The agonizing death march has finally concluded, aptly enough with yet another one goal performance. The Flames were by no means bad last night against San Jose; like many other nights this season they were simply stifled by a lack of creativity and finish. I won’t say that was the Flames only problem this year – there’s been some very obvious possession and special teams issues – but it has frequently been the most glaring. Charlie Simmer’s "get bodies to the net, keep it simple" cliche seems to have been the club’s offensive mantra this season, and when pucks started deflecting into the corner rather the net sometime in November (as they were bound to) the wins became a whole lot tougher to come by.
Like the previous game in Chicago, Calgary played the Sharks more or less to a draw, but were down through two thanks to the bounces. And like the loss to the Hawks, the Flames pressed hard for the equalizer in the third (shots 15-4 in favor of the Flames), but were unable to make up the difference. Jarome Iginla went pointless for his 4th straight game (despite favorable circumstances and 22 minutes of ice) and many of the usual bright spots were good again: Rene Bourque scored the Flames lone goal, Mark Giordano was a force to be reckoned with and Mikael Backlund displayed some of the raw offensive talent and creativity which is generally lacking in the rest of the roster otherwise. The positives are cold comfort at this point, but notable nonetheless.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the last night’s contest was the mad scramble line combinations employed by Sutter once the Flames were down by a pair. It was, in effect, the last paroxysm of a desperate man in his death throws. The Flames began the evening sheltering Iginla’s line including Stajan and Hagman, while feeding Bourque, Conroy and Kotalik to the wolves (Thornton et al). When they went down by two, however, Iginla was shuttled out with every possible centerman on the team, including one Craig Conroy. There was something grimly amusing, given the events of the season, about Brent Sutter turning to that pairing in his final hour of need. The scouring of Olli Jokinen and Dion Phaneuf, the total upheaval of the roster mid-season and a 37 year old, 3 goal centerman is who the coach turns to when the season is on the line. Funny thing is, I can’t even say it was the wrong decision.
Ruminate on that as the Flames play out the stretch. Our full post-mortems will follow.