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Diagnostics of a Slump

D'Arcy McGrath

December 20th, 2001


Want to hear some less than Earth shattering news?

The Calgary Flames, as far as NHL rosters go, don't rank all that high when it comes to the number of impact, marquee players.

Clearly put - when the Flame's best players aren't their best players, they will in all likelihood lose more games than they win. Without their guns gunning, they don't have the depth or talent to compete on a game in game out basis.

To be more specific, on a nightly basis need...

  1. Roman Turek to match or exceed the performance of the opposing goaltender.
  2. Jarome Iginla to chip in with some offence.
  3. Derek Morris to log copious amounts of ice time and quarterback the powerplay.

With a specific recipe as narrowly focused, as above, any one element falling down is quite simply a recipe for disaster. Deeper organizations can get by when one, two or even three of their impact players struggles for a time, they have additional horses to carry the load. Detroit for example can have Niklas Lidstrom, Sergei Federov and Brett Hull all go into a funk simulateneously, but may still get by when Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille fill the net, or Dominic Hasek stands on his head.

Not so for the Flames.

Which brings us to the Flames current slide.

On November 23rd the Calgary Flames marched into Buffalo strutting a ten game unbeaten streak, and a firm lead on the Western Conference basement dwellers.

Since then the squad has gone an unimpressive 3-9-2 for only 8 points in 14 games, a skid sure to see many a team catch up - which, of course, they did.

Now the Flames hold down sixth place in the conference with only a four point bulge on the ninth place Coyotes.

So what happened? How could a 13-2-4-2 team turn into a 16-11-6-2 team in four weeks?

For one thing that 13-2 team was likely playing well over it's head, finding points in numerous games in which they were clearly dominated, and riding the coat tails of a very hot Jarome Iginla.

Since then a number of things have happened.

Special Teams - Since that fateful night in Ottawa (game before the Buffalo skid commencement) the Flames have only managed four powerplay goals on 52 opportunities, a success rate of only 7.7%. The powerplay sat at 21.8% at the morning skate in Buffalo, but has fallen to 17.3% as of last night. For the record, a rate of 7.7% over an entire season would rank as the worst powerplay in the National Hockey League, currently the Columubus Blue Jackets sit at 8.8%. ... The penalty killing hasn't faired much better. The penalty killing percentage sat at 84.0% going into the Buffalo game, but has slipped to 82.3% since. During that time the team has given up 13 powerplay goals on 64 chances for a kill rate of 79.9%. ... Overall the team has faced a special teams deficit of nine goals.

Team Defence - The team has suffered five on five almost to the same extent in which they've struggled on special teams. Defensively the Flames have given up too many goals over that stretch, reverting back to some of the mistakes and inconsistencies of past seasons. When the Flames arrived in Buffalo they had a 2.10 goals against average, which would work out to 172 goals against in a season - a number more than 30 goals short of last season's tally. As of the Phoenix collapse last night the Flames have a 2.49 goals against average, which would work out to 204 goals against, a 32-goal bulge in pace. Within the 14 games the Flames have allowed 38 goals, for a game average of 2.71, a pace that would land you a record worse than last season at 222 goals.

Team Offence - The Flames gained a lot of mileage with their powerplay early in the season, consistently sitting in the league's top two or three for much of October and November. Since then things have gone eerily quiet, as the team has only managed 22 goals in their last 14 games, for a per game average of only 1.57. A season of that type of execution would land the team a league record for modern day goal scoring futility with a total of only 129 goals.

The above statistics are the clear results of a tough stretch of games, but why did all facets of the Flames game suddenly disintegrate? The problems are as clear as day, but what are the causes?'s Rick Charlton adeptly pointed out the crunch of games played to days off, turning decidedly against the Calgary Flames. You won't see that excuse uttered by Greg Gilbert or the Flames players, but that doesn't make it any less of a factor.

However, the biggest single reason the Flames have failed to find many points in their last set of games falls squarely on the shoulders of the squad's best players.

Roman Turek is playing fairly well, but he can't be expected to win games on his own. He stole a game in Dallas, and Mike Vernon was excellent against Detroit, but both goaltenders have had many less than stellar appearances.

Jarome Iginla, Mr. October and November, seems to have hit a very firm, very solid, brick wall. The last game prior to the Flame's skid Iginla scored a goal and two assists in Ottawa to give him 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 20 games. His seasonal marks to date were set on that night for goals per game 0.85 and points per game 1.70. Since then Iginla has only found six points, including five goals in 14 games. Basically he's finding points at the same clip as Rob Niedermayer, a player that seems to have a lock on the ire of the average Flame fan. Nobody expected Iginla to continue on towards 70 goals and 140 points, but a slump and going stone cold are two very different things.

Derek Morris. The story with Derek Morris is less to do with production than it is to do with attendance. The Flames number one rearguard has only played four games within this 14 game skid as he's been sidelined with a sprained wrist. Earlier in the season he missed an additional two games with a strained back. The Flames record with Morris out of the lineup is 4-8-3, and of course 12-3-3-2 with him strapping on the pads.

So, now what?

The fact that Derek Morris has returned to Calgary to see a specialist likely doesn't bode well for the rearguard's speedy return to the Calgary lineup, a fact that was reinforced with the acquisition of Peter Buzek. Buzek, Toni Lydman, and Igor Kravchuk will have to find another gear in order to prop up the powerplay.

The biggest key however is to get Iginla and Turek back on the top of their games in order to lessen the blow of Morris' absence. The coach and general manager can harp on scoring by comittee and everyone pulling their weight, but this team will go nowhere with average performances from Turek and Iginla.

In the end the Flames clearly were never as good as their 13-2 record to start the season suggested, a lot of things fell into place for the club. However, it may be just as accurate to suggest they may not be as bad as their recent record would indicate, and the ship, to some extent at least, will get righted.

While a surge from the Coyotes may be a cause for concern, they too are a young club, and are likely to stumble upon a tough run of games themselves before the season winds to a close.

The Flames upstart beginning has given them some breathing space, something they will need to take advantage by halting their losing ways soon.

Otherwise, Calgary Fans won't be bemoaning a March collapse, but instead a Christmas collapse on a season that looked so promising.





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