Miikka Kiprusoff came very close, but couldn't quite save the Flames in Anaheim tonight, as they dropped their fifth loss in the last six games, 3-2 in overtime. After Saturday's home loss to Anaheim, I said that despite it being the Flames' fourth loss in a row, I still wasn't worried about the Flames. Now? I see somewhat disturbing trends in the Flames' 5 losses in the past week and a half.
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Things started off quite well, with an early goal by Todd Bertuzzi. But the Flames could not keep this momentum and largely depended on Kipper to keep them in the game for the rest of the game. Jean-Sebastien Giguere did not have a very busy game at all, keeping with the trend of the last few games with the Flames' offense.
It seems to me that teams are starting to adjust to the Flames' offense. Many aggressive passes by the Flames out of their zone are being anticipated. As well, the Flames have been heavily forechecked in their own zone when attempting to break out. I also notice the passing game has regressed to its level at the start of the season, but am not convinced this could be a long term problem. The Flames' ability to counter-adjust should be a key heading down the stretch.
This may sound odd, but I really never realized just how mediocre the Flames have been on the road until this game. Not even after Darryl Sutter's locker room tongue-lashing in the dressing room following the loss in Dallas last week. But when Sportsnet ran the graphic of the road games in the past month, and the alarming amount of shots allowed in each, it was a bit sobering to say the least. I don't know why I didn't see it before - after all, it hasn't been two years since Jim Playfair's 13-road-wins season. But the fact is, among playoff teams, only Dallas, Washington, Montreal, and Florida have worse road records. Dallas' season didn't start to get going until Sean Avery was booted out, Washington plays in the worst division in the league, Montreal's season seems to be rapidly disintegrating, and Florida is a bubble team. More importantly, Dallas is the only Western playoff team with a worse road record than Calgary. A near-.500/borderline .500 record is not the necessary end for playoff hopes - Dallas and Pittsburgh survived it last year. But it is a source of concern for the Flames, who have 16 of their final 28 games on the road and, if they get past the 1st round of the playoffs, could lose their home ice advantage after that (assuming they win the division, which I still think is a safe assumption).
Overall, the biggest concern for 5 of the past 6 games is that the Flames' potential Achilles heel(s) may be showing. The first is obviously going to be whether they can re-adjust their game enough now that teams are catching on. The second is the powerplay, which in my opinion is still the single most likely thing to sink Calgary this year. It has now cost them 3 of the past 4 games (either a conversion at the start of the third period or one at the end of the period sinks the Ducks).
Some more notes specifically related to this game. Why does Mike Keenan always insist on putting his least defensively responsible player (Dion) out for 4-on-4 overtime? What made it even worse this game was the fact that he put Dion out for a THREE ON THREE overtime, with the predictable result being Scott Niedermayer blowing past Dion for the game winner. It seems most overtimes, a bad play by Dion ends up causing the game winner. At least he learned from his horrific handling of the 2-on-1 against Montreal. He made a few nice plays anyway, and got Pronger to take a dumb penalty at the end of the second that could have sunk Anaheim..Michael Cammalleri was a nonfactor, so Rene Bourque was the best Flames forward tonight...nice to see Glencross get another goal after a bit of a cold streak, and what a shot....not willing to say yet it's the "age-of-30 rule" which is the reason for Iginla's cold streak...Dion's bad defense is magnified when Iginla struggles like this....I felt Miikka Kiprusoff at least deserved an All Star spot if Giguere got one, and he's been probably the best goalie since the break. Meanwhile, Carey Price has been the worst. Karma?....I almost wanted Kipper to steal the win for sentimentality purposes, as I can't remember the last time he outright stole one...Daymond Langkow is another guy who needs to get going badly. I don't think any of his cold streaks last year were as bad the one right now.
Tomorrow night, the Flames get a relief with the Los Angeles Kings. Wait, did I say relief? The Kings are only 3 points out of a playoff spot. If the Flames win their next two (they're in Phoenix on Saturday) I think it could really help them get their mojo back.
(But for the record, Eklund is still 100% wrong about the Flames being in panic mode right now.)
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