1. Something odd, but not overall
So I think one of the things everyone in the hockey world more or less agreed upon was that the Northwest Division would be the worst in the West, and maybe the league overall. Turns out, those observers were totally correct.
The Northwest Division’s teams have more or less been disasters. Atop the division with a whopping seven points prior to Wednesday night’s games was Minnesota, barely above water at 3-2-1, and boasting a goal differential of minus-1. This despite playing four of its six games at home. Just one point back were both Edmonton and Vancouver, with six points apiece. If you’d told me that there would be any point this season in which the team with the best goal differential in the division would be Edmonton, frankly, I wouldn’t have believed you, but there they are at plus-1, the only Northwest team with its head above water.
Colorado is two points back of its Canadian rivals, with four points in five games, and all of its losses came on the road. Doesn’t bode well for the team, particularly because its top three forwards are injured (Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie) or still hilariously unsigned (Ryan O’Reilly, and the clock’s ticking real loud these days). Then we come to Calgary, with three points in four games, sitting 28th in the league and dead last in the West.
What’s interesting about that to me is that sure Vancouver has had a tough go of things and Minnesota is obviously improved, but I wonder exactly why the entire division is just so bad. In terms of the full league standings, Minnesota and Edmonton is the only squad that would make a 16-team playoff, and they’d be the 12- and 14-seeds, respectively. Hell, the New York Islanders are a better team than everyone in the Northwest. What kind of sense does that even begin to make?
2. Someday everything will go their way
With that having been said, the Flames being 28th is a little bit of smoke and mirrors. The stats Kent posted yesterday show that they’ve actually outchanced or tied their opponents in all of Games 2-4 (18-17 versus Anaheim in a 5-4 loss, 14-all versus Vancouver in a 3-2 shootout loss, and 18-13 in a 4-3 win over Edmonton). In all, their chances have been 50-44 in all those games, and at even strength, it was 41-37, also in the Flames’ favor.
So what I guess I’m saying is that to some extent, they’re just not getting the bounces, and maybe the 4-3 win over Edmonton was some sort of the beginning of a serious correction.
The real issue, though, is that Miikka Kiprusoff has been unimaginably bad. Okay, sure, a 3.44 GAA is one thing. Among goalies who have actually gotten time in NHL games this season, that GAA is 47th, in the realm of what Jonas Hiller and Jose Theodore posted.
But an .872 save percentage? Couldn’t, like, any professional goaltender on the planet go out and do exactly that badly? Among actual starters, only Hiller (.868) and Cam Ward (.861!!!!!) are even close. But what’s interesting is why Kiprusoff has been so, so bad. His even-strenght save percentage is .906, allowing nine goals on 96 shots; bad as the day is long but not so dismal as the overall. The real problem, then, is his save percentage on the power play. It’s .615. Thirteen shots against, five goals allowed. Just abysmal. Obviously some of that is on his teammates, who are only 68.8 percent on the PK, but I don’t know. I feel like you gotta at least stop 65 percent of the shots you face, right?
3. Something you never want to hear
So Sven Baertschi is, as of this writing, listed as "doubtful" for tonight’s game with Colorado, owing to a lower body injury he picked up in practice. And maybe reading the Herald’s report on the issue is setting off alarm bells for me and me alone, but any time I see the words "mysterious injury" in a headline related to the Flames’ best prospect.
It would really and truly be a shame is Baertschi is out for any period of time at all, but Hartley seems to think the injury is minor. Scary stuff nonetheless. Hopefully if it’s anything more than missing Thursday’s game, the team just sends him back to the AHL anyway. The way he got treated on Saturday was a bit a joke; I understand it’s not easy to find offensive roles for players in a lineup with this many veterans, particularly players who didn’t play all that great in the previous game, but sticking the best forward prospect your organization has had in years on a line with two guys who are barely NHLers and giving him 10 shifts for five minutes is insulting and absurd.
I don’t know how you let that happen if you’re Bob Hartley. Okay yeah the first two lines are full-up with guys who are proven NHLers, but what’s even the point of giving Baertschi fourth-line minutes, no matter how sheltered? It was pointed out somewhere that the kid doesn’t have any shots in his last two games, but I guess only gettin 28 shifts during that time is probably a pretty good reason why. He can’t do it all himself.
4. On Iginla
One bright spot, if you wanna call it that I guess, is that while Jarome Iginla doesn’t yet have a goal this season, and only has three assists in four games, he’s at least generating chances. He’s been absolutely shooting the lights out, and having no goals on 19 shots is actually somewhat of a miracle for the opposition rather than his being snakebit or whatever you want to call it.
I wonder if he can keep it up. He’s no spring chicken these days, obviously, and there’s probably more than a little to this related to playing for a contract, but a motivated Iginla seems to be a rather dangerous one, even if there’s probably going to be some very real fretting about him if he doesn’t score tonight or on Saturday. Again, it seems like just a matter of time, and really even if he scores on his very next shot, his percentage will still only be 5 percent. He’ll have a long, long way to go to get back to his career average, and that bodes well for the Flames’ offense.
5. One last thing
I just want to touch on the power play here because I actually cannot believe how good it is. Even beyond generating five goals in four games, having 27 shots on 17 opportunities is pretty crazy, and what’s really interesting is that they’re not even getting a ton of time compared with most of the rest of the league. Only two other teams in the top 10 are anywhere close to their 25:52 of actual time on the man advantage, and their 17 power play chances is actually 28th in the league.
This is something we cannot expect to continue, given how few penalties the team actually draws and the general quality of the personnel on the second power play. And really, it hasn’t even proven all that fruitful because the team hasn’t scored at 5-on-5. When five of your 11 goals have come on the power play, that’s a problem (though maybe a good problem to have, depending on how you want to look at it), and it’s one that needs to be corrected soon.