End Of Year Tilt Ends in Loss

Scrappy Flames Come Close But Fall    

December 31st, 2003
Rick Charlton

It was another test in a season of tests.

With the morning news that ultra-hot Miikka Kiprusoff would be gone from the Flames net for at least a month and the loss of useful centre Jason Morgan to waivers, the Calgary Flames faced another gut check, another hurdle amid the wreckage of persistent injuries to Steve Reinprecht, Craig Conroy, Blair Betts and Roman Turek.

For one period they failed that challenge, coming out flat, flat, flat in the first period and falling behind early, good enough for the welcoming Colorado Avalanche who won for the 11th time in their last 12 visits to the Saddledome, claiming a 2-1 victory over Calgary in front of a disappointed New Year's Eve crowd of 18,469.

With the Flames back on their heels much of the first period, Colorado jumped into an early 2-0 lead, Peter Worrell deflecting a John-Michael Liles point shot behind Flames starter Jamie McLennan at 8:10 while Steve Moore finished off a two on one break with Dan Hinote at 17:07.

"We seemed to be a little tentative and waiting to see what Colorado would do," analyzed McLennan on FAN960 of the first period.

"We didn't get a good start," said assistant coach Rob Cookson on FAN960. "It's disappointing. In this league, if you don't have a lead it's tough to come back."

Calgary finally jumped to attention at 2:50 of the second when Rhett Warrener, who hadn't scored in 100 games until netting the winner against Edmonton last weekend, plugged a shorthanded screen shot past Avs starting goaltender David Aebischer.

The goal seemed to energize the Flames, a team to that point which looked like it was waiting to be beat, waiting for the worst to happen and effectively letting the death wish come true.

Flames directed 17 shots at Aebischer in the second period and 10 more in the third but it was likely Calgary's abysmal powerplay, now with only one goal in its last 47 opportunities, which finally did the Flames in.

"Right now it's coming down to getting some of those skilled players back to work on special teams," acknowledged Cookson, referring to the absence of Reinprecht and Conroy, essentially conceding the Flames injuries are finally playing a part in wins/losses.

Aebischer finished with 30 saves on the night, including bailing himself out of a colossal blunder in the third when he fluffed a clearing attempt and had to dive across the crease to pre-empt Stephane Yelle from scoring on an otherwise easy stuff.

"Abby has been playing great for us and it was nice for us to back him up and clear out those rebounds for him tonight," said Steve Moore of the Avs on the FAN960. "It was a good confidence builder for us to show us we can hold on to those leads."

The loss was a costly one for the Flames, Colorado advancing into a fifth place tie with Calgary in the NHL's tough Western Conference.

Calgary is now 19-11-3-3 on the year with 44 points, six behind Vancouver with two games in hand, tied with Colorado and only three points ahead of LA, four points ahead of Dallas with Nashville looming six points back in ninth place. 

"Bottom line is wins here," said McLennan. "We're in a situation where we're in a dogfight in the standings. It's so darn close in our division between 10th spot and fourth spot. We've got to get the points."

Calgary was looking for its 11th win in December which would have been the most wins in a month for a Flames team in 13 years.

Avs failed to score in their two powerplay opportunities and had 29 shots in the game.

Next up is Vancouver on Saturday night at the Saddledome.





1 David Aebischer - You have to be good to be lucky and Aebischer was both, his dramatic dive across the crease to save a sure goal in the third period a deflating moment for the Flames.

2 Chris Clark - A little recognition for a plugger, vibrating with energy and enthusiasm all night even if his hands continue to disappoint.

3 Jamie McLennan - A deflection and a close in two on one left him with no chance, but don't hang this one on him.

With the score 2-1, Steve Moore one-timed an Andrei Nikolishin rebound towards the open net but McLennan, diving across the crease, intercepted a sure goal with his glove, keeping his team in the game.

Was it Dan Hinote blowing Oleg Saprykin into the Avs bench in the third period or Saprykin's flying body knocking a surprised Jim Cummins almost into the stands? Take your pick.

It was the largest crowd of the year for the Flames and the third straight game the attendance has topped 18,000. . . . . . Flames Development Coach Jamie Hislop, just in from touring the USA college circuit, said Calgary first round draft pick is living up to his pre-draft hype, an up and down winger, a hitter but "better hands than his dad," former Islanders plugger Bob Nystrom. "He has to work on his hands so he can contribute more offensively . . . . . Adam Foote played 26:10 for the Avs while Jordan Leopold again led the Flames with 22:41. . . . . . Denis Gauthier returned to the lineup after a two game suspension and, frankly, played a terrible game, coughing the puck up repeatedly in his own zone. . . . . . Dean McAmmond was 69% for the Flames in the faceoff circle, the leader in a 57% effort for the home side. Joe Sakic was the best Av at 47%.

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