Offence Sputters, Flames Lose
In a tight game, the deficiencies of the Calgary Flames were never more obvious.
Whereas the Colorado Avalanche could call upon Milan Hedjuk to cash in a lucky bounce the Flames were relying on the hands of Ronald Petrovicky for their best chance.
The result was a 2-0 Avalanche win last night in front of a 15,639 at the Saddledome, Calgary's fourth loss of this critical six game homestand.
The Flames continue to fall faster than a drunk in a hotel parking lot, winners of only seven in their last 31 games, remarkably, the worst such record in the NHL. The Flames also fall to .500 for the first time this season, essentially conceding their terrific early start that saw them 11 games over the even mark by mid-November.
Flames are 11th in the NHL's Western Conference with a record of 20-20-8-3.
Calgary probably deserved a better fate in this one and at least demonstrated one sacred principle - if you give up six goals as they did in Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Toronto you have absolutely no chance to win. In playing the Avalanche tight and limiting them to only 20 shots the Flames at least gave themselves an opportunity to come out ahead against one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
But it all came down to the hands of Hedjuk versus those of Petrovicky.
It was Hedjuk, taking advantage of a Craig Conroy skate problem that left the Flames briefly short of bodies in their own end, who cashed in the winning chance late in the second period. With Conroy peeling off for repairs the Avs took advantage of a disorganized Flames bunch with Joe Sakic first drilling a couple of point blank opportunities at Calgary starter Roman Turek before Hedjuk picked up a fortuitous bounce to rifle the goal home at 18:14.
Calgary's best chance came with five minutes remaining in the third when Jeff Shantz, playing a gritty game all night, came from behind the net and chucked a pass cross-crease to a streaking Petrovicky. Faced with a wide open net, Petrovicky, with a defenceman draped over his back, missed the puck with his stick and had it glance wide off his skate.
Flames generated opportunities from there but the Avs played a patient defensive game and more critically, might have wanted this one more than Calgary given their remarkable 20 blocked shots versus eight for the Flames.
Calgary pressed to the end but Chris Drury finally put them to bed with an empty net goal with 18 seconds remaining.
Colorado is 24-0-1 this season when leading after two periods.
To place this loss at the feet of Petrovicky, however, would be wholly unfair. You could just as easily blame the Flames power play, now with only one goal in its last 32 chances and the convenient excuse of the Derek Morris injury no longer acceptable. Calgary was zero for four with the man advantage on the night.
In a league where seven of 10 games are decided by ties or by one goal, special teams have never been more critical to the success or failure of the Flames.
The teams the Flames had to keep under their heel - LA and Vancouver - have now blown past them and are probably long gone. The miracle Calgary needs - aside from winning a few of their own games - is for Edmonton to continue their swoon.
Otherwise, with only four home games out of 21 dates starting next week, Calgary's season may already be toast.
Next up is Vancouver on Saturday night, a game that is, obviously, the next "must win" contest of the year. Just like the one after that will be.
1. David Aebischer - 25 saves for the shutout.
2. Rob Blake - just what the Avs would expect, physically punishing and creating offence.
3. Roman Turek - As good as Aebischer in this one.
OF THE GAME
Midway through the first period Aebischer was startled to find Scott Nichol alone in the slot but Aebischer managed to swiftly close the gap on an open net and keep the game a scoreless draw.
HIT OF THE GAME
MAlready stumbling, Dean McAmmond entered the danger area around Rob Blake's elbows and was flattened midway through the second period. Blake was penalized on the play but McAmmond was done for the game.
Playing a team which had waged a hard battle the night before in Edmonton, Calgary's game plan should have been to come out and hit the Avs into submission. Instead, the visitors outhit the Flames 29-21 on the night, led by five from an ornery Adam Foote. Bob Boughner led the hit parade for the Flames with five as well. . . . . . . Flames were 53% in the faceoff circle on the night led by the 61% average of Jarome Iginla, now taking more faceoffs than he has at any time for the team. Iginla is quietly turning into one of the better faceoff performers in the NHL. Stephane Yelle was 52% for the Avs. . . . . .Demonstrating how tightly played this game was, giveaways were only six for Avs and seven for the Flames. Of course, that one giveaway difference also cost the Flames the hockey game. . . . . . .Remarkably, the Avs continue to roll in spite of the fact Joe Sakic is now scoreless in 18 consecutive games. . . . . . . Blake played a remarkable 30:17 on the night, topping the 28:53 put up by Foote. Morris struggled in this game for Calgary and is still not close to the ice time he was putting up prior to his injury. Still, Morris led the Flames with 24:54. . . . . . . . Marc Savard played a decent game, logging a workmanlike 21:27 in ice time while playing periodically with Iginla. More importantly for the Flames, Savard was spotted backchecking, in one instance the last Flame back to break up a dangerous opportunity by Colorado. While the Flames need offence eventually from Savard, making himself useful by not costing the team defensively was important in this game as well.