Four down, 78 to go . . .
It was inevitable, of course, that one week and one day into the 2009-10 National Hockey League season, the only three clubs without a loss of any description would be the Atlanta Thrashers, the Nashville Predators and your Calgary Flames.
It’s equally inevitable that the Flames’ record would have remained impeccable through four games (which is twice as many outings as Nashville and Atlanta have each made) despite a minus-6 figure for the team’s best defensive defenceman and one combined even-strength point for the $12.5-million law firm of Iginla & Jokinen.
Flames fans won’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth but the sober members of the fraternity will have noticed that Calgary’s four-game winning streak is hiding as many flaws as is Dion Phaneuf’s four-game point streak.
There’s two ways to look at this, of course. You can worry that all of this will catch up to the Flames at one point and that they’ll soon be taught a lesson that only an “L” can deliver with authority. Or you could be the sunny-side-up type and utter: “Man, they’re winning now but wait until (insert name of multi-million-dollar performer here) really gets going.”
It gets tiresome picking on Phaneuf, but not as tiresome as the apologists who consider him beyond reproach and angrily fire back at anyone who dares criticize the ridiculously talented blue-liner. Besides, No. 3 keeps providing fodder for his critics.
Take another look at Thursday night’s goal by Ethan Moreau. As Edmonton’s captain sprints to daylight, you can see Phaneuf in the foreground leisurely making his way to the bench after a lengthy power-play shift. As luck would have it, he makes it to the bench just in time to saddle his replacement, Robyn Regehr (or was it Adam Pardy?), with the minus.
Now by itself, the sequence isn’t the end of the world. The issue is that it is worrisomely reminiscent of some of the carelessness that bordered on apparent indifference that plagued Phaneuf’s game a year ago. It’s the sort of thing that was supposed to disappear now that Brent Sutter was in command but for now it remains, at best, a work in progress. If the pattern continues, it will move into the “lost cause” domain.
For those who choose to dwell on the positive, there are as plenty of those as you’d expect from a 4-0 club. If the first line has been performing more like a fourth line, then the reverse is also true (Eric Nystrom, Brandon Prust and Fredrik Sjostrom have combined for three goals, six points and a plus-11 figure). Miikka Kiprusoff has a .910 save percentage, which is perfectly acceptable, especially by his October standards. Much like last season, Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross are providing contributions that far exceeds their combined $2.5-million compensation. And Jay Bouwmeester is providing at least some validity to the grandiose pre-season claim that he was the free-agent catch of the Summer of 2009.
For now, those items plus a six-point lead on defending division champion Vancouver are enough to warm the hearts of Flames fans until the next crisis comes along. And make no mistake about it, that crisis is coming. It may even be wearing Dallas Stars sweater No. 29 tonight at the Building Formerly Known as the Olympic Saddledome.