The recent loss wasn’t the way the Calgary Flames wanted to go into the All Star break, but it shouldn’t deter the team from the task they have to prepare for once they get back to business next Tuesday. The Flames are going to have to put on a display for its fans, its level of resolve and determination to stay on track…or at least not fall off the rails.
That being said, Calgary had a pretty good week. They managed to take 5 out of a possible 6 pts on the road and save for the Edmonton game they did it against some pretty stiff competition. The Tuesday game was one of opportunity for club with the Sharks being without Clowe, Burns and Havlat. Calgary had the chance to move into a temporary tie for 8th, but the loss left them 3 pts out and Minny holding a game in hand.
While the fans are in a happy mood lately with the relative success of the Flames, the coach isn’t quite as enthused. Brent Sutter is getting increasingly frustrated with the inconsistency of his players, specifically the top two lines. The fantastic thing about Brent Sutter is that you can read the expressions on his face like a comic book. This team is facing enough of a challenge over the next few months, they don’t need to make it more difficult on themselves. Sutter’s frustration reached boiling point and yesterday and blasted his players for being what he thought was a coasting squad.
So Close… Yet So Far
The Flames have approached that highly coveted 8th seeding three times in the last seven weeks, and have failed all three times to grab it. It is a trend they need to find a way around if they hope to make any serious headway in the conference. As nice as it is to see Calgary play a tight game against an elite team like the San Jose Sharks (not once but twice) they still came away on the short end of the stick. It’s hard to get mad when they lose to a team who should for all intents and purposes destroy them, but they have had to rely on some pretty good luck in those narrow defeats, not to mention some of the victories as well.
What has made it easier on them is the strong play of a player not named Jarome Iginla. Curtis Glencross has been Calgary’s best player in my opinion: he has played the tough minutes against opposing top lines and is still at the top in scoring for the Flames, 3rd in points and tied with Iginla for the lead in goals. Undoubtedly the loss of Glencross is going to be a huge blow to the Flames, and you have to wonder if the team’s good luck is going to come crashing down around them if the injuries keep piling up.
Now they say every cloud has a silver lining, and in the Flames’ case, it has definitely been the play of Miikka Kiprusoff. Going into the game against the Sharks, Miikka was sporting a 1.21 GAA in the previous five games. That is something Calgary will have to depend on and hope he can maintain until all or at least some of the injured players can return. Going into the All Star break, Kipper is just two wins shy of 300, which will put him into a club that currently only has 26 members. Next Tuesday, when Calgary meets the Detroit Redwings, Kipper will suit up for his 526th game in a Flames uniform, tying him with Mike Vernon for the franchise lead.
Another silver lining appeared in the Sharks game with the return of Alex Tanguay from his lengthy, undisclosed injury. The longer Alex stayed out, and the more the club was unwilling to share the reason why, the more everyone thought Alex had a concussion and was possibly out for the remainder of the year; as it turned out, it was a neck injury. With Glencross out, the Flames need Tanguay to be healthy and hit the ground running. Sutter told media that the Flames don’t have the luxury of letting Alex take a few weeks to readjust and get up to game speed, they need him now and he will have to show early that he can help this team; now. Feaster has said that injuries are not going to be an excuse for Calgary or determine their playoff fate; which is probably why the team has been extra careful with Tanguay. He could have played against Edmonton, but was sat for precautionary measures and to give him some more practice time to be ready for the Sharks instead. After all, it’s not like Calgary really needed Alex to take care of the Oilers, right?
The loss of Glencross and the return of Tanguay had left questions as to where to slot everyone in the line-up; one that has been shuffled more than a deck of cards. It was highly unlikely that Sutter would place Tanguay at center for Iginla and Cammalleri after missing the past fifteen games, so there was an opportunity, once again, for Mikael Backlund to prove himself worthy of the chance Sutter would give him. A topic of constant controversy and defence, Backlund has walked the proverbial tightrope this year, and as Jay Feaster put it, had Calgary not been at the mercy of injuries and the suspension to Rene Bourque, that Backlund would have been sent to the AHL. No one more than Mikael had to have taken that to heart. Jay flat out told him that night, that he just went “whistling through the graveyard”. Did Backlund get the message? He had a solid game against both the Oilers and the Sharks, even potting a goal, finally, against the Oil.
So there you have it, some good and some bad; mostly speculation mixed with confusion. Do the injuries make the Flames buyers or sellers at the deadline, no one can say for sure. All we know is that for the most part, regardless of who is in the line-up, the Flames are in for a tough ride. But here is some more good news for you. No matter how many times Brent has to juggle the lines, he can rely on one thing… Olli Jokinen has been the common denominator in sparking the Flames whoever he plays with. Despite being named in Sports Illustrated top 15 list of over-rated players, his teammates would wholeheartedly disagree. Jokinen’s influence goes beyond his contributions on the ice. A player that has previously in his career been described as a cancer in the dressing room, is now referred to as a calming influence for the younger players on the team. In Scott Cruickshank’s common denominator article, Olli has received nothing but praise from guys like Comeau, Backlund and Lee Stempniak.
There are going to be a lot of factors that the Flames all have to draw together once the All Star break concludes. The Flames are close, they can see where they want to be and they can taste it. But if last season has shown the team, and the fans, anything; it’s that close won’t cut it for the Flames.