January 24 2013 10:05AM
1. A bad start
I don't think anyone went out there wanting to see the Flames start the season 0-2 in two home games, having allowed an horrific nine goals and scoring just five. Getting tuned up by either San Jose or Anaheim isn't in and of itself a big deal; they're two talented teams that have very good forwards who can score goals in bunches, and they sure did it to Calgary on Saturday and Monday nights (admittedly I'm writing this ahead of the Vancouver game, for which I doubt any of us had high expectations of success).
Frankly, I'm not sure why anyone would be especially surprised by either result: San Jose was among the class of the Western Conference not so long ago and I personally felt like the Ducks underachieved last season in light of the amount of talent they have overall. More to the point, the Flames were in the Anaheim game even when they looked like they should have been out of it, and were a couple of unlucky bounces away from leaving that first period against the Sharks up by multiple goals, not just one. That certainly would have changed the complexion of the game, but it obviously didn't. And plus, with the Sharks positively rampaging out of the gate to start the season, there's very little in the way of evidence that they'll stop any time soon.
2. What it could portend
All of that obviously could obviously confirm our worst fears about this team though. Many worried that the Flames would be who we thought they would be based on the last three seasons: A rotten team rotting still further. Too old to keep up, and simultaneously to inexperienced to pose a real threat to anyone. A team that would bleed goals. A team that wouldn't score many. A team from a bygone era unfit for the rigors of the modern NHL with its scads of young stars.
Even in a soft division and with a shortened season, this could be a long, trying year for Flames fans who have been promised over and again that this is a playoff team despite all evidence standing to the contrary. "If they were only a little better at shootouts," "If they only got two or three more bounces over the course of the season," "If they could only get hotter than hell in this 48-game stretch," then they might actually prove the doubters wrong.
But that hasn't been the case. When your team's best forward through two games is Lee Stempniak, why not just throw in the towel on the entire season? But even beyond that, giving up four and a half goals a night to anyone, regardless of how good their offense is, comes off as one hell of a bad number, and one that will lose you way more hockey games than not. If this continues even another, oh I don't know, three or four games, and even if they mix in a win, this looks like it could very well be the rocks on which the Flames' own Ship Called Hope was dashed for good. Maybe then they bring on the full-scale rebuild at long last.
3. An optimist's point of view
On the other hand, it's pretty easy to argue this is a hiccup, the result of a confluence of issues rather than being symptomatic of the team being the type of hot garbage the cynics say.
The first is that two guys who were set to be key cogs in the offense, which is really what's been lacking here — can't score if you can't hold on to the puck, but the other team sure can — have been in absentia for the first week of the season. No Jiri Hudler, who was supposed to make the second line a little more threatening. No Roman Cervenka, who could actually be the No. 1 center Calgary fans have long wanted for Jarome Iginla.
Second, they're all dealing with a new coach, and on a shortened training camp schedule. Teams with longstanding coaches and few personnel changes (the New York Rangers being the prime example of this) have had so many defensive breakdowns and ineffectual offensive forways that one can hardly fault Calgary, with a new coach and completely overhauled systems, as well as a complement of several new players, for tripping all over their own feet in the first 120 minutes of the season. The players can like Bob Hartley all they want, and vice versa, but they don't yet know much about each other or what each will require of the other to make things work.
And hey, small sample size, right? The aforementioned Rangers started out 0-2 as well (though against stiffer competition) and no one is sitting here writing off their chances to win the Stanley Cup, which they almost certainly will. It's a shortened season, sure, but but two games isn't thaaaaaat much.
4. Kipper could be trouble
Regardless of either of the above two viewpoints, I think it's pretty fair to already start wondering whether Miikka Kiprusoff is really in serious trouble again this year. We've all grown accustomed to his slow starts (did you know his career stats in October are 2/86/.900? Yuckaroo.) and this might be more of the same but he hasn't even looked good for the bad, early-season Kiprusoff of old.
We all pretty much agreed that for the team to be successful, it would have to be Kiprusoff carrying the water. He hasn't in any way. Even if you want to fault the defense in front of him, which would be perfectly fair because boy has it been bad, nonetheless he's given up a few stinkers and that's no good for anyone. Small sample size aside, it might already be time to ask whether he's got it this year. If not, well, that's gotta be the end of this. See ya in 15th place (hopefully).
That said, he had good bounce back in vancouver last night so maybe he's on the upswing.
5. It's still early
With all the above having been said I can't sit here and pass judgment. If we're still seeing the Flames drop winnable games (Anaheim), or dominate for stretches then crash and burn in horrific fashion (San Jose), then yeah let's call it a year. I'm skeptical that Hartley can coach this roster to the playoffs but I also think he couldn't do worse than what we've seen in the last few years.