Another week is in the bin, and with that, the round-up returns for a perusal of matters around the league. In this installment, the Flames hit the skids before hitting the road, The Penguins and Hawks are scuffling as well, and the longest tenured coach in the league might be in trouble.
The Flames have hit a rough patch over the last week, and if Saturday’s disaster seemed to happen like a car crash, the loss to the Red Wings was more like a python patiently squeezing the life out of its helpless prey.
I don’t think the Flames are talent-free by any means, but they certainly are an undisciplined lot, and that undiscipline made it an easy night for the Red Menace. I’m not referring to penalties, either.
Both goals scored against Calgary last evening were the result of positional and mental errors. Matt Stajan created a lane for Mike Modano’s opener by abandoning the middle of the ice, and a lazy change left the Flames’ D exposed on the winner. Goals are mostly are the result of mistakes, of course, and every team makes a whopper now and then, but an experienced team shouldn’t look as lost as the Flames have this week.
Last night’s tally could have been worse if not for a good save or two by Kiprusoff, and that includes this play where Abdelkader and Cleary managed a two-on-oh from an offensive zone faceoff. Maybe it’s just me, but when I watch the Flames, I get the sense that they’re less a team than a collection of total strangers who happen to be wearing similar outfits.
The boss certainly appeared to be interested in working on details this morning before the team got on the airplane. I hope his next area of emphasis is puck support on the breakout and through the neutral zone. Most teams, and Detroit is no different in this regard, want to funnel their opposition to the side, then force a cross ice pass through a maze of players.
Failing that, a team without the puck wants to force shoot-ins where the offensive team’s wingers are standing still. That allows the defense to regain the puck without the duress of forecheckers arriving with speed. A team whose wingers spend much of the night lolling at the far blueline and whose centers don’t make themselves available for short passes to keep the play moving might end up looking a bit on the slow, disorganized side. Hmmm.
The Flames head to the North Star State for their first encounter against the Wild. I’ll have more on Minny tomorrow morning, but they’ve been living off a PP that is shooting a very high percentage. After the game in St. Paul, the club plays the Avs in Denver, then heads to Phoenix and San Jose. They do have the look of men that would like to be elsewhere, so maybe a week away will help.
Vancouver has begun to score, as I suspected they would, and face the Avs this evening looking down at the rest of the division. They welcomed Alex Burrows back into the lineup Monday, but Dan Hamhuis is still on the shelf with a foot injury, his return date still unknown. The Avs are banged up as well, with Kyle Cumiskey recently joining the ranks of the concussed, and Craig Anderson is a few weeks away from the sounds of things. The Canucks could put some distance between themselves and the the other teams in the Northwest this month strictly on the basis of getting healthier.
Lest anyone think that the Flames are the only team that hasn’t had the best of starts, the last two Cup Champs are also treading water, both with the same .500 mark as the locals. In Chicago, McClure of Second City Hockey sees the Hawks displaying the same sort of shabby activity in the middle of the ice that most of us have witnessed with the Flames in the past few days. This paragraph might sound familiar:
Endemic to the team, specifically the forwards, is this newfound propensity to stand still in the neutral zone during a regroup, and do so 50+ feet away from the puck carrier. I’ve got some news for you boys- you’re a lot harder to defend when you’re moving, and 10-15 foot passes have a far greater likelihood of getting to their intended recipient.
Like I said, there’s a bit of that malady going around. The Penguins, meanwhile, looked pretty disinterested for most of last night’s tilt with the Stars, losing 5-2 in a game only notable for Sidney Crosby’s pugilism. Goon. The Penguins haven’t played all that poorly this year, really, but Marc-Andre Fleury has been shaky, and they are short a pretty valuable guy in Jordan Staal. The Pens’ center has had nothing but bad luck since getting injured in the playoffs, with the post-surgery infection shelving him for the start of the season and a hand injury that will now keep him out of the fray for several more weeks.
One of the stories that’s been a bit under the radar is what’s happening with Dustin Byfuglien. Last seen tormenting Roberto Luongo in front of the net, Byfuglien has spent this season playing second pairing minutes on the blue with Tobias Enstrom, and hasn’t been terrible. His boxcars are better than his underlying numbers, but the move hasn’t been the fiasco a few might have predicted. Atlanta isn’t the deepest team up front, so I’ll be curious to see if they keep him on the back end if they get an injury or two.
Another player that might not get as much attention as he should because of his locale is Jeff Skinner. The 7th pick in the 2010 draft has dropped right into the Hurricanes’ roster, finding himself on the top line, and he hasn’t looked out of place from the bits and pieces I’ve seen on the tube. He’s certainly looked ahead of the three Edmonton kids, albeit with a better center to assist him. At any rate, Paul Maurice isn’t sheltering the young man, and the puck is going in the right direction.
Is Lindy Ruff really on the block? The Sabres have gotten away to a poor start, but they’re out-shooting their opposition by a good margin 5v5, and it’s really a case of Ryan Miller being ordinary, largely due to injury, that seems to be at the root of Buffalo’s travails, I suppose that, as always, when a team looks stale, it’s the coach that’s in jeopardy, since it’s hard to move players.
Link ’em if you got ’em in comments, and have a good weekend.