Lately it seems that the Calgary Flames’ 2011/2012 NHL season is going to play out like something scripted in Hollywood. Whether it ends up being a comedy, a tragedy, or a story of triumph remains to be seen, but right now it kind of feels like the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the man is trying to foist his still-breathing elderly relative on the cart-pushing mortician:
DEAD PERSON: “I’m not dead!”
MORTICIAN: “Here — he says he’s not dead!”
MAN: “Yes, he is.”
DEAD PERSON: “I’m not!”
MORTICIAN: “He isn’t.”
MAN: “Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”
DEAD PERSON: “I’m getting better!”
MAN: “No, you’re not — you’ll be stone dead in a moment.”
Indeed, every time it begins to appear as though the Calgary Flames are down for the count, they manage to pull off an unlikely victory and re-ignite a spark of hope that this season could be salvaged, that the playoffs are still a possibility; that maybe – just maybe – this team could make an unlikely run and recapture the magic that consumed this city in the spring of 2004. After a disastrous home stand that saw the club collect only two of a possible eight points and dropped them to 11th place in the conference, the Flames surprised everyone by beating the Phoenix Coyotes and moving themselves back within striking distance of the coveted 8th spot. Unfortunately, the Flames are about to be dragged off to the Honda Center in Anaheim – truly a graveyard of a building where the Flames have not managed a victory since 2004. With Dallas playing the hapless Edmonton Oilers on the same night, this is a game that absolutely has to be won if the Flames really “don’t want to go on the cart”.
On The Line
With Dallas playing in Edmonton and all but guaranteed two points, Calgary must win just to keep pace. A loss tonight thickens the log jam of teams vying for the last few playoff berths and likely widens the gap between Calgary and the post-season – there are simply too many other teams in the way that would need to be leapfrogged and less and less games remaining in which to do it. Every. Game. Matters.
“I think I’ll go for a walk…….”
The Ducks open the first with a couple chances that test Leland Irving early, but the young backup is up to the challenge and turns them aside. Calgary then gets a power play only a minute in when Anaheim gets caught with too many men, and then the man advantage is extended when Ryan Getzlaf gets sent off for hooking. The Flames make the most of the opportunity and grab the lead when Curtis Glencross whips a shot towards the Anaheim net that deflects off of Hiller and manages to ping-pong its way off the far post and in. Looking energized, the Flames control the play for the next few minutes while the Ducks are lustily booed by their own fans. The jeers turn to cheers shortly thereafter, when Derek Smith gets caught on a bad pinch and the Ducks break out on a 2-on-1. It ends up being Selanne to Ryan to the back of the net, on a textbook play that Irving had no chance of stopping. Tie game. Immediately following the goal, Tom Kostopoulos squares off with Luca Sbisa right off the faceoff, possibly looking for retribution for Sbisa’s hit on Tim Jackman the last time these teams met. Despite some heavy punches being traded, neither player really gets an advantage. A few minutes later, Jarome Iginla and Francois Beauchemin decide to show their teams how its really done when they decide to dance after Beauchemin attempts to remove Iginla’s head from his shoulders with a well-placed shoulder. Remembering past encounters with the Ducks’ defender, an enraged Iginla proceeds to feed Beauchemin his lunch. As the teams ratchet up the physical play, Scott Hannan gets sent off for tripping and the Ducks head to the power play. Leland Irving is the big story on the penalty kill, making a handful of spectacular saves to maintain the 1-1 tie. After the penaly expires the physical tone softens but the play opens up, allowing the teams to trade chances. Lance Bouma fires a shot just high over the Anaheim net, Jokinen gets the puck alone in the slot but can’t pull the trigger, and Bobby Ryan gets in on a breakaway but is stoned by Irving, who looks like he is having the game of his life. A late tripping penalty to Alex Tanguay would give the Ducks a chance to take the lead, but instead they take a penalty of their own when Saku Koivu gets banished for trying to steamroll Irving. The period ends with a little over a minute of 4-on-4 play and the teams still deadlocked at one apiece.
“You’re not fooling anyone……”
If you are a fan of the Calgary Flames, you have probably come to dread early leads and second periods. The games – and points – that have been lost during the middle frame this season could have made a huge difference in the club’s situation, and that’s a trend that will have to be reversed if the Flames want to be successful down the stretch. Unfortunately, tonight’s second period doesn’t start out much better than the last few have. The Ducks get most of the chances, forcing Irving to be sharp. The Flames get a few shots as the clock ticks towards the midpoint, but the Ducks take the lead when Getzlaf brings the puck out from behind the Calgary net and feeds it to Corey Perry in the slot, who converts easily despite being hooked by Jarome Iginla. Again, Irving has little to no chance on the play and the Ducks go up 2-1. Anaheim gets another chance on the power play when Scott Hannan holds back Teemu Selanne from driving to the net and gets sat down for 2 minutes, but again the Flames are strong on the PK and kill the penalty off. The clubs go back and forth a bit but the Flames don’t do themselves any favours, ending up short handed again when Tim Jackman gets banished for hooking. The pressure is relieved somewhat when Andrew Cogliano trips up Mark Giordano, leaving the teams to play some more 4-on-4. Calgary gets a brief power play chance with just under two minutes remaining but can’t do much with it, and the siren goes with the Flames being outshot again and still trailing by one.
“I feel fine; I feel……happy……….”
If the Flames want to avoid the proverbial club to the back of the head, they have to know they’ve got to push back in the third – especially with the news coming during the second intermission that Dallas had beaten the Oilers 3-1 and gained another two points. Anaheim controls the play for the first few minutes, but the Flames start to show some life when Tom Kostopoulos wires a hard shot from the high slot that Hiller barely manages to hang on to. The close call sparks the Flames to life, and moments later Mike Cammalleri makes a great effort to keep the puck in the Anaheim zone, then accepts a pass from Iginla and wires a wrist shot on net. The shot gets knocked down but Alex Tanguay is there to pick up the garbage and pound home the equalizer. With the score tied the Flames keep rolling, and Curtis Glencross nearly restores the Calgary lead when he finds himself alone with the puck in front of the Anaheim net but can’t find the trigger. The Flames start to close the gap in shots on goal, looking much stronger than they did in the 2nd. The midpoint of the period is marked by a Saku Koivu tripping penalty, but the Calgary PP sputters again and fails to break the tie. The Flames actually seem to play better at even strength, and look dangerous in the offensive zone. Iginla has a glorious chance when he outmuscles Beauchemin in front, but slides the puck just wide. As time winds down there is a flurry of chances at both ends, and it appears that the teams are headed to overtime. Then, disaster. With 45 seconds remaining, Ryan Getzlaf comes blazing down the wing and uncorks a blistering slap shop that beats Irving and picks the inside of the far post for his first goal in 17 games – leave it to the Flames to be the slump-busters. Irving heads for the bench to get the extra attacker out, but the Flames can’t even muster a single shot on goal. Mark Giordano robs Corey Perry of the empty netter but picking the puck right off the goal line, but insult gets added to injury (or maybe the other way around) when the dump-in catches Mike Cammalleri in the side of the head and sends him scrambling off the ice in pain. It’s a tough one to take as the Flames’ losing streak in Anaheim reaches 15 consecutive games and their playoff hopes take a heavy hit.
- Corey Perry: +2, a goal and an assist, and gave the Flames fits every time he was on the ice. Always seems to get up for games against Calgary, and tonight was no exception.
- Leland Irving: 35 saves on 38 shots on goal; Irving was definitely not the reason the Flames lost tonight. The rookie was excellent and truly deserved a better fate – really none of the Anaheim goals could be considered his fault. I would be looking at my options if I were Henrik Karlsson, because Leland Irving is proving that he belongs in Calgary.
- Ryan Getzlaf: Put up the same numbers as Perry and scored the game winner. Could have easily been first star but didn’t look as dangerous or dominant as Perry did.
Leland Irving was almost Kiprusoff-like in the first period, making a number of excellent saves and giving his team every chance to take control. His stop on Bobby Ryan’s breakaway with the score tied 1-1 was stone cold robbery.
Mark Giordano showed up wearing a face guard after taking a puck to the face against Phoenix, then turned in a surprisingly physical performance. Number 5 played with an edge all night, and especially during the first period, when his body count included hammering Devante Smith-Pelley into the corner of the Flames zone.
It may be that he just hasn’t found his stride yet after missing so many games, or that he may be a little over his head being pressed into duty on the first pairing, but Derek Smith just hasn’t looked the same since returning from injury. A poor pinch resulted in Anaheim’s first goal, and he committed a brutal giveaway deep in his own zone a few minutes later that also lead to another excellent scoring chance for the Ducks. Ended up getting stapled to the bench for the rest of the period, and didn’t look particularly strong for the rest of the game either.
The Flames needed a Mr. Clutch tonight, and probably thought they had one in Alex Tanguay when he drew the teams even midway through the 3rd period. It was as close as they got tonight, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be enough.
Odds and Ends
It is fundamentally wrong when a standings situation puts me in a situation where I have to “cheer” for the Edmonton Oilers. Or maybe it’s more just cheering for the Stars to lose. Wishing for Edmonton to do anything right just makes me feel dirty……..Note to Rob Kerr: it’s Devante SMITH-PELLEY……..The Flames’ inability to win in Anaheim is becoming beyond ridiculous. It’s clear this building is in their heads, and the team must find a way to deal with it. Come on guys, it’s the freaking DUCKS……..So Ron Wilson gets the axe in Toronto as the Leafs sink like a stone in the standings and watch their own playoff hopes evaporate. Will Brent Sutter be next if the Flames fail to qualify?……..Sure hope Mike Cammalleri is ok after taking a puck to the head during the dying seconds of tonight’s game. He has been one of the few consistent bright spots through the struggles of the past couple of weeks and the Flames can ill afford to lose him for any length of time……..I am as big of an Iginla fan as anyone else and certainly don’t want to see him traded, but it is clear after watching games like this one that he is no longer the dominant player he once was. It was great to see him settle old scores with Beauchemin, but late in the game when the team really needed him to come through offensively he was simply not able to deliver. It really was not due to lack of effort; the chances were there but Iginla is no longer able to pick this team up and carry it the way he did a decade ago……..was anyone else wondering why all the Anaheim fans were wearing white cowboy hats? Obviously it was made clear during intermission when Roger Millions interviewed the lady behind the Calgary Stampede promotion, but it seemed strange to see all those California fans rocking something so distinctly Calgarian. Too bad it didn’t provide the home-like atmosphere they were hoping for; if this goes on much longer we’re going to have to have a Calgary Flames epitaph carved in the stone on the front of the Honda Center.
The Flames return to the friendly (?) confines of the Saddledome for a Sunday afternoon date with the Dallas Stars in yet another live or die match-up. Could these games get any more critical? Puck drop is 4:00 pm Mountain.
Lines (To Start):
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Kostopolous – Stajan – Comeau
Bouma – Horak – Jackman
Smith – Bouwmeester
Giordano – Hannan
Brodie – Sarich