Thursday, October 30, 2008

Family and Friends

Of historical relevance tonight — Calgary RW David Moss and Boston RW Phil Kessel skate against each other for the first time in the NHL. The two are first cousins — their mothers are sisters.

The two had dinner last night, and are ready to go head to head.

The Bruins are one of the teams in the league I have the warm-fuzzies for. Not really because they're resurgent after a long time in the dumps, or because of that cutsey wacky mismanagement (who mispaints the faceoff dots on their ice? who??). No, it's basically because over the years, some of my favourite ex-Flames have ended up there.

This is a shot we took just before a game in Buffalo once upon a time; barring the fact that it was the night I ran into maybe the worst meatloaf I've ever ingested in my life, it was also the last game Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew spent in Flames silks.

Sadly, Kobasew is injured, but Ference hasn't been back to play in the 'Dome ever since. While arguably Kobasew has been pretty replaceable by the Boyds and Mosses of the world, I think Ference's brains have been sadly missed in the locker room and on the defense.

And let's not forget ol'Sandbox. Yelle signed over the offseason with Boston; while he's slowed down noticeably in the last season or two, can't forget the time he played here, sacrificing his body for the game. It was really telling looking at the blocked shots column for the Colorado game the other night; while we managed to block a whole 4 shots, Colorado blocked 21 shots.

Sigh. Defense-first, right.

Anyways! Should be a gooder. Provided we can get a goal past Tim Thomas, heh.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Are Cordially Invited To...

... clamber back onto the bandwagon.

Yeah, we can shuffle over. Plenty of room here!

I have to confess (that life being busy) that I wasn't able to follow the Flames through their last two games. That said, they seemed to finally be adding those intangibles we spend a lot of time here moaning about.

Coming back from 3-0 in Nashville was impressive, but even better was in Phoenix, where we got the lead early on, and never let go.

So now we know we're capable of complete games. We're capable of difficult wins. Question is, how long can we maintain this particular tempo? And can we do this night in and out against great teams?

I have to confess that I'm still not hopeful on this front. Certainly a number of things have turned the corner for us so far. Kipper is still Kipper (I maintain that his terrible performances at the beginning of the season were more a result of defensive lapses than anything else), Bertuzzi is looking to be more like his old self that we hated in his Vancouver days, than the useless putz we sniggered at in Florida or Anaheim.

The big question is still the defense. While Phaneuf is now receiving the lion's share of minutes, he's still not quite as steady defensively as I would like. And it's hardly limited to Phaneuf. Overall, I'd just like to see more consistency from the entire corps, and we haven't yet got that.

Tonight we'll be up against the Avs. They've had a very similar trajectory to ours this season - sucking up the beginning, but now rounding into form. It'll be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Go Flames.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spotted off the port bow: Defensive Play

Did you see it? Approximately sixty minute's worth.  What was once as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or a fiscally conservative Republican was out there for all to see against Washington the other day.  It was awesome.  Kiprusoff played well (still not quite there yet, but was it ever nice to see some of those big saves again), the defense played well, and the forwards played responsibly, for the most part.  It was a thing of beauty!

The real challenge for this team is now that they've actually won a game, they need to remember what they did right and keep doing that.  And what better team to start stringing the wins together than against Nashville?  (Rhetorical answer: Toronto would be even better)  A good hockey team plays with confidence and conviction, from the highest levels (buying into a "system", if one exists) to the lowest (not gripping the stick too hard).  Watershed moments like killing a nine minute powerplay does wonders for this team, and I genuinely believe that PK is what won the game for the Flames.  Now that they've won the game, it's time to carry that confidence (while avoiding any possible over-confidence) by stringing some wins together.

I happen to have Danny-boy Ellis in one of my hockey pools, so I'm not going to hope for a high-scoring game.  I'm going to predict a 3-2 Flames win, with goals by Lombardi (hot hand!), Iginla, and Boyd. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All about the feelgood!

So today marks the first time Chris Clark has been back to play since he left the Flames after the 2004 Cup run. Dunno about the rest of you, but I have missed him around here, and it's great to see that he's put together so many solid years out in Washington.

And tonight also marks the first time Ovechkin has ever come to the Saddledome to play (I won't repeat the rant, but really, it's about damn time, and really ridiculous that this is a guy in his fourth season and he's finally getting around to all the rinks).

What else? Well, we'll see Hitmen alum Jeff Schultz (Karl Alzner, sadly has been booted down to the minors by the Caps), and hometown boys like Mike Green and Tyler Sloan.

There's a hell of a tear-jerker of a story about Sloan, and why it's a big deal that he's lining up for the Caps tonight. Much respect for the Caps for making the move, it's a classy move all around. So a big congrats to Sloan, and here's hoping he makes the most of tonight.

Well, not too much. I'm not feeling nearly as warm and fuzzy towards the Flames as I am the Caps, today... so... here's hoping we come out strong, play strong, finish strong and do all that stuff playing hockey entails.

Or I would settle for not embarrassing ourselves. Yeah, I could live with that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who will be our Mikko Freakin' Koivu? | Pre-Game: Battle of Alberta

Mikko Freakin' Koivu killed me last night in various fantasy pools.  He also killed me because in one league (where I'm behind by assists), I drafted him but dropped him before the season started to get Peter Mueller (Ben Stein's voice is running through my head with that name still...).  Gaborik sat out with a shocker of an injury, and Koivu stepped up to deliver his team a win.

Do we have a player capable of that on the Flames?  It's got to be either Lombardi or Boyd right now, they need to play possessed and start delivering on their promise -- Lombardi in particular.  The Flames need some hope from the young guys offensively, we need a kid who can provide something new and exciting to the team and start lighting the lamp.  For years we've had to trade for new scorers, but in the process trade away an existing scorer -- we're just keeping the status quo.  Time to step it up, for my sanity.  As I've said before, this year is really Lombardi's last year to prove himself as someone with 1st or 2nd line potential, otherwise he'll be a career 3rd or 4th line grinder, which is such a shame with his speed.

Tonight we face yet another divional rival.  Is it just me, or do other teams get to play more teams from outside the division to start the season?  The Flames and most of their key players always "start slow"  so it's a bit of a pain in the ass to give our rivals so many points so early, especially to Vancouver.  I'm pumped for tonight's game, regardless, as I always am for games against the Oilers.  It's time to get a nice, solid, defensively-sound victory...please.

Who will be in net tonight?  We've got a back-to-back with the guess is Kipper gets both, he need the practice.  But there is the distinct possibility that McElhinney will get one of the starts...and what happens if he outplays Kiprusoff?  And gets more starts?  I'm getting a headache already.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Please Make It Stop

Dear TSN,

Knock it the fuck off. Yeah, we all love The Hockey Theme, but not every single commercial break and not every single time you send it over to another talking head.

This song is a national treasure, but hearing it all the time is going to ruin it for me -- just like I can't hear Taking Care of Business now without popping a few veins in my head and cursing OfficeMax.

Best Regards,
Someone who understands the concept of moderation

(cue The Hockey Theme for the fade-out transition)

Slow starts?

So the Flames are back in action tonight against the also-winless Avs. Good news is, one of these teams will pick up two points. Bad news is, I'm not convinced that's us.

There are so many things we can blame our present performance on. Traditionally poor starts, new systems, new equipment, integrating new players into the team. And on, and on, and on. But the pure fact of the matter is that the perennial slow start creates wear and tear on the team later on in the when we go into playoffs.

Last year (2007-8, for those of you counting on your fingers), we had an identical start in October, losing the opener and getting the loser point in the second game. The rest of October was great, but November was all sorts of abysmal. This is the first season in years where October didn't suck.

The year before (2006-7), we were horrid in October with only three wins, before settling into the Flames and the evil twins they sent on the road to play games.

The year before that (2005-6) we were terrible again in October, going 4-7-2, sucking equally as much at home as on the road.

In fact, you go back far enough, and you'll find that the last year in which we won a season opener was 2001-02.

That's unacceptable.

I'm reminded of when Sutter first took over the team, and faced what he called a culture of "that's ok," where winning didn't have to happen, so long as we put in a good effort, blah blah, blah. I think the same sort of change he put in waaaaay back has to come in now, to attack this problem of starting the season dead asleep. If it's not ok to lose games #5-82, neither should it be ok to lose games #1-5.

MG's got all sorts of reasons to be optimistic or pessimistic about this year's edition... but they gotta start winning (and consequently, showing me what they actually brought to the dance this year) before I come off the fence either way.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bourque, Bourque, Bourque

So we're all anxiously awaiting the season opener on Saturday at home vs the Canucks...

What? Oh, the season opener was last night? Well, that was pretty forgettable.

Were there any bright points? I guess if you're Robyn Regehr's agent, last night's game where he didn't appear was awesome, if only because it highlighted what a key component of the team he is, despite all the season previews which blithely stated that Iginla, Phaneuf and Kiprusoff were the core of the team.

Pardy (who skated in Regehr's place) in due time will probably develop into a Regehr-like defenseman, but it'll take time. As it was, I cringed a little at how well the Canucks were able to take advantage of the gaps in our D.

The point at which we lost the game was probably during a 5 on 3 in the first period. Had we capitalized on that chance, I'd be writing a very different post right now, but we fanned on the shot, and...yeah.

I like that we have more than one strategy on the powerplay besides "Get the puck to the point, and let Phaneuf shoot it," but besides positioning guys at the net correctly (yes, I'm looking at you, Rene Bourque), we have to make contact with the puck.

Goaltending? I ain't touching that one with a 10 ft cattle prod. There were games Kipper has stolen for us in the past...this wasn't one of them.

And the best news of all?

It can hardly get wosre.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

'Tis the Season

Another year, another season.  The summers always seem to drag with a giant void in my life where hockey used to be.  Reading around the various season predictions of my blogging comrades, I've noticed the prediction for the Flames' placement in the division varies wildly.  I think that alone says it all -- we've no idea, at all, how this team is going to work.  I'm not even going to attempt a shot in the dark prediction, aside from this statement: the Flames will finish in the top 15 in the Western Conference.

Individually, some quick predictions:

  • I think we can reasonably expect Phaneuf to get a bit better, but we should not be expecting a big leap.  
  • I think we can expect Kiprusoff to be the same or worse as last year -- my hope for his resurgence remains strong, but I'm being a realist here.  
  • Iginla will be Captain Consistency yet again, no questions here.  
  • Langkow will see age take its toll with diminished productivity, but will remain one of the most underrated two-way centres of the game.
  • Lombardi will dazzle with his speed, and fizzle with his hands.  He's not a prospect anymore, he's a career third line player at best.  Which is a shame.
  • Craig Conroy will bring experience and poise to the 3rd or 4th lines.  Of course, his production will continue to drop but he'll contribute to the team in the spiritual sense.
  • Glencross-Boyd-Moss: I love these guys together, I think they'll continue to impress in the season as they have in the pre-season, provided they're kept together and provided Sutter realizes Boyd makes this team better.
  • Bourque: Can't say yet, don't know enough about him.  I'm expecting him to be pretty nondescript.
  • Aucoin: It's a long way down, baby.  Potentially a 3rd pairing man, he did not impress me last year nor in the pre-season.
  • Giordano: Nice powerplay work, decent even strength work.  Room for growth.  I'm thinking he'll do pretty well for us this year.
  • Regehr: Hoping for a better performance this year than last, but still a solid team guy.
  • Sarich: Love/hate relationship with this guy.  Some games (admittedly not enough), he looks awesome.  Most games, I'd love to beat him with my imaginary cane.  I'm hoping for more consistency out of him.
  • Pardy: Will be good to get some NHL experience.  He was hit-or-miss in the preseason, sometimes displaying some great potential while others reminding me he's from Newfoundland.  (Sorry, newfies).
  • Bertuzzi, he'd surprise me if he gets 40 points.  I'm thinking 30 points and a lot of frustration will be what he provides the team.  
  • Cammalleri is coming off a poor season (relatively), I expect him to bounce back slightly but not remarkably so. 
As for tonight?  Honestly, the Canucks are now my most hated team.  The Oilers are in second place.  Somehow, it's hard to hate on the Oilers when they've got a bunch of old journeymen on the team complemented by a bunch of kids pretending to play a man's game.  When they do well, you can't help but pat them on the back and give a polite smile.  But the Canucks?  Pure evil.  They must be defeated.

I'm going to predict an optimistic 2-1 Flames win.  Luongo craps the bed with a 95% svp performance, the Sedins do some slap passes and end up with a point each with Demitra getting in on that action too, and Flames goals by Phaneuf (PPG) and Cammalleri (EV).  If I'm this specific, you know it's because I've got a time machine.  If this doesn't happen, I'm going to assume one of you fucked up the space-time continuum and I promise you, I will find out who.