I always had the feeling that the dog days of a NHL season were from around Christmas to the trade deadline, but this year, at least for those of us that follow Calgary’s fortunes, it seems that they’re already in place. Regardless, the round-up returns for another week, full of Grey Cup cheer, or something along those lines. In this installment, the Flames finish a lengthy sojourn with their worst performance of the trip, one of the club’s prospects imitates a Flame in entirely the wrong manner, and the first faint rumblings of off-ice change are felt in Western New York.
For all the deserved accolades that Sid Crosby received regarding his afternoon’s work, the Flames were really undone by the Penguins’ lesser lights. Guys like Adams and Asham were pinning Calgary in it’s own end shift after shift, and doing so against Moss, Glencross and Bourque. That shouldn’t happen under normal circumstances, so I’ll be interested to see if that sort of activity plays out on Monday evening against Madden, Nystrom and the like.
One area that has concerned me all season is the Flames’ inability to generate anything when up a man. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Flames probably do enough at EV most nights to get by. We certainly saw them go toe-to-toe with Philly on Friday afternoon, never looking like the lesser party. When the club goes up a man, however, it’s another story altogether, and the numbers bear it out. There are two issues at play here, to my eye. One is the fact that the team shoots about as good a percentage 5v5 as 5v4, which even for a team not overburdened with skill isn’t normal. That likely changes for the better over time.
The more worrisome factor that has been a consistent issue since last season is the inability to create shots on goal on the PP. The Flames are in the bottom ten of the league by that metric, and mixed with their poor PPSH%, you end up with a team that isn’t making much hay despite a great improvement at drawing penalties. The Flames are 6th in PP opportunities so far, after finishing third last in that category in 09/10.
Individually, what caught my eye in particular was the absolute absence of productivity from Iginla, Stajan and Jokinen. Those PTS/60 numbers would be lousy for a trio of middling defensemen, let alone three forwards expected to carry the load. In the case of Iginla, he’s far too passive in his movement most nights, lolling around on the outside of the box hoping for a one-timer. I don’t mind him getting that shot, but there has to be some occasional changing of position on his part before he gets there. It’s easy to defend a guy that sets up in a spot and stays in place, with Steven Stamkos’ ongoing example to the contrary duly noted.
Jokinen’s utilization is a matter that has confused me since his arrival in Calgary. He had an entire career’s worth of working with some effectiveness as the right point man on his team’s PP unit. It’s actually a good spot for him, since his strength (shooting) is emphasized, and his weakness (puck handling in close quarters) has its exposure limited. If he’s manned that spot on Calgary’s PP more than a handful of times in his 100+ outings with the team, I’d be shocked. Olli Jokinen has plenty of shortcomings as a NHL player at EV, most of which we’ve debated ad nauseum here and elsewhere since March of 2009. The fact that his ability in an area of the game where his team is struggling hasn’t been optimized isn’t on him, but on his coach, and while I wouldn’t suggest that moving Joker to that position would act as an immediate panacea, it would take a lot to make the Flames’ PP look any more flaccid.
At any rate, the Flames might as well tinker with their personnel groupings, since it’s pretty clear that there are going to be no major changes on or off the ice in the immediate future. I’m not overly surprised at the remarks from Murray Edwards, by the way. The hallmark of the current Flames’ ownership and organization is to keep plugging along, whether the evidence supports that approach or not.
On The Farm:
Scary moment in Abbotsford last night as Mitch Wahl got drilled on a cross ice move with at least as much force as Matt Stajan did earlier this week. It’s been a very difficult start to Wahl’s AHL career even without last night’s action, as he’s been HS’ed for a number of games. The AHL is no easy place to play, and it’s certainly full of men that would do virtually anything to be noticed, so I can only hope that Wahl is OK and learns that cutting across the middle has perils that need to be accounted for.
The Flames have a trio of divisional games this week, with the first being at the Dome tomorrow versus the Wild. Minny got lit up by Colorado last night, giving up 7 on the way to a loss in Denver. That’s the second time in four days that the Wild were trounced, as they also received a pantsing from the Flyers on Wednesday. The main news from the game wasn’t on Minny’s side, however, but that Chris Stewart injured his hand in a fight. That’s a peril for a player like Stewart, whose game is a nice combination of skill and willingness to mix it up every now and then. The Avs lost Daniel Winnik to a leg injury as well
The Canucks make their first visit to Calgary on Wednesday, and despite their perch on top of the division, I wonder if they’re undergoing a bit of buyer’s remorse over the move to acquire Keith Ballard. He’s been a healthy scratch on a few occasions, and even with some better play over the last few games, Ballard hasn’t exactly burned it up this year. As a Flames’ fan watching Cory Sarich earn a very nice sum eating popcorn, I won’t gloat that much, but he was a flawed choice as a shutdown defender, and I first guessed that one right out of the gate.
Off-ice, Vancouver has placed Rick Rypien on indefinite leave. Players, as wealthy, carefree and cosseted as they often appear, are as susceptible to a few dark nights of the soul as anyone else, and Rypien appears to be undergoing that sort of problem at the moment. His absence also got me thinking about the absolute radio silence that’s surrounded Paul Ranger’s disappearance from the NHL. Ranger left Tampa last fall after playing in eight games, and there hasn’t been any hint of a return to the league on his part, or any hints of any sort. He was playing top pairing minutes for the Bolts when this occurred, so it isn’t like a 4th line plugger headed home. At any rate, in the case of Rypien, I simply hope he gets whatever help he needs, and if/when he comes back, he’s ready.
In Kevin Paul Dupont’s Sunday column, he hinted that Tom Golisano might be looking for a way out of the Sabres’ ownership. As a matter completely disconnected from any potential relocation discussion, I wonder how many NHL owners might like to take a walk if they could? Franchise values seem to have stagnated along with the U.S. economy over the last couple of years, so the common wisdom that increases of a team’s worth would cover any year to year losses might not be seem quite on the mark in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Carolina, St. Louis as well as Buffalo. This isn’t a matter that only affects the NHL, of course, as anyone listening to David Stern over the last few months should be able to grasp, and I don’t doubt that there have always been men with enough money and ego to buy teams as they’ve become available, but who would buy the Islanders right now, or the Coyotes without a massive subsidy? A few of the teams I mentioned have been looking for new investors for an extended period with no takers. Maybe it’s just me, but this moment for the Big Four leagues does carry the whiff of fin de siècle.
To end with something a bit different this week, head over to a Theory of Ice for Ellen’s latest, if you haven’t had a chance to do so.
That’s all for this week. As always, the comments are available for anything you’ve noticed.