Random Thoughts - Flames Through the Early Going

Kent Wilson
October 08 2013 08:14AM

 

 

The new season is freshly born, and with it new sights and wonders. The Flames have burst out of the gate with a 1-0-2 start, which would be wholly disappointing if Calgary had not been roundly pick by pundits to finish last in the league with a bullet. Each game was a one goal affair and the Flames have led for long stretches of all of them. With a bit more luck, a few less errors or a bit more NHL-level goaltending, the club could easily be 3-0-0.

Here's some thoughts and observations after the first week...

- What a difference a shift in perception makes. Had the Flames brass instead decided to stay the course again this year, a 1-0-2 start featuring not one but two blown leads in the third period, there would be an angry mob already forming at the steps of the Saddledome. Instead, the faithful is relatively pleased with the club's efforts.

Given that reaction, it's kind of amazing the decision makers waited this long to shift gears. If you can't build a winner, it's a marketing coup to build a club that can meet or exceed very low expectations instead.

- It also helps that all of the games have been wildly entertaining so far, a marked improvement from seemingly endless years of slow, plodding, "off-the-glass" style hockey. The Flames are a Chinese Oilers fire drill in their own zone, their special teams need quite a bit of work and no one knows if they will even have average goaltending this year, but at least they're flying around with some gumption.

- That's the list of things the Flames have struggled with so far. On the good side of the ledger is a faster transition game out of their own end and through the neutral zone. One problem that plagued Calgary's top-six in particular the last few years was a slow, turn-over prone transition through the center ice, which frequently resulted in the puck going the wrong way and the team spending and starting way too many shifts in their own zone.

One of the changes that seems to be promoting the quicker counter punch is the mobility and puck handling of the blueline. A top pairing of Giordano and Brodie means the clubs gets the puck out of their end in a hurry. Wideman and Russell are pretty good at this too. More ice time for players like Backlund and Stempniak has also meant a more complete 200' foot game, at least when it comes to puck pursuit and backchecking. 

- Speaking of Giordano and Brodie, they have been outstanding at even strength so far. They are mostly skating against other team's top lines and have the best possession rates on the team. Giordano co-leads the team in scoring, Brodie is averaging over 24 minutes in ice time. They aren't merely suviving the tough sledding, they're excelling. If some people are wondering why the Flames don't seem quite as terrible as expected, look no further than the top of the Flames blueline rotation as at least some of the explanation.

- Wideman has also been pretty decent, although Hartley has him starting almost exclusively in the offensive zone at ES and he plays a ton on the PP, which helps. His frequent partner Russell is generally decent, but a true step back of the club's clear top-3 options. The former Blue Jacket is quick and good with the puck, but is prone to egregious errors from time-to-time and doesn't seem to be boast good decision making when things go awry. Already three times this season the opposition has scored goals while Russell has slid out of frame on his belly. Ideally he's probably a guy who should be a #5 or 6 in the rotation.

- Sean Monahan has had a pretty strong start to the season given his counting stats (2 goals, 1 assist) and hasn't looked out of place the last two games. That siad, he's also operating with an ES on-ice SH% of 13.3, which is bound to come crashing back down to earth at some point. Hartley has also made sure to gift the kid a 60% zone start, which is about as easy as it's going to get and his underlying numbers aren't all that exemplary.

In other words, things only get tougher for Monahan from here on in. I don't think he'll be able to keep seeing that favorable ratio of face-offs and the puck isn't going to go in at nearly the same rate all year. Keep that in mind as the team wrestles with the decision of keeping him up beyond game nine.

- Curtis Glencross has fine stats across the board, but he has looked awful by eye. Lackluster decision making and uninspired compete level all over the ice. I'm stunned most of his results are adequate. On the plus side, he's capable of being a lot better and will likely improve as the season progresses.

- Speaking of the kids, another thing that's probably floating their boat is Lee Stempniak, who for my money might be the best all around forward on the club right now. He currently leads the team with 16 shots on net in three games, despite mostly playing with a pair of rookies (talented rookies, but rookie notheless). At some point Hartley will move him up with either Glencross or Backlund and he'll help raise the performance of one of those lines as well.

If other clubs are smart, they'll start calling the Flames about Stemps as a deadline rental as soon as Christmas is over. Of course, one wonders if he keeps this up if Calgary will try to retain him as a veteran to stabilize things during the on-going rebuild instead. Naturally, that would depend on Stempniak wanting to stick around in that kind of role...

- It's somewhat gratifying to see read a lot of positive reviews on Backs from all corners of Flames fandom so far this year. He looked tentative in the offensive zone (like rookie Backlund) initially, but has grown more assertive over the first three games. Hudler's been picking corners which has helped his output, but it will be interesting to see how the line does once Cammalleri replaces Galiardi.

- On the other hand, new guy Joe Colborne has been pretty underwhelming. Hartley hasn't given him too much room to strut his stuff, but then Colborne hasn't done anything that would convince the coach to move him up the depth chart. In contrast, journeyman Ben Street seems to have become a new favorite of the bench boss. I always liked Street when I saw him on the Heat and he always struck me as player who would have high utlity in a bottom-6 role in the NHL. He probably shouldn't be playing against the Sedins in an ideal world, but as a third or fourth liner, he's much more useful than the Mike Brown's of the league.

- Some interesting numbers so far: The Flames are averaging 35 shots on net per game (!), but also giving up 33 (frown). Still, that's a positive shot differential. Huzzah! Their ES shooting percentage is over 11%, so expect that to regress at some point. Their goaltending is actually better at 5on5 this year than it was last year, but is still bad (.904). That said, it's actually PK SV% that has really sunk the club (57.1!!!). At the very least, the puck stopping short-handed should get much better at some point because nobody is that bad.

- Of course, let's keep in mind we're just three games in so making any sort of projections or analysis is fraught with caveats. The first 10 games of the season tend to be kind of screwy. People treat them as predictive of the rest of the season because it's the first bit of information about the new team, but it just isn't so. You usually have to wait 20-30 games to get any kind of real read on an NHL team, and even that is the bare minimum to say anything meaningful.

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39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#51 Jeff Lebowski
October 08 2013, 01:16PM
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jai kiran wrote:

I'm not the language police but it should be noted that the phrase "like a Chinese fire drill" is neither elegant nor witty but flat out racist.

Yep. Didn't like that either. To each their own.

To be clear: I don't think it implies the person who uses the phrase as being racist. Other ways to say same thing is the point.

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#52 Rockmorton65
October 08 2013, 01:18PM
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@jai kiran

Are you aware what a Chinese fire drill actually is?

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#53 kittensandcookies
October 08 2013, 01:26PM
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Rockmorton65 wrote:

Are you aware what a Chinese fire drill actually is?

You'll be on fire half an hour later?

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#54 Kevin R
October 08 2013, 01:29PM
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danglesnipecelly wrote:

Also ridiculous are the Bodog odds that Hartley is the next NHL coach fired and the rumours out of Philly that the Flames are desperate to find a d-man to play with Gio? Suggesting one of their high priced d-men could be coming here in exchange for Glencross. Huh what?

Agree, Hartley aint going nowhere. The Philly trade rumours are intriguing as they are 1 team on the verge of making bold moves & I would love to see Flames be right in the thick of things. Philly cant score anymore with any consistency. Could Cammi be the target? Cap space would have to come back, like Hartnell? Some other pieces involved, don't see Coutts tearing things up, maybe he can be had? Maybe Philly would covet a Brossoit while they see what they have in Mason & Emery & we can add a Reinhart or Horak with a good D prospect(Cundari or Russell)to sweeten that deal. I think they would be a very interesting trade partner for the Flames. Cant see Glencross going anywhere or waiving his NT for that matter.

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#55 McRib
October 08 2013, 02:19PM
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@danglesnipecelly

The Flyers are as desperate as they come it seems doing a deal with them isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think the Flames passing on numerous UFAs this summer (Damien Brunner, Tom Gilbert, Brad Boyes, etc) is an indication ownership enjoys being off the cap ceiling for the time being. So we would need a serious prospect (Philadelphia does not have any) or pick coming our way as well to sweeten the deal.

All this talk about Philadelphia got me thinking.... What NHL team in a year or two is in for the biggest collapse??? My money would be on Vancouver and Philadelphia. How Paul Holmgren & Mike Gillis both still have owners Confidence / Jobs is baffling. No two teams have drafted as badly as them in the last four or five years. As I said yesterday I don't understand how Jay Feaster is branded a moron by the hockey world, yet these guys keep skating by as employable GMs.

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#56 SmellOfVictory
October 08 2013, 04:21PM
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wot96 wrote:

That's pretty familyist dude. Watch it.

More seriously, not sure you can ascribe his performance last year to this "issue". It might have been in his head but isn't it more likely he just had an off year?

It's purely anecdotal, but at first glance there does seem to be a correlation between childbirth and drop-off in the play of NHLers from what I can recall. Doesn't mean it's causal, and doesn't mean it happens consistently, but I think it's an area worth exploring for someone with more inclination than I have.

From a logical standpoint, it makes sense. A child is a big deal; (almost) any parent will tell you that their priorities completely change when that first child is born. Whether that's enough to have an actual effect on male professional athletes overall, who knows, but I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility.

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#57 Nighteyes
October 08 2013, 05:26PM
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Hey everyone I'm new here, nice to meet you all. If this might seem unrelated to Kent's post, let me know. I'm rather dismayed that Hartley just announced Mcbackup is starting against the Habs tomorrow. I really do not understand this logic; he has not been horrible but from what I saw of Ramo in Washington he seemed to have better fundamental goaltending sense and technique. Also, we already know what we can get from Macdonald but Ramo is still a mystery and this season very much intended to solve them.

Furthermore, McGrattan is yet again in the line up for tomorrow. This decision by Hartley again puzzles me. Jackman seems to be a better choice for that role--his mobility, hands and decision-making is vastly better for a fourth liner than McGrattan in my opinion. Thoughts?

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#58 Baalzamon
October 08 2013, 06:50PM
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Nighteyes wrote:

Hey everyone I'm new here, nice to meet you all. If this might seem unrelated to Kent's post, let me know. I'm rather dismayed that Hartley just announced Mcbackup is starting against the Habs tomorrow. I really do not understand this logic; he has not been horrible but from what I saw of Ramo in Washington he seemed to have better fundamental goaltending sense and technique. Also, we already know what we can get from Macdonald but Ramo is still a mystery and this season very much intended to solve them.

Furthermore, McGrattan is yet again in the line up for tomorrow. This decision by Hartley again puzzles me. Jackman seems to be a better choice for that role--his mobility, hands and decision-making is vastly better for a fourth liner than McGrattan in my opinion. Thoughts?

You'll fit in well here.

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#59 Jeff In Lethbridge
October 08 2013, 08:50PM
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@The Last Big Bear

and with Habs bei g French, we are likely to see a French fire drill

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#60 piscera.infada
October 09 2013, 08:18AM
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@the forgotten man

I don't think there's anything wrong with being cognisant to what might be offensive to a group. For you to deem those people who bring it up "delicate sensitives" shows just how ignorant you are. And please, spare me the "we're talking about sports here" argument. There is no sacred ground where ignorance is defensible, let alone acceptable. [Kent, I don't mean you were being ignorant. Terms like that are pervasive in society, it's easy to drop them without a moment's notice. I'm just not sure how people can be so dead-set against pointing it out.]

In regards to Ramo, I don't like the decision either - I want to see Karri play. I imagine the coaching staff simply wants to give him some time getting used to the speed and style of play of regular season NHL hockey - I'm not sure the bench and practice are the best places to do that, but I'm also not an NHL coach.

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#61 piscera.infada
October 09 2013, 09:52AM
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DT wrote:

As an Oiler fan, I like reading Flamesnation. It always makes me feel better to witness delusion first hand, such as Kent's shots at the Oilers, and the similar comments. The hockey team you support has missed the playoffs for four straight years, finished below the Oilers last year, and you guys still take shots? It's the same delusion that convinced you that you were one or two tweaks from being a contender, even after missing the playoffs for a year or two. It's a city wide phenomenon, pervasive among management, media, and fans. I guess if you support a team that has only been past the first round once since 1989, you would have to work hard to find reasons to support that team.

Out of the two franchises, I hardly think we're the only deluded fan base. For all the talk about how great "the kids" are up north, and how close they are to being a cup contender - what have they done to prove any of it?

Are the Flames' kids better than the Oilers' kids? No. Any argument they are is pure delusion (I'll agree with you on that). However, would it surprise me if the current iteration of the Flames finish higher in the standings than the Oilers? Not at all - even if the Flames are as bad as all the pundits peg us. Truth is, your team has done little in the way of instilling the confidence necessary to make an absolute claim to current superiority. Sorry buddy.

That said, I dream of a day where these two teams are powerhouses again, the BOA is hard-fought and close, and a trek through Alberta is viewed as a trip through death valley instead of a tip-toe through the tulips.

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#62 Christian Roatis
October 08 2013, 09:24AM
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The perspective thing you mentioned is brilliant. Bang on. How pissed would everyone be if we blew a 3-0, 4-1 lead to the Caps and then a 3-1 third period lead to the Canucks and rebuild hadn't started? My guess is livid.

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#63 Bezer
October 08 2013, 09:30AM
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I am concerned but not ready to write Colborne off just yet. He seems a little lost at the moment. If he was at training camp I think he would be a lot better, he's just trying to catch up right now. It's really a bit of a pain that we can't send him down to Abby without going they waivers. I think he would benefit greatly from some time down there.

Also with Joey Mac I think we know what we are getting goaltending wise (900ish SV%). But I think when Ramo climitizes to the North American game a bit more he will be above the .900 SV% level. Although I am not sure if he is gonna be great or just adequate.

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#64 SmellOfVictory
October 08 2013, 09:39AM
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Clay wrote:

Paddle schmaddle. He wouldn't have to make that save if he didn't have a 5 hole you could drive a bus through.

Oh I'm not saying he should stick around, I'm just saying he will.

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#65 Avalain
October 08 2013, 10:08AM
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HongKongHockeyFan wrote:

Lucky Number 6! I haven't been able to see all of top 2013 draft picks this year but it appears that the Flames could not have gone wrong in this year's draft.

I have seen McKinnon, Jones and Lindholm play so far (and have not seen Barkov and Drouin). Lindholm looks fantastic. He has speed, skills and smarts! From what I read previously, the Flames would have took him over Monahan if he was still available.

However, what I'm wondering what the Flames would have done if they had ended up with the 7th pick, which the Oilers got, instead of the 6th pick (and the Oilers took Monahan)?

Nonetheless, I will be closely watching the development of this year's first round draft picks to see who ultimately ended up with the best selections. Again it will be interesting to see who ends up being the best centre in this year's draft. Monahan might give McKinnon, Barkov and Lindholm a run for their money. Most of scouts have previously stated that those three definitely have the most potential to be elite first line centres, while the consensus seems to think that Monahan will only be good second line centre.

Any other thoughts?

Well, in a perfect world I would have Monahan slot in as our second line centre behind McDavid. You know, the same way that Malkin is a second line centre.

Of course, those are some pretty large assumptions that I'm making there...

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#66 Kevin R
October 08 2013, 10:09AM
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Gio & Brodie have been awesome so far, I think getting the captaincy was the best tonic for rejuvenating Gio. I am really really hoping to see Ramage, Tspoon, Seiloff & Cundari get some prime time this year.

We need to see a run of Ramo, win or lose, watching Macdonald is like eating Kraft dinner when I was expecting BBQ steak.

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#67 jai kiran
October 08 2013, 10:32AM
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I know Colborne had a lousy first game, but I sure hope Hartley isn't going to turn him into the new Blair Jones.

I hope it's just the transition period, like Hartley says. Because Ben Street sucked in the faceoff circle the other night too, didn't put a point on the board with the "first line" and it would have been good to put Colborne in his place for a couple shifts...just to show the home crowd what he could do.

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#68 Robear
October 08 2013, 11:41AM
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@Christian Roatis

Agreed. Remember what Phaneuf looked like as a rookie. He was awesome! but I think he topped out early by being more physcially mature than the rest of his draft class.

I wont be surprised to see the same from Monahan. The only knock on Monahan was that his projected ceiling wasn't as high as the rest of the top 6. he's a big strong mature kid. As such I see him reaching his ceiling (lower or not) sooner.

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#69 Robear
October 08 2013, 11:44AM
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@Christian Roatis

Good results so far. I expect that this year everyone will be sunshine and rainbows and flying unicorns, as long as it looks like the team is trying. But thats only because its the new shiny bauble and expectations have been altered. The real test will be in years 2 and 3 of the re-build as the shine wears off the bauble, people start to expect more and the team is still struggling. Thats when people will start getting snippy and wanting more out of the team, when the expectations should still be low.

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#70 Parallex
October 08 2013, 11:44AM
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thymebalm wrote:

Can we not expect to see another option in net if this keeps up? I mean, Byrz, Berra, Orts, Brust, somebody!?

Although I thought Ramo played great in his start and didn't give them anything easy.

End of the year. In my ideal world MacBackup is here so that Berra and Ortio won't be. By that I mean they'll actually get to play instead of having to frequent door opening duties.

I really hope that Ramo is back in net next game. For real no justification for keeping him out if the credo is "win and your in" like someone said.

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#71 palooza
October 08 2013, 11:50AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I...uh...why?

Ramo hurting?? Maybe? Hopefully?

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#72 Vowswithin
October 08 2013, 11:51AM
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@Kent Wilson

Come on kent! Proven goalie we KNOW we can get .900 out of him. Flames 2013 going for it

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#73 schevvy
October 08 2013, 11:55AM
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@Parallex

Well it's unfortunately true. This is ridiculous. At least give Ramo a chance

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#74 RKD
October 08 2013, 12:44PM
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I'm impressed with the Flames because we were supposed to be 0-3. So far we are unbeaten in regulation. Sure there will be growing pains but the coaching staff has this team competing for a full 60 minutes. It's still painful to blow leads but as long as they learn from it. They need to instill a culture of competing consistently.

Trying or waiting to tank just to get an Ekblad, Reinhart, or McDavid and hoping they can turn around this franchise is a fallacy. There are teams who could be worse than the Flames this year. The Oiler kids expect their talent to carry them to the post-season. During the lockout, their kids played on the OKC Barons and they were still very sub-par. I couldn't believe how bad they played, they were just stat padding.

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#75 SVENSANITY
October 08 2013, 03:12PM
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"What a difference a shift in perception makes. Had the Flames brass instead decided to stay the course again this year, a 1-0-2 start featuring not one but two blown leads in the third period, there would be an angry mob already forming at the steps of the Saddledome. Instead, the faithful is relatively pleased with the club's efforts."

I agree that there is definitely a shift in fan prospective. However, I think that this statement is largely biased. I think most Flames fans would have been on board and happy if the "old veterans" Iginla and co. had put forward the same type of effort as these kids are putting forwards now. Unfortunately, I personally have never been too rosy about the efforts of previous teams on this organization. Effort was a consistent problem for us in the past. I know that I would have been happy if the veteran teams had played like this young team has. I can't explain how many times over the last 3 years I could be found yelling at my TV or at the Dome asking for guys like Iginla and Tanguay to give just a little bit more than they were giving. 3 years of the same holes in Flames hockey it was getting redundant and tiring. Veterans were making rookie mistakes and there was really no excuse at that point not to rebuild. Losing 5-4 isn't so bad if the team is working for 60 mins and unlike the previous cohort there have not been complete stretches of a game where no one is skating on the team while vets stand idly by as they let a Canucks or Blackhawks team take it to them. That is a good sign for me.

So far in the first 3 games all 4 lines have shown up to play for the Flames and they've put forward consistent efforts over 60 minutes. Yes there have been some lapses and mistakes here and there and if this were a veteran team those mistakes probably would be harped on rather than excused as being a young rebuilding team. That said better a young rebuilding team who hopefully will learn from these mistakes and grow versus a veteran laden team who proved they could not grow from the same mistakes is a better situation in my opinion. And I have seen a new culture developing already where those mistakes aren't acceptable with the leadership in the dressing room and thus will not be accepted with the younger kids. I'm not hearing like you heard in Edmonton upteen times oh they're young Hall and RNH will learn blah blah blah. I'm hearing, we made mistakes, we know we can't make those mistakes, we have to be better, we will coach them to be better, and we will not make excuses for being young. AS a fan I love it!

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#76 wot96
October 08 2013, 03:33PM
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McRib wrote:

Don't thin anyone has mentioned it so I thought I would... Mark Giordano's mediocre play last season was directly related to him starting a family. Head clearly wasn't into it after his first child was born last year, effort level caused play to drop off, IMO. No surprise he has refound form again this season.

That's pretty familyist dude. Watch it.

More seriously, not sure you can ascribe his performance last year to this "issue". It might have been in his head but isn't it more likely he just had an off year?

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#77 BJ
October 08 2013, 05:59PM
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Nighteyes wrote:

Hey everyone I'm new here, nice to meet you all. If this might seem unrelated to Kent's post, let me know. I'm rather dismayed that Hartley just announced Mcbackup is starting against the Habs tomorrow. I really do not understand this logic; he has not been horrible but from what I saw of Ramo in Washington he seemed to have better fundamental goaltending sense and technique. Also, we already know what we can get from Macdonald but Ramo is still a mystery and this season very much intended to solve them.

Furthermore, McGrattan is yet again in the line up for tomorrow. This decision by Hartley again puzzles me. Jackman seems to be a better choice for that role--his mobility, hands and decision-making is vastly better for a fourth liner than McGrattan in my opinion. Thoughts?

I agree with your post.

Although I think they are rewarding Mcgrit for his good play thus far. He has drawn some penalties and hasnt done anything that stupid.

I am getting the feeling that Jackman may be banged up or something as he would have been my obvious choice to start the season

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#78 Scary Gary
October 08 2013, 06:39PM
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Haha Sarich just scored a beauty goal... that was not a typo!

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#79 The Last Big Bear
October 08 2013, 06:53PM
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@Nighteyes

Ramo should be in, and MacBackup should be MacBackup. The only explanation I can come up with is that MacDonald has been showing the coaches what they want to see in practice, or Ramo has been doing something in practice that they don't like.

As for McGrattan, I like having him in the lineup, and I see no real role for Jackman at the moment. Jackman is a slightly better player fundamentally, but McGrattan has been comparably good lately, is infinitely better at fighting, and is as intimidating as all hell. If McGrattan has a rough patch, or gets injured, then by all means bring in Jackman. But for now I'm happy enough leaving him in the press box.

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#80 thymebalm
October 08 2013, 08:43PM
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@The Last Big Bear

If you can only play him 4 minutes a game, and never against the opponents top 6, is he really worth the risk?

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#81 Jeff In Lethbridge
October 08 2013, 08:55PM
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@clyde

some people are just resistant to change and do not understand that offensive behaviour by the dominent race that has been allowed for years is no longer acceptable. Anyone that challenges this will be branded as sensitive... but is that bad? why cant we just say "fire drill"

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#82 44stampede
October 08 2013, 09:59PM
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I totally agree with the sentiments on Stemp. He is someone that is a major unsung hero. Funny enough, he reminds me a lot of the guy he was traded for. I score that one a big win for Feaster.

I am in the camp that guys like him are absolutely necessary for this team. Without guys like him, the young ones will have a real tough time developing IMO. He takes on the best and still does okay which leaves the higher zone starts for the young ones.

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#83 ianberg1
October 09 2013, 06:34AM
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Maybe the coaches are just saving Ramo the #1 goaltender for games against divisional rivals?

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#84 Frank Miron
October 09 2013, 08:40AM
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Looking foward for the game tonight, as my Flames go up against the Habs (feeling a bit lonely here in Montreal as a Flames fan !)

Dissapointed not to see Ramo in net tonight against Price... maybe they are trying to sell McDonald for a team that needs a backup ? Hope so !

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