For most of the season we have tried to dissect the play of the Flames and where it was going wrong and ultimately where was it headed. Many of the fans were emphatic about not seeing this team struggle for the first half like last season and then attempt to make another miracle run at the post season. It didn’t work last year, it wouldn’t work this year, and ultimately it was going to pre-emptively ruin what the Flames needed to do going into the draft to right this wayward ship.
Let’s be honest, the month of November was nothing short of infuriating frustration for the fans, the players and the coach. Every time the Flames approached the .500 mark with an impressive showing or surprising defeat of a superior opponent, it was followed by a disastrous effort mired in chaos. Huge wins against Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota were mirrored two fold with losses to Buffalo and Minnesota, Columbus and St. Louis, then Nashville and… Oh Columbus again.
After the game against the Blue Jackets on Dec. 1st, there were 19,289 people that the Flames should have been worried about, and the ironic part is that not a single one of them has a NMC attached to their season ticket packages. That didn’t stop the fans and the media from pushing the topic of trade talks onto the Flames, and specifically Jay Feaster. The fans were on the brink and it was getting to the point where they wanted change or they wanted blood.
Who would be the first to go? Would Sutter be fired, especially in the wake of Paul Maurice and Bruce Boudreau being shown the door in Carolina and Washington respectively? Well, Bruce got hired 2 days later by the Ducks, when they fired Randy Carlyle, so did that mean Randy would replace Brent? No, instead the Flames stood by what they have been telling everyone for the entire season; no one is going anywhere. As far as the other side of the coin, i.e. making a significant trade? Well, Jay addressed that yet again with a slightly more agitated response than he has usually offered.
DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO
If anything the Flames management and coaching staff has given a 100% effort in making do with what they are stuck with this season. Fans may not like the moves that saw players leave (ie. Langkow & Regehr), or players that were retained (ie. Babchuk), but the organization has done well to move out declining assets in favour of building a positive future; or so we all hope. I’m not personally one that has bought into the speculation that Feaster could have garnered a better return on the two veterans, and I’ll even go so far as to throw in the Erixon deal as well.
Butler has done an impressive job for the most part, being thrown into the top-2 pairing and has by no means looked like the reason for the Flames record. I am also pretty sure the Flames would be sitting pretty close to their current position, even if they still had Regehr manning the blueline.
Byron in his limited time up with the Parent Club did some really good things. He has speed to burn and showed some deft puck-handling, and even managed to pot a few goals. He has some room for development, but let’s face it, that could probably be said for everyone on the team this year, rookie or vet. Paul is most likely going to end up on both sides of the pro/con argument when it comes to the whole issue of Feaster’s ‘Meritocracy’. He provided a spark to the line up and was earning his playing time. If not for the technicality that, when Comeau was claimed, he was the only player that the Flames would not have to put through the waiver process, he would probably still be with the team. He was a victim of the lack of contract flexibility this team has, that we have all come to frequently point out.
As I said though, there is also the ‘con’ side. It is unlikely Byron will be brought back up now, despite Feaster’s promise to make that promotion soon. With Morrison back in the line up and playing very well [he has 6 pts in 2 games and has been the 1st star both nights], the Flames are most likely wanting to see how this plays out. Add to the fact that David Moss should be returning soon, and that spells it out quite clearly for Paul Byron.
Horak has to be seen as a bright spot for this organization. Forced into trading Erixon left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, fans and management alike, but Roman has made a believer of many and less of a sceptic for the others. I have stated on many occasions how impressed I have been with his play in regards to how smart he is with the puck and the composure he demonstrates at such a young age. The points haven’t been bountiful yet but, the kid also plays a lot in the defensive zone and has held his own against higher quality competition. Horak just might have people thinking that he has a higher ceiling than originally thought when the Flames made the deal for the once viewed nobody. Despite being re-assigned to the minors on Friday, I look forward to seeing how he fits in with the new generation and the likes of Baertschi, Reinhart and Ferland.
DO IT WHEN YOU HAVE TO
Too many times the Flames have been guilty of watching their own game pass them by. Too many players missing checks or just not committed to puck pursuit have resulted in public ridicule and yes even being called out on Hockey Night in Canada.
Even games the Flames have won have been the subject of speculation because they weren’t able to gain the win in convincing fashion. In fact, you can count on one hand the amount of contests they have put in a complete game and gotten the desired results… and we’re 30 nearly games into the season folks.
The bottom line is, the team needs to play a full 60 minutes, and it can’t be for one game every couple of weeks. They have been so inconsistent from any given weekly period, and that comes from not playing a full game and getting the effort from the players. Consistency comes from repetition and is quickly lost through desperation and a lack of focus from the team as a whole.
While that loss to Columbus at the beginning of the month was a low point for the Flames, they had a major bounce back game against the Oilers two nights later. Falling behind 2-0 early, the Flames got their act together and simply took over every aspect of the game. They scored on the Oil to tie the game and then they shut down Edmonton’s pace and game on the PK, killing all 6 opportunities for the Oilers. It may not have been against the likes of Detroit or Chicago, but it was definitely Calgary’s best all around effort of the season.
It was unfortunate that Calgary couldn’t press pause on all the adrenaline and excitement they took from that game and carry it through the following night. However, no one was really expecting miracles against Vancouver. It was the back end of the back-to-back and they were playing their back-up goaltender against a team that has owned them for – what? The last eleven meetings? I wasn’t happy about their play, especially since they had a decent first period against the Canucks, but I also wasn’t surprised. They were tired and out-manned, that coupled with a lousy effort and the string of losses; well 2 and 2 is still 4 as far as I know.
DO IT AS LONG AS YOU CAN
Despite the loss to Vancouver the Flames had a good week in regards to points. It wasn’t a pretty win over the Hurricanes but the team dominated a really bad club, and that’s part of what they need to do; beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The same applied to the game against the Avalanche: Calgary fell behind but they found a way to come back and win the game.
As Pat has stated a few times, the Flames seem to be in the heads of both Colorado and Edmonton; given that psychological advantage, they need to capitalize at every chance if they want any measure of success in their own division. The win was the fourth in a row this season against the Avs and dates back to the previous nine meetings. When you develop a streak like that against any given team, the game plan has to be to ride that horse as far as it will take you. We all know it won’t go on forever, so they might as well use it to their benefit as long as they can.
This ideology carried through for the Flames last night against the Oilers. Finishing this week off in a successful manner, the Flames now find themselves one point behind the Oil and two points out of eighth in the Western Conference, with games in hand on both EDM and SJS, and two on Nash. With the next game against the Preds, Calgary has a chance to narrow that gap and maintain the two games in hand.
There is no doubt December is a crucial month for Calgary with sixteen games and four back-to-backs. Now is the time to develop some consistency and get them back into the hunt in the Western Conference. They have some tough match-ups but they also have some very winnable contests; if there is any hope of this club making any sort of run at the post-season, then the push has to come now and not in February. Early predictions have the 8th seed needing 97 pts to make the playoffs this year, counting on lightning in a bottle twice is about as viable a game plan than resorting to the ever-growing popular twitter plan… #FailForNail.
Thus concludes this weak, err.. week in review!