OK, folks it’s time for the Calgary Flames Quarterly Report.
All right, so we’re actually a game and change past the quarter-point, so it’s actually the Calgary Flames Quarterly and Then Some But Hey We’ve Been Busy So What Are You Going To Do About It Report.
On the theory that’s it’s barely better late than never, here are some questions about the first 20-some games that Kent Wilson, TLP and Jean Lefebvre will either answer, partially answer or plead the fifth on.
1. Do you see any evidence of Brent Sutter’s influence on the team so far?
Kent: The club seems to be blocking a lot more shots under Sutter, in direct contrast to Keenan’s "let kIpper see the shot" mentality. I don’t know if that’s been a contributor to Kiprusoff’s improved SV% or not. In addition, Phaneuf isn’t playing 30 minutes a game and guys like Dawes and Boyd are actually getting legitimate chances to contribute.
TLP: I think the team is better-prepared to play road games, and that’s obvious in the record and home/road goal differential. Calgary finished 19-20-2 away from home last season and would have to undergo a calamitous stretch the rest of the way to come close to matching that. Kiprusoff is also seeing a much lower quality of shot on the whole, which is partly because of shotblocking, as Kent said, and partly because the forwards’ role on defense is changed.
Lefebvre: Not sure how much we’re seeing, but we’re certainly hearing a difference. More than any Flames coach since his older brothers, Brent is willing to call out his stars in the media and we all know by now that the unwillingness to make the marquee players accountable was one of the biggest beefs of the Mike Keenan Era. Big or small, thinly veiled or out-and-out named by name, the players have taken turns feeling Sutter’s public wrath. The jury’s still out on what impact the tactic will have on the on-ice product, but at least the fans must be pleased to hear the coach say what the patrons are feeling after a sloppy performance.
2. More specifically now, do you see any signs that Sutter has had an impact on his former junior protégé, Dion Phaneuf?
TLP: I don’t think so, at least not yet. Dion has had so much bad coaching over the last few years that he doesn’t resemble the Phaneuf of juniors and his early NHL days that was, y’know, somewhat capable of playing some type of defense. Being on Regehr’s pairing isn’t going to hurt him plus/minus-wise, but I’m not sure Dion has really caught on to what Sutter’s been preaching yet (see the shouting match last week).
Kent: This is a tough question, because the addition of Bouwmeester has made Phaneuf’s job a whole lot easier: not only is there another big minute blueliner on the club, but now Dion gets to play with the best pure defender the Flames system has produced in the last decade: Robyn Regehr.
Lefebvre: I’d say no, although Kent makes a great point when he says that the difference in Phaneuf’s situation from last year to this one makes this a bit of an apples-and-oranges exercise. There still seems to be too many times Phaneuf is an idle bystander when the opposition is doing damage. Funny thing is that the Phaneuf bashers a year ago complained that Keenan kept giving Phaneuf lots of ice time no matter how he was playing defensively. Well, Phaneuf is currently averaging 18:14 of even-strength ice time per game for Sutter, which is the exact same amount No. 3 had last year under Keenan.
3. Has your opinion of the Flames changed in any meaningful way since Oct. 1?
Lefebvre: It has from the standpoint that Kiprusoff is showing signs of halting or even reversing the steady decline of his significant netminding statistics. If Calgary continues to get good-to-great work from the Finn — whose current .915 save percentage is his best figure since 2006-07 — then Calgary has a fighting chance to work on its other issues.
Kent: Not a great deal. Jokinen is who I thought he was, as is Bouwmeester. The team had an ugly habit of getting outshot to start the season, but that seems to be coming around. I think the most pleasant surprises this year are Bourque continuing to prove he’s one of the best forwards on the team as well as Kipper putting up a satisfactory SV%. Overall, I still like the Flames chances of winning the NW.
TLP: I’d say it has, yes, in both positive and negative ways. I like the way the team defense has looked overall and it’s really saving the team in terms of goals allowed. Most of the goals I’ve seen lately haven’t necessarily been the result of breakdowns in the system as they have been stupid turnovers (hello Olli!) or special teams situations, which is slightly more acceptable than what was happening last year. I am concerned about the problems at home though, because the Saddledome has been a fortress the last few years and now they’re on pace to lose 20 games there.
4. Based on the first quarter or so of the year, how would you rank the Northwest Division contenders, pretenders and miscallenous?
Kent: NW division contenders are Calgary and Vancouver. Yes, I know the Avs currently have the best record, but that’s mainly based on out-of-this-world goaltending and some kids playing over their heads. At some point, that bubble is going to burst. Edmonton and Minnesota, on the other hand, have major issues and probably aren’t worth worrying about.
TLP: I think Calgary is pretty clearly the favorite especially if the play at home gets remedied. Vancouver has a chance to win, I guess, just based on it being improbable that this absurd injury situation can’t last forever. Colorado’s already starting to fade, and fast. Edmonton and Minnesota were finished long before Oct. 1.
Lefebvre: Colorado is way better than a lot of us gave them credit for, but it stretches credulity to believe the current division leaders can keep this up. Call it statistical probability, call it the law of averages, call it a hunch, but getting routinely outshot and relying on significant production from two teenagers hardly sounds like a recipe for lasting success. The defending champion Canucks, assuming they achieve some semblance of health, still look like the favourites and the Flames are No. 2 on the list. And, you gotta wonder how Minnesotans are feeling now that Jacques Lemaire and Marian Gaborik are thriving in the Atlantic Division.
5. Any parting shots?
TLP: If we could fire Olli Jokinen into orbit, that’d be just swell. And I’d like to see the team not lean so heavily on Jarome Iginla because he can’t score a goal a game forever to bail them out from otherwise mediocre performances.
Kent: The first 20 or so games have further convinced me that the Flames need another legit top six forward to be real contenders. Olli Jokinen, while slowly improving, is probably never going to be able to carry the mail with Jarome Iginla, especially when the team resorts to playing them with Jaime Lundmark when a single injury occurs.
Lefebvre: Sure, keep hammering on Jokinen. He deserves most of the criticism but that doesn’t change the fact that his shortcomings aren’t nearly as strangely entertaining as were Todd Bertuzzi’s.