The Flames squeaked out a close one against the Avs last night, moving them into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The hometown heroes managed to pull an "Avalanche special" in Colorado last night, getting mostly outshot and outplayed but riding a favorable bounce and some outstanding goaltending to victory nonetheless.
That’s perhaps the extent of the good news for the Flames, who for the fifth straight game were the second best team on the ice by my eye. They’ve won three of the last five, but the results don’t echo the performance as far as I’m concerned. Calgary is getting by on bounces and Kiprusoff right now. On one hand, it’s great time for the fates to start favoring the club given the circumstances. On the other hand, it’s rather disappointing (for me anyways) to watch such relentlessly mediocre hockey night-in and night-out.
The primary problem is the Calgary’s first unit, which has spent many evenings since Langkow went down being beat up by the opposition’s top line. Last night, Iginla et al spent most of the contest in their own end and were outchanced 5-0 at ES as a result. That’s right…in some 16 minutes of ice, Jarome Iginla generated not a single scoring chance at 5-on-5. In the last 3 games for which I have counted chances, Jarome is a cumulative -12…and all of those contests were against relatively soft competition (NYI, PHX, COL). It’s one thing to be underwater versus the Ovechkins and Datsyuks of the world, but quite another when you get beat up by Stempniak, Stewart and uh…whoever is the top line for the Islanders. I don’t know how to qualify that. It speaks for itself, frankly.
On the bright side of things, I continue to be impressed with the work of Mikael Backlund, who has proven to be surprisingly capable at protecting the puck and cycling in the offensive zone – something younger players often struggle with. He, Bourque and Kotalik are being protected a bit (understandably), but that’s to be expected given the make-up of the club with Langkow and Higgins out of commission. That said, his play remains a dim bright spot. I also thought Conroy et al were full value again last night, especially with Dawes counting his 14th goal of the year (in just 62 games). Nigel has consistently been effective throughout his time in Calgary and is not a guy who should get the pressbox pink slip once of the walking wounded return.
Overall, I’m ambivalent about the win. Making the playoffs is always preferable to not, but, frankly, the club looks like first round cannon fodder to me. At best. The top end of the roster is putrid, the possession and scoring chance stats have gone into the toilet recently and there’s a chance that making the dance will postpone or delay some of the changes I think this organization depserately needs.
1.) Miikka Kiprusoff – Made a handful of highlight reel saves in the third period to preserve the win.
2.) Chris Stewart – A driving force for the Avs. Finished with an assist and 8 shots on net.
3.) Rene Bourque – Was strong on the puck in offensive zone all night long.
The Big Save
With the Flames ahead by one mid-way through the third, Kipper made a post-to-post sliding save on a centering pass that defied belief. Loubardis said it was perhaps the best save he’d ever seen.
*Bonus* Charlie Simmer "quote of the night"
"Again, getting it into the offensive zone. That’s where the Flames know they’re going to be extremely successful." Incisive, penetrating analysis.
What it Means
The Flames and Avs are locked at the bottom of the post-season race with 89 points apiece. Colorado technically owns the 8th spot currently (thanks to the tie-breakers) and have a game in hand over the Flames. Calgary’s chances of making the dance have rocketed up to 24% in the last little while, a huge jump from the 4% they were sporing after the loss to Boston.
The Flames face their nemsis Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. Be afraid. Be very afraid.