Monthly Record: :
The Calgary Flames are better than they played in November, aren’t they?
It’s hard to believe that this is a better team on paper than the one that went 13-2-2-2 to start the 2001-02 season. The biggest issue is players who were playing extremely well at that time are involved in monster slumps now, as the team falls to 1-9-0-1 in their last 11 games and slipping fast.
Players such as Jarome Iginla, Roman Turek and Craig Conroy, who were the heart and soul of the team during that amazing run, are playing as poorly as they ever have at any point during their careers. Never mind Greg Gilbert, if you take the top two players and top goaltender from any team and effectively remove their effectiveness from the lineup that team will go downhill in a hurry. For instance, what if Tommy Salo, Anson Carter and Ryan Smyth all went into career-long slumps? The Oilers would be toast. Ditto Forsberg, Sakic and Patrick Roy for the Avalanche.
The biggest question then, is can these players get back to the level they’re capable of in time to salvage a season that’s going into the tank? Unfortunately it may take a coaching change to light a fire under these players.
The good news, if there is any, is that going through this kind of adversity can be a big benefit to the team’s ability to handle difficult situations – provided they ever play their way out of it.
Oleg Saprykin will be sent back to Saint John at the end of the road trip after recording zero points… The slide will continue for the next four games, leading in Greg Gilbert’s departure from the club before the December 12th home game against Carolina. He will subsequently be replaced with Jim Playfair… Under Playfair, the Flames will win their first several games, go back to their losing ways but partway through their pre-Christmas road trip will finally turn their season around for good… The home attendance for December 5th vs. Minnesota will be the lowest in Saddledome history… Craig Button will make no trades throughout the month.
Monthly Record: :
When November began things
looked very promising for the Calgary Flames.
They had managed their way
through a very tough opening schedule and were finding ways to
secure points in most games - be it a tie, or an overtime loss.
Something happened in Manhattan
however. When Chris Drury hit a goal post with less than a
minute to play in null null game with the Rangers it seemed like
a break point besieged the club for the rest of the month.
No more luck!
From there everything that
could go wrong has gone wrong and continues to go wrong as the
club putts towards the holiday season.
It all kicks off tonight
against the Stanley Cup Champions, a great way to get a month
off on the right foot.
The month of December features
14 games, eight of which are on enemy ice (don't worry that's a
good thing with their record at home). The beginning portion of
the month has a game with Detroit, two with the Avalanche, and
two with the red hot Canucks.
A betting man would pick 14
losses, given the club's November performance, but not this prognosticator.
If the Flames don't right their
ship soon they will soon be playing for draft position,
something not entirely new in these parts.
Don't worry ... they
The ebb and flow in the NHL
says what goes down usually comes up ... and so will the Flames
as they chug to a 5-5-3-1 record and 15 points.
The bad news is that a .500 month
won't do much to erase the club's current -6 rating in the
standings, putting their seasonal goals in peril.
I predicted Iginla
to bounce back last month ... he didn't. Just like the club
itself, I'll stubbornly repeat my prediction again this month
and cross my fingers. ... Roman Turek will go on one of his
patented streaks, winning a few on his own, and supplying Herculean
goaltending for a string of games. ... The Flames will finally
find some defensive depth by reacquiring Cale Hulse from
Nashville. ... Greg Gilbert will find his job saved by a
combination of better play, and no clear replacement waiting in
5-8-1, 11 points
It is with a greater degree of
humility that I approach prognosticating the coming month for
November saw me being spot-on
in predicting the end of Marc Savard, and getting bonus points
for suggesting no immediate help would be forthcoming, but that
was before I was beaten over the head with the tire-iron of my
own arrogance, the Flames beginning their epic faceplant,
finishing the month 3-9-1-1 for eight points instead of the 15
points I had envisioned.
The ten losses, with one in
overtime, may well qualify as the worst month in team history,
including the Atlanta days where only once did a Flames team go
into double digits in defeats.
And now we face a December with
Calgary staggering under the weight of losing 10 of its last 11,
the coach apparently still at the helm but looking over his
shoulder at a rising tidal wave of disatisfaction coming up
behind him and yet another imposing schedule in December
representing the rocky cliffs of doom lurking in the night
It doesn't get any easier for
the good ship Flames, eight of 14 games this month on the road.
Last year's two Western
Conference finalists are first up and, although Detroit has lost
three of its last four, has yet to give up a goal to the Flames
this year, winning two previous games by a combined score of
9-0, while Colorado is the final game on this disastrous road
Flames are then home for one
game against the improbable Wild, as big a must win situation as
they've faced this year given Minnesota is likely one of the
teams the Flames will have to punch out if they are to retain
any hope of seeing pre-season action.
Then back on the road against
Vancouver - winners of 10 straight - then back home for the
recently hot Carolina Hurricane and the Avalanche again. A five
game road trip leads into the Christmas break followed by a
final three games at home.
It could well be we may know in
the next 30 days whether this team is playing for next year or
At this point, only an idiot
would avoid the prudent approach, erring on the side of caution
and admitting the disaster theory. It says here the Flames will
finish 5-8-1 in December.
Not good enough.
OTHER FEARLESS FORECASTS -
Greg Gilbert, fortunately for
his enemies and unfortunately for his friends, will not survive
the month - or maybe even the day - and we will go with the
notion that Jim Playfair is his successor. . . . . . . Oleg
Saprykin is called up and sticks in Calgary, reducing Rob
Niedermayer to spot duty on the left side. . . . . Jarome Iginla
and Craig Conroy finally begin to overcome lingering injuries to
generate some results - but will it be enough to lift the Flames
from oblivion? . . . . . . Bob Boughner's return in mid-month
helps settle down the blueline corps. . . . . . . . The notion
that Radek Bonk may be on the blocks with the attendance starved
and therefore cash-starved Ottawa Senators is intriguing. A
future Flame in the month of December? A team that may need a
personnel shake-up could do worse than Bonk. . . . . . . Robyn
Regehr, predictor of 10 goals for himself in training camp,
again fails to light the lamp.