With just fifteen games left in the regular season, the story is a simple one – do or die. It’s a cliche that many teams throw around this time of year and for most of them it is true to varying degrees. In the case of the Calgary Flames, it has literally been the writing on the wall for the 2011-12 campaign.
Remember "Every Game Matters"? We know the fans have. It has been the butt of too many jokes for the past sixty-seven games. Beneath the sarcastic jokes, we the fans, the city, the ones that can’t do a thing to effect any change, seem to be the only ones taking the mantra to heart.
By no means am I suggesting that the players, coaches or even management are neglectful in the goals they set out to achieve in September. Rather, they just lack the resources to realize them.
They try and they try and they try. They work and they work and they work. They can go an entire game without giving up a five-on-five goal (as they did Sunday), but get sloppy short-handed once and then surrender a power-play goal. Even so, the Stars needed a shootout to get the extra point in a 3-2 victory.
– Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail
As Eric highlights, it is the Flames record in extra time that is slowly killing this team and a birth in the post season. Going 4-12 is a step backwards for a team that thrived more often than they faltered last year in the bonus round. Leaving 12 pts on the table isn’t desirable to any team, but for the Flames it should feel like a dagger to the heart. How many leads have they blown to allow the opposition to not only get to overtime, but then also snatch the extra point, leaving the Flames looking at each other with that ‘deer in the headlights look’?
They don’t seem to get any help from any deities either, be it the Hockey Gods or the Lord Almighty himself. Despite getting the 2 pts in regulation against the Habs on Tuesday, Calgary paid the price once again when Tim Jackman went down… in his first shift no less. The injury is just one more amongst a series that have plagued the team all season. But, as mentioned numerous times, it has to remain an issue and not become an excuse. They have to find a way to survive.
If the Flames are going to be able to close the three point gap in these last fifteen games, they need some heroics from unlikely sources. With the recent injury to Mike Cammalleri, Matt Stajan has once again been given the opportunity to fill one of those roles. Brent Sutter has liked what he has seen out of Stajan lately, feeling that Matt has stepped up in the wake of mounting injuries.
"I thought Matt had a really strong game. What I liked about his game is he never got out of his element. Just because he was playing with those two guys, he didn’t change his game. He played intelligent and carried on how he’s been playing here lately.”
Along with the elevation of Stajan’s game, Sutter will also be looking to David Moss to step back into the line-up and have an immediate impact. Reuniting Moss on the "OMG" line with Jokinen and Glencross should give all three a measure of confidence. Hopefully they will be able to return to the form that had them as one of the top shut down lines in the league last year. A tall order given that Jokinen is the only one that has been healthy all year, and Glencross just returned to the line-up himself not too long ago.
The pressure doesn’t seem to have any effect on GlenX, as he stepped back into the line-up and continued right where he left off prior to his own injury. Curtis has 7 pts (5G & 2A) in seven games since his return and is back on pace to close in on personal best marks. However, he maintains that at this time of year individual play isn’t the focus as he tries to do his part to get the team into the playoffs.
“Things have gone good. I can’t complain,” he said. “I’m not really looking at myself right now and the points. I really don’t keep track of it, I go out and do my job sort of thing. The goal for us is to get two points (for win) and the way I can help us get into the playoffs. That’s my mindset.”
IF NOT NOW, THEN SVEN???
Four days ago Sven Bärtschi was named WHL Player of the Week for the third time this season. He probably would have received the honor more than that if not for the fact that he’s only played 47 games. Instead, two days later, he was awarded something he will cherish much more – a promotion to the NHL.
With the Flames so decimated by injury, Jay Feaster felt that Bärtschi’s 94 pts was enough to warrant giving him a look now, rather than waiting for next year’s training camp. The feelings on Sven joining the big club are mixed, to say the least. Some feel that WHL this year is a far cry from the pace and the tempo of the NHL. This is no regular call up as he is bypassing the AHL ranks and joining the big boys immediately on the front lines. Can we say pressure? Not Sven…
“I’m so excited,” the 19-year-old said. “So pumped. It’s hard to put into words how you feel when they tell you something like that.”
Tonight is going to be exciting on so many fronts. The return of Winnipeg will bring Jets fans out of the woodwork and the debut of Sven Bärtschi will undoubtedly bring the Flames fans out of their seats.
How long that lasts could be as brief as Sven’s stay with Calgary will be. Feaster wanted to make sure everyone knew as he told the Calgary Herald, that the promotion should not be taken out of context. “We’re thrilled to have him in the organization. We think he’ll play here for many years. But it shouldn’t be looked at as ‘Here comes the first-round pick to save the team and lead us into the playoffs.’ Those types of expectations and pressure shouldn’t be heaped on this young man.”
The bottom line is, Bärtschi being in the line-up should be seen for what it truly is; an emergency recall. The idea here is to see what the WHL phenom can do once he is put up with the big boys. He has been dubbed by some scouts as the best player in the WHL, hands down. That’s high praise given the company he keeps in that league. If he contributes tonight or over the next couple of games on the scoreboard, it will be nothing short of SVENtastic, but lets just try and keep it in perspective as fans.
Regardless, it makes for an exciting night of historic proportions, billing the comeback kids vs. the kid’s debut. Who could ask for anything more from a hockey game? Oh yeah…two points please!