharks. Campbell got a bit of a rude awakening in that game -- hey buddy, welcome to the West. Have you met Jarome Iginla? You'll find he's a bit tougher to play against than most of the Eastern players you've toyed with in the past.

This is going to be one hell of a series if the pace is anything like last night. I just about died in the last 5 minutes of that game.

Prediction for tonight? I'm going to predict the Flames keep the intensity up and San Jose doesn't know what to do with it, but still an incredibly close affair...4-3 Calgary (Iginla, Phaneuf, Nolan, Conroy; Marleau, Marleau, Pavelski), and Edmonton wins it in a shootout.


PS: Happy Birthday, Dion. Remember the party comes after the game, not the night before.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Go Time

I love this time of year, though I've forgotten how miserable playoffs combined with school can be.

I haven't done a preview for this series, and I'm almost debating whether I should. San Jose I just know as the team of fantasy playoff heartbreakers. I've drafted a couple of guys from there this year, and with the exception of a late-season addition of Brian Campbell to a team in a league where I had no chance of winning, it's been ugly.

In a lot of ways, I see San Jose post-lockout as having made changes in ways we probably should have made changes. They've gotten rid of a lot of deadweight and guys who've gotten older and less useful (hi, Wayne Primeau), and replaced them with lots of youth. Oh. And some guy named Joe Thornoton?

The conventional wisdom has been that there's no point in looking at our head to head record versus the Sharks prior to the trade deadline, since they got Brian Campbell after that and apparently that's made all the difference. I rather disagree with this - they're still playing the same system, after all, and they're 95% the same team. While they're arguably a much more effective team now, I think we need to look at mistakes we made in these games and clean those up. Nothing too earth shattering:

Keep the Sharks' shots down: In a good majority of games this season, the Sharks badly outshot the Flames. More shots => more goals. More goals bad. We need Sarich to be back to the form he was in earlier this season, Eriksson to spend as little time on the ice as possible, and the other guys to be a bit smarter. Overall, I think I'd like to see the forwards committing a bit more to defense than has been their wont this year. They've done that a couple of times this year, and it's resulted in fantastic results on the scoresheet.
Inconsistency: This one's been done to death. I think we need to remember that as drunken-sailor-wandering-all-over-the-map as we've been, we're not the only team to suffer so. Looking back at the year that was, I see I've called San Jose inconsistent any number of times.
Special teams: We need to minimize activiation of these. Dead simple. Theirs have been better than ours.
Role players: I'm beginning to believe the main battle in this series won't be Iginla vs Thornton, or Kiprusoff vs Nabokov. It'll be Lombardi, Nilson, Boyd, Aucoin against Mitchell, Carle, etc, etc.

Anyways! I'm totally in the mood for playoffs! As I seem to often do near times when we're set to play the Sharks, I had the chance to catch the Hitmen in action last night, and they squeezed out a win for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against my relatives' Swift Current Broncos. And guys, it was a hell of a game! It was also the longest game in Hitmen franchise history, not even bothering to count the twenty minutes spent replacing broken glass). We should be so lucky if any of the Flames' playoff games are this effin' good.


Monday, April 7, 2008

28 games later

I have nothing. MG has the most fantastic analysis about how this is going to be another short playoff run. I'm going to take another tack and hearken back unto the glory days.

In 2004, the year of the Flames' (insert-adjective-here: surprise, unlikely, miracle, improbable) run to the Finals, Darryl Sutter famously divided up the last twenty-eight games of the season, and explained to the guys that, well, they had four series of seven games each. Win each set of seven, and, you'd be pretty close to a Stanley Cup. He was right, as it turned out.

So how do we compare to that year? Let's find out.

Wins: 4/7Wins: 3/7

Verdict: Ooohhhhh, not good. This season, we're losing 2 of those seven game "series", and overall have one fewer win.

Even more worrying to me is the greater number of games which we've lost, and have been blown wide open. In 2004, the only two games in which there was a goal differential of 4 goals in favour of the other team were against perennial Flames-killing Dallas. I'm willing to let those go. But even this month, there's been too many games where the team just forgot to show up.

On the bright side, even with the terrible-most final seven games of this season, we managed to take four games. That suggests to me that maybe it is possible to squeeze out a series win. Mayyyybe.

If we can play like we did in that second series (approximate timeframe: mid to late February), then we're as good as any team in the playoffs. However, right now my gut feel is that we're not that team.

What are we going to have to do to beat San Jose? We're going to have to be the Flames, circa pre-trade deadline. We're going to have to clamp down on the penalties. Kipper will need to be on (this is not impossible - much of the playoff analysis to date has ignored the fact that his goalie stats have largely trended upwards since the beginning of the season).

A lot of things are going to have to come right for the Flames. But hey, it's happened before.


Guys? Right?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Open Ice Fantasy: The Results

Another regular season in the NHL has come and gone, and the inaugural season of the Open Ice Fantasy Hockey League has also come to a close.

Leanne did her best to emulate the Canucks in exploding spectacularly down the stretch. She wins the first annual "Too Many Men" award for her "to hell with the max games, I'm going for it!" attitude. I made a late season charge that had more to do with people running out of games and me stealing points from them than anything else.

Without further ado, our results:

1st place: The Pant Weasels (my brother): 54.50 pts
2nd place: Completely Hammered (ST): 47 pts
3rd place: Woolly Brained (Leanne): 43 pts
4th place: The Hopelesses (MG): 40.50 pts
5th place: The Pantless Pirates (me): 32.50 pts
6th place: Flaming C (Paul-Marc): 31.50 pts
7th place: Craig Conroys (Duncan): 31 pts

Congratulations to all! We'll have to do this again next year (I think I'll be "The Pantless Pirates Want Revenge!"?)

Friday, April 4, 2008

It's been a while

Not looking good.

I'm not convinced the Flames are entirely prepared for this next upcoming game. The opposition has been talking trash, and yeah, our guys might not be able to step up.

Mind you, they've all been retired for quite some time, and being all musicians, the opposition is famed for putting together words rather than action.

Will Lanny, Vernie, and the rest of the Flames (circa '89, plus a few guests) be able to take on a bunch of musicians? Who knows?

As for the real Flames, I am just going to consider yesterday's game an abomination, and maybe just leave it at that. Unfortunately, that seems to be their MO lately. I have a couple of theories, but nothing terribly conclusive.

Iggy, Iggy, Iggy: See, when Iggy gets close to a milestone, the team always falls apart. I'll point to when he was chasing Fleury's record for most goals scored by a Flame earlier this year. I'll point to any game where he's scored two goals, with time to spare. I don't know that it's Iginla specifically who encourages this, but the rest of the team has a tendency to pass up perfectly reasonable scoring chances in an effort to set it up. Now, it's lovely that they love him so much, but yeah... they need to be more selfish and just get 'er in.

Hungry? Too bad about too many cooks: The other thing is that the team is aging, slowly and surely. Dave, in the past weeks, has had heated debates with fans of other teams, where he has been able to promote as a real feature of the team that we have so many established veterans. Now, this is great in terms of leadership, blah, blah, but that means also that maybe there's conflicting messages out there in the dressing room.

Also, teams that are young are hungry. Teams that haven't been to the big show for some time are hungry. Teams that know they're more or less going to make it to the bonus round and who have done it for a while... not so hungry. One of the key drivers behind the Cup run in 2004 surely must have been hunger. And now, we're playing our fourth playoffs in a row(ish), the guys are older, and yeah... the league is full of youth right now. Hungry, eager youth who want to see what the playoffs are all about. 'Nuff said.

I am right now going to write off tomorrow night's game... not only does it matter, I wouldn't be surprised if our current trend continues. If weird things happen and we pair up with the Wild, however, we've just pooched ourselves by not going out and squashing them. We had a chance to send them a message about how the playoffs are gonna work, and muffed it.


So, I figure the geezers will beat the rockers tonight by a score of 13.6 to 9.79, and yeah. Don't hold your breath tomorrow.

Go Flames!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No Joke

Hi boys:

Me again. Just get it over with, alrighty? Get it out of your system, or get out of the playoffs. I hear Quebec and Halifax City are scenic, this time of year...

Catch my drift? Yeah.

Don't fuck up.