March 10 2009 10:57AM
I don't have any lone, overarching themes, beefs or theses to share with you at this point, so here are a series of facts and thoughts in no particular order:
- As I sit here, it's -25 degrees in Calgary (or -13 F for you Americans out there). That's about the temperature of the city's hockey club at the moment too, Im afraid. The Flames have been outscored 11-3 in their last two losses, both at the hands of sub-play-off SE division teams. Hell ATL is in the running for John Tavares.
To be fair, the Flames are ravaged by injury and in the middle of their longest road trip of the season. The line-up included four farm hands (Van Der Gulik, Lundmark, Peters, Sutter) and Andre Roy Sunday afternoon, not to mention a couple of guys who hadn't yet practiced with their new club in Leopold and Jokinen. Even with a depleted roster, the Flames outshot the Thrashers and it was ony the anti-heroics of Miikka Kiprusoff that ensured the loss.
- Speaking of which, the Flames goaltending has been losing them games recently and Im not talking about Curtis McElhinney. Kipper had a really nice run in February when the rest of the club was battling through the doldrums, but he's fallen back down to earth recently. Hard. He has a sub .800 SV% in two of his last 4 starts, and those were both against really marginal competition (TBL and ATL). His overall SV% has shrunk to .906 again, good for 29th in the league behind such notable athletes as Jon Quick (.909), Alex Auld (.910), Ty Conklin (.914) and Chris Mason (.916).
Kipper has been coasting on the "benefit of the doubt" with a large portion of the fan base for awhile now, but that rope has run out for me - especially given his sizable salary. I'm at the stage where Kiprusoff has to prove he's an excellent goaltender again. There were some encouraging signs in Feb, as noted, but Im starting to suspect that was more a "good patch" than a return to form. Pretty much every starter in the league goes through a healthy string of games as long as they start enough of them. Just ask Joey MacDonald - from Nov. 8 - Nov.22, his consecutive SV%'s were: .906, .935, .967, .950, .969, .848, .946 (mean = 0.931). That's on the worst team in the league no less. The trick, of course, is to sustain it...MacDonald's seasonal SV% is .901 and he has the excuse of playing behind the NY Islanders.
Im sure I'll get some complaints or push back on this issue. For those Kipper supporters, I submit that you have three options when assessing the team and Kipper's thoroughly average SV%.
1.) The Flames are a terrible defensive squad and it's only Kipper's excellent goaltending that's keeping them from sinking to the very bottom of the league in terms of GA.
2.) The Flames are a capable defensive squad and Kipper's poor goaltending is actually costing them.
3.) The Flames are basically an average defensive squad and Kipper is no better than an average goaltender who is neither costing nor stealing the team points.
The first premise is nerely indefensible in my eyes. Calgary's SA/G average is middle of the pack (30/game), as is their average shot quality against according to Hockey numbers. In order to evoke a .906 SV% in an "elite goalie", the Flames would have to be a fairly terrible defensive club and there isn't any real evidence of that (unless you want to go the circular route and point to Kipper's SV% as proof).
I think the third premise is the most likely, especially in light of the club's stats listed above. The problem being that paying Kiprusoff the 5th highest goalie salary in the NHL to produce average results is really inefficient budgeting, especially in the current climate of probable future cap stagnation or deflation. Given his age, salary and NTC the organization's only course of action may be to pray that Kipper somehow reverses the downward spiral (although the probability of that occurring grows slimmer and slimmer by the day).
- Matthew Lombardi is 1-2-3 and +/- 0 since the trade. Olli Jokinen? 2-0-2 and -1. It's not meaningful in any way due to the tiny sample size but it is kinda funny.
For any lingering Lombardi supporters out there, it looks like he's landed in a fairly good situation in PHX: Gretzky has been playing him a lot (19, 20 and 23 minutes in his first 3 games) and with good players (Doan). It sucks moving from a contender to a pretender, but it might ultimately benefit Lombo in the long-run: he isn't stuck behind Langkow or Jokinen in the desert.
- Dion Phaneuf's GAON/60 rate is now the worst of any regular Flames skater. Yuck.
- Calgary begins their toughest leg of this trip versus the NJ Devils this evening. If the Flames weren't still 8 points up on Vancouver, I might be nervous. As it is, I'm just hoping for no more injuries.