Monday, April 16, 2007

 

Flames-Wings: Game 2 Review

**Let's start with this coaching thing. I don't think Bob McKenzie is out of line at all, or shit-stirring for its own sake, to suggest that Sutter should fire/replace Playfair today. His two main points -- that they look terrible, and that Playfair is toast when the Flames lose this series anyway -- are correct. That said, I agree with Greg's take at TPSH:
Any manager of anything (not only hockey) who hires somebody and then fires them at the most important point in their job is an awful manager. They are an egomaniac who cannot stay out of the limelight and give their underlings a chance to succeed. This hurts their chances of bringing in a top coach in the future.

Darryl Sutter may be a lot of things, but he's not an egomaniac. He's going to live with his decision (or mistake, if you like) to hire Playfair as his HC, and look at it when the season is over. If the Flames lose this series convincingly, as it appears they will, I suspect that he'll judge this season to be a failure, and hold the coach accountable.

Since we're on the topic, though: I've tried over the past 24 hours to construct a devil's advocate defense of Playfair's tenure as coach, and I'm just not coming up with anything. "It's the players who are responsible in the end" is true enough, but that's not a defense; in the absence of evidence of superb game-planning (or conversely, sabotage), it's a nihilistic implication that *I* could coach the Flames.

Before the season, there was ample reason to believe that the Flames' roster was improved, and very little reason to think it was worse. Tough conference and division aside, qualifying for the playoffs by 1 point, in 8th place, was worse than legitimate expectations.

The main aspect of the game where the Flames improved -- scoring more by getting more quality shots -- would appear to be attributable to the Tanguay acquisition and the Huselius leap (and the Iginla bounce-back). If anything, it's despite Playfair; he's talked from Day 1 about getting more pucks at the net. Not only did they fail to do that (57 fewer shots this season than last), but they look terrible when they're trying to play that way.

Dowbiggin was on the radio this morning noting (correctly) that there's been a conspicuous absence of passion on the players' part; not so much the obvious on-ice problems, but that no one was ranting and pissed off out loud to the media. Why would this be surprising, though, when the team motto is "All Business"?

Also -- you know what Iginla, Langkow, Tanguay, and Conroy have in common? They're the only Flames forwards who weren't healthy scratches this year. Amonte, Huselius, Lombardi, Primeau, Nilson, Richie, & McCarty (& Prust & Godard) were all HS at least once. Yelle and Friesen were both scratched when they were coming off injuries but healthy enough to play. I understand the idea of holding players accountable for their performance (or lack thereof), but there's a line there somewhere. I'm not sure exactly how to articulate this, but I think that when the Coach has essentially told more than half his team that they're replaceable, he's crossed that line. (Whose team is it, anyway?)

And lastly, the dreaded "I"-word... identity. I don't have the energy for two thousand words on this, but here: isn't the idea that the optimal "playing style" for this roster should be the same as the optimal playing style for a roster whose 2nd-leading scorer was Shean Donovan simply ridiculous on its face? I'm sure that there's certain things that all great teams do well, but come on. Iginla scored 27 more points than last season; Langkow 18 more; Huselius 30 more; and they added one of the premier ES scorers in the NHL in Tanguay. To borrow a phrase from another sport, These Guys Are Good. How can you not make this work to the benefit of the team?

**You know how they say, in reference to a young defenceman (or quarterback) who has improved a bunch, that "the game has really slowed down for him"? As cliches go, it's a good one as it's intuitive to the viewer. We can sit there watching this player and just tell that he's making better decisions, has a better sense of how much pressure is on him at any given time, etc.

Well, the game has really sped up for Tony Amonte and Craig Conroy. Conroy is still a quality NHL player, but especially when he's with Iginla/Tanguay, he makes too many bad plays and passes: sometimes when he's in too big a rush to get rid of the puck, and sometimes when he doesn't anticipate the quickness of an opposing player filling a lane.

Amonte is probably destined for retirement after this season, though. About 20 seconds before Filppula's insurance goal yesterday, the shots were something like 38-12 for Detroit, but the score's still only 2-1. Huselius gets the puck and moves to the high circle on the right wing... and look -- it's Amonte heading for the net! Juice whips a beauty pass into the slot that hits Amonte perfectly in stride, right on the tape for an awesome scoring chance. Oh, except that the pass went right through Amonte's stick, straight into the corner. Wings get possession back, go up the ice, bam, etc.

How many times have we seen that scenario this season, I wonder. You need 12 forwards and they can't all be Jarome Iginla, but cripes-that-is-agonizing.

**Paging Mark Giordano! Maybe it was the plan all along to insert Giordano into the lineup at home, where he can be sheltered a bit more from Datsyuk & Zetterberg. If not, I assume that adjustment is being made on the fly. Ever since Hale's 1st start, I've thought that although he seems like an OK D-man, the Flames broadcasters were overselling his "reliable, solid, smart, etc." qualities. Either way, he's possibly the last player in the league you want on the ice when you are down by 2 with 5 minutes left: he has 0 goals and 9 assists in 157 NHL GP. And then to take two penalties?

Giordano can be a defensive liability, relatively speaking, but he can also launch a counterattack. And, he's shown a decent knack for getting his point shot through to the net, which is clearly a skill the Flames could use right now. Calgary could quite conceivably win the next two games while still allowing 7 GA, but scoring only 2, they cannot and will not.

**This kind of brings all three of the bullets above together: Filppula's 3rd goal, as you've seen on the hi-lites, was allowed in part by a semi-aborted backcheck by Kristian Huselius. He was getting a bit tied up with Flip, made a split-second decision to disentangle, then immediately tried to recover, but it was too late: Franzen's rebound came straight out to Flip and he banged it home.

Huselius made the wrong play, but I don't think it was because of a lack of grit or desire. His instincts told him that (A) he was at risk of taking an interference penalty, and (B) Filppula wouldn't get a scoring chance anyway. His instincts were wrong on the second count, and it proved costly.

So they're down 3-1 at that point, with about 14 minutes left. They need to score, right? Huselius got one shift for the rest of the game. He had a grand total of 4:52 of EV ice-time, which was... 12th/12 for Calgary forwards. Pardon my French, but FUCK ME! What the HELL! On the one hand, Playfair could double- and triple-shift all his biggest scoring threats at that point (not just Iginla) to attempt the comeback. On the other hand, he could manage his bench like the most important thing was to not allow a 4th goal. And to send a message to Huselius -- perhaps he didn't feel like he had communicated it well enough over the first 83 games of the season.

**This series isn't over. With a nod to Roger Millions, if Iginla can just find the handle on the puck, that'll go partway to evening up the scoring chances. I don't think there's any doubt that the Wings will continue to outshoot the Flames, but it needs to be more like 30-20 or 35-25, not 46-20 or 51-15. Per all of the above, I'd like to see the Flames behave like making plays off the rush (and risking a turnover, oh my stars!) is one of their strengths, rather than something shameful. Last change should benefit the Flames game plan; if nothing else it should mean a little more Huselius & Lombardi, and a little less Yelle & Nilson.

And, the C of Red will be loud, even if the Wings go up early. I'm not confident that Calgary can get it together, but I'm optimistic. Go Flames.

UPDATE: Never mind!
Calgary head coach Jim Playfair was rather upbeat at his daily media news conference.

He said the team met a discussed getting more pucks to the Detroit net for Game 3.

"You are not going to score on Dominik Hasek on the first shot. It's going to be the second or third shot. Maybe he doesn't have his stick in his hand when you do it," said Playfair.

He said the key will be the Flames being ready.

Right! Because the Flames problem in Gms 1/2 was that they weren't randomly throwing pucks in Hasek's direction enough! Why go for quality first shots when you're not going to get it by Hasek no matter what! Whatever! So long as they're ready - that's the real key!

Comments:

And, the C of Red will be loud, even if the Wings go up early

You mean, like Game Seven against Anaheim loud? Because that was deafening...
 


Scoreboard
 


You mean, like Game Seven against Anaheim loud? Because that was deafening...

To be fair, it got awfully quiet in Xcel Center last night in St. Paul also, road Ducks are getting pretty good at taking the home fans out of it.
 


Did you just link to a story from The Hockey News to bolster your argument? That's almost as bad as completely ignoring the fact I was talking about one game last season. Do you have a story by Al Strachan to show me next? Eric Francis or Terry Jones, maybe?
 


True enough, it's a mere poll of players from all over the NHL... I'm sure an Oiler Fan poll would produce more robust results.
 


That poll, though more recently updated, was taken before last year's playoffs if I'm not mistaken. At that point, Calgary was the most recent Canadian team to go far in the playoffs. Coincidence? I would wager not. If you took the same poll a few weeks after last year's playoffs I bet I could pick the overwhelming winner. THN seems to be garnering a bit of a reputation for stupid polls. Maybe they're making a push to bring them up to par with their stupid opinion pieces disguised as "news." I remember this poll specifically because it's the main things Flames fans have been throwing around as a trophy ever since.
 


hey matt, I wonder what the Sharks, Ducks and 'Canes players had to say after playing in our barn last year...that poll was taken before most of these players played here last year...

I watched game 7 of the Ducks-Flames series last year and that 3rd period was horrendous for atmosphere
Game 6 at Rexall against the Wings, however, was completely different...loud even when we were down 2-0

btw, ask King Ralph which barn is louder
 


Anonymous said...
btw, ask King Ralph which barn is louder


...and after he answers, kick him in the gunt and back over him with your car.

Silence was golden in G7 in CGY last year. I remember that clearly.
 


I once got warned by a cop working a SJS v Flames game at the Saddledome that my friends and I were talking too loudly and were disturbing some douchebag and his daughter's enjoyment of the game. When I rolled my eyes and walked away, the Noise Nazi grabbed my arm like I'd just rolled Iginla's mom for her purse.
F*** U Calgary, Flames fans and, just for my own special enjoyment, Ken "Fat Bastard" King.
 


Huselius got one shift for the rest of the game.

And, yet, there's Playfair's pet Rhett Warrener - taking two terrible penalties in the first period and generally playing lack luster. Does he even miss a shift??

Nope.

Great post. I've been trying to get at the Playfair matter for awhile, but your single post was far more on target and succinct than my multiple rants.

Anyways...I sure hope they're "ready" tonight!
 


Saddledome was completely quiet in the last Home games of the season vs. Detroit until the final minute or so....and Calgary had the lead...it's like they were afraid to cheer because Detroit might score.....what a ridiculously fake group of suporters
 


Nothing I haven't been saying about this team for months. Good post.
 


By the way, if you're going to debate which barn is louder...I went to playoff games in both places, and I honestly think the Dome was louder if you compare the two teams during their good playoff runs. If you compare an Edmonton game last year to G7 in Calgary, Edmonton wins. If you compare Edmonton last year to G1 Calgary last year, its even at best.
 


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