Monthly Record: 7-7-1-0, 15 points
Either the element of surprise has left them or the Flames are, as head coach Greg Gilbert recently said, "dragging their butts."
Either way, the month of December offers little respite for the struggling Flames, losers of four straight and winless in six.
Only Tampa and Anaheim stand out as "easy" games next month, as far as "easy" can be defined in the highly competitive NHL. Even Minnesota, fresh out of the expansion bucket, is currently two games over .500.
After a start that included a 10 game undefeated string, leaving them lounging near the top of the NHL pile, the Flames are teetering on the precipice, the leaders starting to leave them behind and the trailers closing in.
A fading memory in this "what have you done for me lately" world is the high tempo, physical, speedy and skilled style of October and early November. Instead we see a Calgary team which has lost a step, its natural advantage of speed neutralized through its own doing. And a Flames team with average speed is merely an easy target for the lineups the Flames will encounter through much of December.
The little mistakes that killed them in past seasons are also starting to re-emerge. Against Dallas, Igor Kravchuk didn't play Benoit Brunet tough enough on the first goal. Chris Clark didn't skate hard enough to prevent Modano's second goal. And Clarke Wilm didn't do his job on Pierre Turgeon for the third marker - all preventable goals with extra effort.
And a loss because the effort and concentration on detail wasn't there.
But that's been the story for the Flames this last week and a half. They haven't lost to better teams so much as they've beaten themselves repeatedly.
As such, it may come to pass that the Flames, concentrating so much on a good start to the year, will be unable to maintain a high energy level through a full 82 games. If the Flames are to pull out of their current funk they'll receive no help from the schedule.
The easy days are behind them. It only gets harder from here.
Time to separate the men from the boys.
DECEMBER PREDICTIONS - The month will start all right for the Flames but they will lose five of six on the road sandwiched around Christmas. ... Mike Vernon will lose twice more in December ... Chuck
Kobasew, after a difficult start in Kelowna, will light it up at the World Junior Championships. ... Oleg Saprykin will continue to flounder in Saint John. ... The Flames will have four straight sell-outs late in the month with Edmonton twice and Vancouver and Minnesota. ... Marc Savard will find himself in the press box at least twice this month. ... Is it any coincidence the Flames started to flounder when Savard returned to the lineup? Just asking. ... Jarome Iginla will get a letter in the mail confirming he has made the Canadian Olympic team. ... Derek Morris will not make the team. ... Craig Conroy will be named to Team USA. ... As Savard continues to war with Gilbert, Rob Niedermayer will step up with five goals in the month. He'd better start producing - I'm the guy who lobbied for the Flames to acquire him two summers ago. ... Flames will avenge their 8-0 beating at the hands of San Jose last Dec 8 with a win over the Sharks on home ice on Dec. 6. ... A prediction you'll never see here – an Edmonton win at the Saddledome.
Monthly Record: :
December to separate the
Contenders from the Pretenders
Are the Calgary Flames contenders?
Chances are that as we ring in the New Year, we'll have a pretty
good idea whether this year's team is really good enough to compete
in the tough Western Conference.
The Flames will play 15 games
during the coming month, with all but one coming against Western
opponents, and all but 3 against teams that made the playoffs last
season. Calgary also has three sets of back-to-back games - all on
the road. Arguably, this will be the toughest month of the season
for the surprising Flames.
Despite this, I expect the Flames
to continue their relentless play and to notch more than a
point-per-game during the month. This is a team that seems to thrive
on adversity and to play its best hockey against the elite teams in
the league. I don't expect to see many long winning streaks or major
upsets during the month, but I do think the Flames will record
points in 11 of 15 games, which is a major accomplishment in itself.
On the ice, Roman Turek will
continue to play a major role in the Flames' success. 'Large' will
play all but two of the games in December and will rebound from a
mini-slump in late November and continue to have a GAA in the 2.00
range. Jarome Iginla's scoring pace will slow down during the month,
but he'll still notch several key goals, including an overtime
winner or two. For his efforts, Iginla will be named to the Olympic
team, but Derek Morris will be inexplicably left off the squad.
Jeff Shantz will return to the
line-up at the expense of Scott Nichol, who will be dispatched to
Saint John. For the time being, Jeff Cowan, Steve Begin, and Jamie
Allison will remain on the roster. Despite an abundance of trade
rumours, Craig Button will not pull the trigger on a deal, and the
roster will remain virtually the same.
And, for my bold prediction, Mike
Vernon will lose twice more and retire from hockey to assume a
scouting position in the organization. Kay Whitmore will (at least
temporary) assume the back-up role, although with limited success.
Finally, as we sip our champagne to
celebrate New Year's, the Flames will be firmly entrenched in 4th
place in the Western conference, proving themselves as legitimate
contenders, well on their well to their first playoff appearance in
5-6-3-1, 14 points
Given the results of
October and November it's tempting to take whatever expectations I
may harbour for the month of December and add five points.
For 20 games the
Calgary Flames exceeded most onlookers, including regional, national
and Calgarypuck media, but it can't last can it?
experienced some apparent weaknesses in the Flames armour -
weaknesses that we all knew to exist, but that have only recently
affected their plight in the standings.
December could be a
tough month for the Flames, a month that brings them back to the
pack, but remaining in strong position to contend for a playoff
This month looks tough
Two against Colorado,
two against San Jose, two against Edmonton, plus games against the
Blues, Wings and Stars. Yikes!
The Flames will have
to sort out some of their shortcomings in short order or the month
could be a disaster. Chances are they will.
The Flames are
reasonably healthy for the first time this season, and with that has
come an adjustment to a full roster, new linemates, and a lack of
Time will heal this
awkwardness, and a more cohesive team will emerge.
The team needs to find
a second line, take the body with the same vigor they did in
October, and play better team defence.
Despite what Craig
Conroy and Denis Gauthier will tell you, the Flames goaltending must
also improve. Even the once infallible Roman Turek has been giving
up some easy touches, something the Flames can't afford.
During the month of
December the Flames will break up the big line, uniting Marc Savard
with Jarome Iginla. Dean McAmmond and Craig Conroy will find a new
right winger in Jukka Hentunen (yes, I'm trying this one again).
Jarome Iginla will be named to the Canadian Olympic team, teammate
Derek Morris will not. Mike Vernon will finally win a game this
season (yes, I'm trying this one again too) when he bests the
Coyotes towards the middle of the month. Rob Niedermayer will triple
is goal output to three by the end of the month, while Dean McAmmond
will find himself goalless. ... A prediction with a caveat; should the Flames slide continue, towards the middle of the month