Picture this scenario:
A cold, wintery, weekday morn, and your alarm disrupts your slumber. You begrudgingly roll out of bed, stumble over to the underwear drawer and pull out a pair of brand new, 100% cotton boxer-briefs. And they feel toasty warm, like fresh out of the dryer. Ah… that’s nice, you think as you slip them on, only to be distracted by your vibrating phone on the beside table. It’s your boss. He’s called to inform you not to come in today. You’ve just been selected for a huge promotion, complete with raise and 10 weeks vacation, effective immediately. Besides, why would you come in today? It’s Christmas! Wait, what? You were pretty sure Christmas was still months away, but before you can check the calendar the aroma of fresh turkey and the murmuring chatter of your beloved family comes wafting up the stairs, erasing any doubts.
A day full of gifts and giblets finds you resting comfortably on the couch as nighttime settles in. You glance over at the clock… 10:45. You almost forgot, you’ve still got a hockey game tonight. 45 minutes later you’re striding out of the lockerroom to take in a beautiful unscathed sheet of ice at your feet. Suddenly Mark Giordano skates to a stop in front of you and offers a stately “C’mon bud, let’s go”. Why is the Flames captain in a completely vacant community arena beckoning you out for a private midnight skate? Who cares, you think as you glide onto the ice and begin some give-and-go, the perfect cap to what’s been an incredible, unforgettable day.
Is this all just a dream? No. It’s Calgary Flames hockey!
What an endless, unexpected treat it’s been just a few weeks into the new season. The Flames are playing some of their most inspired hockey in recent… heck, in extended memory, and it’s beginning to feel like it might be sustained. And what better test than to square off against the last man who had this franchise playing such frenetic, fast-flying, accountable hockey. Darryl Sutter has his Stanley Cup in L.A. which has left some fans with bitter beer face, seeing how he left this franchise in a bit of a mess — a shadow of its former 2004 self when they were quite literally a centimeter from winning it all. But the man sure can coach. So how would Bob Hartley’s troops fare against their third formidable foe on a deadly five-game West coast swing?
Quite well as a matter of fact. As the Flames out battled Sutter’s Kings in a highly entertaining, barn-yard battle.
On The Line
A chance to stop the bleeding. Two fantastic efforts against two of the league’s best led to exactly zero points, but also zero reason to hang their heads or abandon their game. Amazing to think that the 2012’s Stanley Cup Champions, and 2013 Western Conference Finalists might only be the third best team in the impossibly stacked new Pacific Division. But it’s true. The Flames will have to find a way to compete with a team like L.A. if they hope to sniff the playoffs the next few seasons out of this rebuild. Why not start tonight?
The Game was a physical chess-match from the get-go, as you might expect facing off against a Darryl Sutter club. The Flames got a nice surprise at puck drop as Mike Cammalleri made his unexpected season debut, hoping it would end the trend of falling behind swiftly on this Pacific coast swing. They were able to survive most of the first, but a questionable Stempniak interference penalty near period’s end would lead to Drew Doughty sniping a perfect snap shot right under the bar to give the home-team a 1-0 lead.
A recurring theme of this young season is a push back from this young Flames squad when outplayed for a series of time. This theme would continue as the Flames would come out with fresh legs and lure the Kings into a series of penalties. The Flames would prove to be effective with the man-advantage, as Welcome-back-Cammy would fire a patented one-knee one-timer past Jonathan Quick to knot the game up. The Flames would also capitalize on their second opportunity, with the goal-scorer Doughty in the box, when Sean-y on the spot, Sean Monahan, scored what’s surely his patent-pending signature goal — parked on the edge of the crease, calmly whacking in a wayward puck. This kid is something special. A mid period penalty-kill was highlighted by a breakaway sprawling save by Karri Ramo, keeping the Flames ahead. But the special teams magic would dry up on their fourth powerplay of the period when Jeff Carter and Mike Richards would bully the puck past an off-balance Ramo. 2-2 after two.
The third was nerve-wracking to say the least. But here’s the difference. In years past it seems you’d be watching a tie-game late in the third and waiting for the shoe to drop. The Flames would be outplayed, outworked, outhustled, outskilled, and you would be dying on every entry by the opposition into their zone, hoping they would survive into overtime and escape with a point. But now the Flames have a little more poise, a little more pep, a little more structure. Sure there’s some hair-wrangling moments, and the ice may still be tilted in the enemies favour. But there’s a belief that they can get it done. You see it on the ice, and it sifts through the tv into the collective confidence of the fans. Belief by osmosis I’ll call it. And it’s a huge credit to the work Bob Hartley has done.
Sure enough the Flames went toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot with the Kings, drawing the only two penalties of the frame. And on the final advantage, clock under a minute, and I’m sure many a fan expecting overtime, a nifty backhand saucer from Hudler behind the net found the tape of creeping Brodie. The young D-man made no mistake with his head up, picking the open side with a bullet past Quick. What a goal! What a victory!
- Jiri Hudler: Two crucial assists to extend his eight game point streak to start the season. None bigger than his heads-up perfectly weighted backhand saucer to set up the game winner by TJ Brodie.
- Mike Cammalleri: He likes it! Hey Mikey! Some expressed concern that the return of Mike Cammalleri might return some of the old-guard mentality and stifle the exuberance and energy of this young team. 1 Goal, 1 Assist, and an all round solid game should help to quell some of those fears.
- Karri Ramo: The Kings probably deserved at least one of the stars, but screw that, I love these Flames! Terrific performance by the sturdy Finn, channeling his predecessor. His first victory in the Flaming C… only 304 to go to tie Kipper.
Which one was bigger? Ramo stymieing Justin Williams on a powerplay breakaway half way through the game was enormous. But minutes later he was at it again, stretching out with the pad to deny the pesky Dan Carcillo.
Matt Greene would catch Giordano with his head down entering the zone early in the Flames first powerplay. Giordano would hit the boards hard, but would get up to watch the puck hit the back of the net behind Quick. I’m sure that took some of the sting out of that one.
Hard to pick a goat with such a solid, all-round team effort but I’ll lay the horns at the feet of Curtis Glencross. It’s no secret he’s been struggling in the early going and in the first period a few promising chances died on his stick. But he would find his way to the front of the net in the final minute to pose a distraction for Quick on the game winner. So props there. Bigger props to Hartley who has seemed to notice the ineffectiveness of Glencross on the powerplay and make adjustments. Monahan with nearly double the PP minutes of Glencross tonight. Hudler, Monahan, Cammalleri the new #1 unit for the time being.
It probably should be TJ Brodie with a perfectly placed slapshot for the game winner, just over the pad and inside the far post. But I’m going with Sean Monahan on this one. Because the young man just knows where to go to score goals. Almost had his second of the night midway through the third if not for the lightning “Quick” pad of LA’s goaltender (They should trade Quick to Tampa, the headlines write themselves). What’s more impressive is it doesn’t matter who he’s out there with: Baertschi, Hudler, Stempniak, Cammalleri… the kid creates chemistry and produces with everybody.
Odds and Ends
You heard it here first. Sean Monahan will be staying a Calgary Flame (sorry London). 21:11 ice time tonight. He’s clearly earned the trust and confidence of his head coach, and he continues to flourish with it. 6 goals now in 8 games. Crazy stuff. Welcome to the NHL Monahan, you certainly earned it. Expect it to be made official Wednesday after the Coyotes game… Kings had killed off 14 straight penalties heading into this matchup. The Flames made short work ending that streak. Shorthanded goal aside, an extremely effective night for the PP, finishing 3 for 6. A lot of the credit has to go to Jiri Hudler. How many years have we watched the Flames simply struggle to gain the zone a man up? Hudler is a wizard on the entry. Bobbing, weaving, turning, passing, dumping. He always reads the situation correctly and puts the puck in a good place. No doubt a byproduct of his many years amidst Red Wing hockey. But he is exactly the powerplay Quaterback this team has been sorely lacking… 60 total hits between the two teams. Good old fashioned physical hockey… Once again the Flames were dominated in the faceoff circle. The lone brightspot? Cammalleri, good for 78% of his draws. Great to have him back…. Flames had twice the blocked shots, half the PIM, and one third the giveaways of the Kings on the night. That’s a winning formula….
There ain’t no rest for the Wicked. The Flames are back at it tomorrow night in Phoenix to take on the streaking Coyotes. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Flames would be satisfied (and exhausted) with this victory and be desert meat for the Dogs. But there’s not much conventional about these Flames. You can catch it again on Sportsnet. 8 pm puck drop.
Lines (To Start):
Glencross – Backlund – Galiardi
Cammalleri – Colborne – Stempniak
Baertschi – Monahan- Hudler
Bouma – Street – McGrattan
Giordano – Brodie
Russell – Wideman
Butler – O’Brien