Tuesday, October 11, 2005


"Bleed all over 'em. Let 'em know you're there."

And thus concludes the most disappointing road trip since Tom Green and Breckin Meyer. The question now, as mike w puts it here: "So then: what's the deal with the Flames?"

I think the best answer to this question was proffered by Jarome Iginla:
"We're not playing good right now."

There are other potential answers, many of which would be more grammatically correct. There's the empirical (power play is awful, penalty kill is worse), but this is essentially evidence, not an explanation, and it's useless as a prescription ("Reg, you need to work on the power play"); it certainly doesn't capture the spirit of the thing.

There's the non-disprovable/uninsightful, like for example, "They're coming out flat." This is actually a less useful answer than Iginla's, because not only is "jump" inseparable from "playing good", but it implies that there is some lack of enthusiasm and/or preparation that is causing it. This is not a homer's objection: it's simply not the case that professional athletes approach a game with complacency or ennui.

Most if not all NHL teams will have a stretch this season where they lose 3 of 4 road games. It's hockey - some days you win, some days you lose. They're not playing good. I expect that to change.

If I were to offer a suggestion, it'd be something like this:

Forget about the bad penalty killing. That's a symptom of the problem, not the cause. I think Sutter needs to borrow an idea from basketball, and have his defenders test the refs early -- in essence, err on the side of overaggression. That doesn't mean sticks everywhere, but it does mean playing rough around your own net. This team, like every other team, will fail if they are tentative in their own zone. I'm a believer in the non-statistical wisdom that it's easier to kill a good penalty than a bad one, so if (say) Leopold gets sent to the box for knocking someone over who's trying to bull to the front of the net, I think it's worth it.

The two sides of the crackdown coin are 1) the actual penalties called for previously acceptable play, and 2) the fear of being called for a penalty for such play. It's #2 that's the problem with the Flames right now; they're really not taking a lot of chintzy stick penalties, and the insane 11 PPG against have mostly been on penalties that have always been called. The boys need to head out there with the mentality that they're going to own their own end.

I'm much less concerned by the nature of the Flames' three losses than I am by the fact that they have 2 points through 4 games. Winning the Northwest (or any) Division is going to require somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110 points, which translates to a record of about 50-22-10. 22 regulation losses, in turn, translates to about 2 L's every 8 games, and about 11 points. What does this, in turn, translate to? Even minor stretches of poor play need to be compensated for by near-ridiculous stretches of successful play. Even if the Flames win all 4 of their upcoming home games, they're unlikely to be leading the division as a result.

Final thought: Kipper's fine. His head is basically empty, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. If there is one goalie in the NHL whose physical skills are unlikely to be undermined, a la Tommy Salo, by a messed-up head, it's him.

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