After their best effort of the season Thursday in San Jose, disappointing can only describe tonight's 4-3 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. In a nutshell, the Flames looked completely flat for most of the first 40 minutes, did not get the goaltending they need, and got little luck all night.
The Flames looked flat from after David Hale's opening goal for Phoenix to Mike Cammalleri's first goal late in the second. (I still think the eerie silence that fell over the 'Dome after Hale's goal was more to do with stunned disbelief among Flames fans that David Hale actually scored a goal than the fact that the Flames were down 1-0.) Jarome Iginla's attempt to rally his team by fighting Hale (another jaw dropping moment from Defensive Scapegoat 1B last year) didn't really work. The Coyotes made it 2-0 after Adam Pardy's attempt at breaking up a 2-on-1 landed on Peter Mueller's stick, the first major bit of bad luck for the Flames. Mike Cammalleri got the Flames back in the game late in the second with a nice goal set up by Adrian Aucoin and Matthew Lombardi, with Iginla screening. But just when things were looking up, Phoenix scored the first of two goals that I think pins the blame on Miikka Kiprusoff mostly for this game.
Has Kipper let in a worse goal this season than Olli Jokinen's near the end of the second that made it 3-1 Phoenix? I can't remember one that was worse, or, more importantly a bad goal of his that had more of an effect on momentum and the end result of the game. I also thought that Mikkel Boedker's game winning goal might have been a bad goal; Kipper seemed slow in his movement and collapsed too easily. Normally I wouldn't criticize Kiprusoff so much, not when the team played for basically half a game. But this game comes on the day the Calgary Herald ran a story on the front page of the Sports section about Kipper's projected Iron Man season - 78 games. Mike Keenan justified playing Kipper so much by comparing him to Grant Fuhr. But as much as I've defended Kiprusoff, I have felt for awhile now that he can no longer handle the amount of regular season games Keenan gives him. It's not even like the Flames are relying on Kiprusoff to steal games for them anymore. The last time Curtis McElhinney was in net against Detroit, the Flames kept pace and came very close to winning the game. In that game, I thought the tying goal by Henrik Zetterberg was a bad rebound by Curtis Mac, but I still feel the game was evidence that the Flames could use him like any other backup. Grant Fuhr is a romantic comparison to Kiprusoff, but remember that the coach giving Kiprusoff nearly 80 games is Mike Keenan, whose list of goaltending-related gaffes over the years totals well more than 80. (Ok that's some hyperbole, but I had to make the sentence work). Tomorrow, the Flames play the Avs in Colorado. They have beaten Colorado all 4 previous games this year, with two of those games being Kiprusoff shutouts. It's therefore hard to see McElhinney being in net tomorrow. But here's where I pose the question: is Kipper playing too much?
Some other thoughts on this game. The secondary effort clearly wasn't there tonight. Particularly bad was Rene Bourque, who was -3, had no shots, and took two bad penalties including one in the final five minutes that prevented any real effort at a comeback. As I mentioned though, luck was not on the Flames' side this game. It showed itself most notably on Phoenix's two fluky goals (Mueller's and Jokinen's), but the Flames missed the net a lot in the last half of the game, particularly the final two minutes. Ilya Bryzgalov also was excellent for Phoenix. Am I the only one who gets the feeling Jarome Iginla may be hiding an injury? This current cold streak of his seems a bit different than his usual droughts...I have absolutely no evidence to support it, it's just a guess. With two wins at the 'Dome this year, the way Shane Doan plays against Calgary, and my mostly-repressed memory of Ilya Bryzgalov's Game 7 shutout of Calgary in the 2006 playoffs, I would be nervous facing Phoenix if the Flames win the division.
The Flames are still nine points up on the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest Division lead, facing the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow, who they have beaten four times already. A combination of flat play (possibly tiredness after Thursday's battle in the Shark Tank) bad luck and bad goaltending made this a loss tonight. I'm not discouraged, however.