Swan Song for Mike?
February 6th, 2002
Was this Mike Vernon's swan song in Calgary?
If it was, his Flames didn't do Vernon any favours last night in a 2-0 loss to the Sharks in San Jose, a defeat which dropped Calgary to 22-22-8-2 on the year and snapped a very modest two game winning streak.
Calgary GM Craig Button has been tight-lipped on the subject, but Vernon's agent Larry Kelly confirmed in the Calgary Herald that Vernon had indeed passed through waivers in the last few days. That increased speculation that Vernon's second stint in Calgary is coming to an end.
His fine play last night, stopping 24 of 26 shots, most of them difficult, might actually hasten his departure as we near the decisive moments in the 2001-2002 playoff race. No doubt there are going to be Cup bound teams looking to fortify their goaltending with a veteran presence and Vernon would seem to fit that need.
Vernon is now 19-3-3 lifetime against San Jose.
The intrigue swirling around Vernon almost made us forget that this was the first game as a non-captain for Dave Lowry, who was paired with one of his replacements, Craig Conroy and logged 16:47 of ice time, about double his normal allotment. Lowry had no shots, one hit and was a minus one on the evening, although not at fault on the goal against.
The Sharks spent much of the evening engaging in a clinical dissection of the Flames and only the fine work of Vernon kept this one from becoming a blowout through 40 minutes. The Flames finally found their sea legs in the third but Evgeny Nabokov, he of no country for the upcoming Olympics, turned in a workmanlike performance, stopping 27 shots for his sixth shutout of the season.
"We just did everything right tonight," said Nabokov. "The whole team played a good game. It was 2-0 in the first period, and 2-0 we win the game. There you go."
Matt Bradley and Adam Graves gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes, allowing San Jose to go into cruise control from there. The Sharks are 17-1-2 this year when leading after the first period.
Calgary is now lodged firmly in 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference, five points behind eighth place Los Angeles for the final playoff spot.
Last night marked the eighth time this season the Flames have put up an offensive goose egg, including the third time in the last five games. The Flames have given up only 11 goals in their last five starts, or 2.2 per game, but have won only twice as they continue to be hurt by an anemic offence.
But the Flames didn't put on a defensive clinic in this one, Denis Gauthier and Petr Buzek in particular having very tough games. Gauthier was beaten outside on the opening goal by a charging Bradley, who was allowed to streak across Vernon's crease unmolested before stuffing the puck under the Calgary netminder only 3:36 into the game. Graves added another goal at 15:13 when Buzek stood idly by as the former Ranger whipped a backhand past Vernon.
For the most part San Jose was allowed to do pretty much what they wanted, leaving Vernon to hold the fort on two Teemu Selanne breakaways and numerous other chances.
The Flames did have their moments, but they were few and far between with Nabokov on hand to stifle any hope the visitors might have had. Jarome Iginla had a memorable close in opportunity that might have tied the game midway through the first period, but a quick whistle by referee Dave Jackson with the puck still skittering free quickly dashed a potential goal.
Calgary's penalty killing continues to improve, the Flames holding off the Sharks on a two man advantage in the first and leaving the Sharks zero for four on the night. Calgary's powerplay, which had shown life of late, had only two opportunities on the evening.
The next four games could make or break Calgary's season, a home and home with Vancouver followed by Anaheim and Phoenix on the road. Win those and the Flames are back in the hunt. Lose them all and it could well be lights out for a sixth consecutive year.
Attendance was 17,383.
||San Jose Sharks
1) Mike Vernon - Gave his team a chance to win this game even if they didn't deserve it.
2) Evgeny Nabokov - A workmanlike effort.
3) Matt Bradley - nice wheels on this kid who blew by Gauthier like he was standing still.
OF THE GAME
Early in the third period there was a scene right out of Beauty and the Beast as Patrick Marleau was flattened by a charging Craig Berube.
OF THE GAME
We could count many from Mike Vernon but his mid-third period stop on a Teemu Selanne breakaway was a thing of technical beauty. Selanne pulled every deke and head fake he could think of but it wasn't enough to distract Vernon who followed the Shark sniper across his crease and got a shoulder on a backhand attempt.
Ronald Petrovicky has not scored in 34 consecutive games. But he's playing in the Olympics for Slovakia. Petrovicky led the Flames with six hits on the night. Bob Boughner, ostensibly Calgary's new home captain but wearing the C this night due to the Flames playing in their home whites, had five hits. Todd harvey, Bryan Marchment and Bradley had four hits each for San Jose. . . . . Quote of the Night might go to CTV Sportsnet analyst John Garrett, a former NHL netminder, who marveled at Vernon's concentration on the Selanne third period breakaway. "I would've been on the other side of the net," declared Garrett of the Selanne head fake. "He wouldn't even have had to raise it." Somehow, we believe that ... After running up a 28-minute game against Detroit the other night, Derek Morris was limited to 20:49 in ice time. Toni Lydman led all Flames with 23.16. After Iginla was allegedly berated by head coach Greg Gilbert after the recent Detroit game for an overly long shift, we can report the Flame sniper averaged 54 seconds per shift against San Jose, racking up seven shots ... Flames were 48% in the faceoff circle, led by Conroy's percentage of 64%.