The Calgary Flames dropped their fourth regulation loss in a row at home this afternoon in a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Despite the Flames generally having control of the game possession-wise following Bobby Ryan's opening goal, Curtis McElhinney was yet again denied his first NHL win. Even though I am always at least a little pessimistic, I am still not that worried about the Flames' worst week since the season turnaround midway in November.
This afternoon's game was the Flames' best effort of the week, at least. Though some of the turnovers, much like the Chicago game, were as bad as any the Flames have had, I am confident that the Flames would have won this game if Miikka Kiprusoff had started. (Oddly enough, I had a long conversation on the forums last night about Kipper potentially playing too much - similar to one I had before the last McElhinney start. Eerie.) While it was a horrific giveaway by Adam Pardy, I felt that Kipper probably would have stopped Corey Perry's game winning breakaway goal late in the second period. JS Giguere had what I'm estimating was one of his best games of the season (he has been frustrating me all year in fantasy hockey) but he did not steal the game. Anaheim played a tight checking game, generally preventing Calgary really good scoring chances. Calgary's passing game was generally off, reminiscent of their early season disasters in that department. And for the second straight game, the Flames' biggest weakness - the power play - caused them to lose. From a waste of two minutes early in the 3rd period that rightfully recieved boos from the home crowd, to the Flames' failure to even get in right position on a 5-on-3 in the final minute that could have tied the game, this game yet again proved that the power play is the single most likely weakness to kill the Flames.
This brings me to my thoughts on the last week in general. I am still not worried, because if the Flames are going to be having 4-game losing streaks now is the time to do it, with a 9 point lead on the division. As long as Edmonton still blows games 8-3 and Vancouver continues with their ways, it simply is not a worry. (Don't take that to mean I think the Flames can coast the rest of the season). The reasons the Flames have lost the last four have been uncharacteristically sloppy defensive play, lack of a secondary scoring effort and their typically horrific power play. With the exception of the last reason, I am still confident these are short term issues until I'm proven otherwise. I really think this losing streak has been blown way out of proportion by the Calgary media because of Darryl Sutter's lecture on road play in Dallas and Mike Keenan smashing his stick in frustration in practice. The only really worrying thing is that Dallas, Chicago and Anaheim are all very probable playoff opponents for the Flames.
Again, I don't think it's acceptable for the Flames to coast the rest of the way, but the Flames still have a nine point lead in the Northwest Division with 30 games left in the season. If they went two games above .500 - 17 wins - they would finish with 98 points, and that doesn't even count any overtime/shootout losses. For comparison, Edmonton would have to win 21 of their final 30 games - a .700 winning percentage - to equal the Flames in that situation, and without overtime losses they still fall one point short. In short, it would take a choke of epic proportions, even for the Flames, to lose the division. The key is obviously not peaking too early; my expectations are the same as they were at the start of the year when I expected Edmonton to win the division. I'm still not nearly as worried about a potential collapse in the divisional race as I am about a potential collapse in the playoffs.
Some other thoughts. I read an interesting rumor on Spector's Hockey today regarding Matthew Lombardi. Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun suggested Lombardi to Nashville for Dan Hamhuis. What do you think? I get as frustrated by Lombardi's lack of offensive skill as anyone so I think it might be a good move. The cap numbers fit - Lombardi $1.8M with a year remaining, Hamhuis $2M with a year remaining. Hamhuis has been a 20-minute a night defenseman but has had a really bad +/- the past two years (coinciding with the Predators' decline since 2006). He also provides some offense. I don't know whether this trade would be realistic, just asking for discussion on a rumor from a legitimate source. Curtis McElhinney allowed a weak game winning goal, and could not keep the Flames in the game in his last start, but I still think Miikka Kiprusoff should get more rest down the stretch, especially if they expand their lead on the Northwest substantially. Really, playing him just so he can get 50 wins is silly. Still, the team seems to play with more confidence when Kipper's in the net...it's a difficult scenario. I'm still working on a post about the chances of re-signing Mike Cammalleri, but I still think it's an absolutely necessary move, even if it means weakness in other areas.
The Flames' schedule doesn't get any easier after this. They host the Habs on Monday, then go on the road to Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix.