The Calgary Flames kicked off their final ten games of the season in Pittsburgh tonight; the result was a frustrating 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Pens. It was frustrating because it was generally an even game. Too many turnovers and the Flames' awful powerplay cost them the game.
Kris Letang's first period rebound goal from the side of the net on the powerplay ended up being the winner. It was a nice setup from Sidney Crosby, but it was with Jim Vandermeer and Dion Phaneuf on the ice as the Flames' penalty kill pairing. This is basically the worst pairing from a defensive perspective. Vandermeer was caught out of position and Dion received another minus to add to his terrible total for the year. This game highlighted what may be a weakness of the Flames: their general lack of defensive depth. Granted, they were against two of the best players in the world tonight, but still. The second Pittsburgh goal came as a result of a bad turnover by Mike Cammalleri entering the Pittsburgh zone. Turnovers were a big problem all night for the Flames – I lost count of the amount of Pittsburgh odd-man rushes in the second period – and Hal Gill's goal was the ultimate result.
Pittsburgh's top guys were more effective generally than Calgary's this game. Jarome Iginla was held out of the goal column for the fourth straight game and Olli Jokinen missed the net three times. (In total, the Flames had 15 missed shots – this has been a serious problem all year). The missed shots were only part of the Flames' bad luck all night. Marc-Andre Fleury also was outstanding. The number one reason the Flames lost was the ineffective power play once again. I don't watch near enough of other teams as I should, but I'm still convinced the Flames' powerplay is the worst in the league (I believe they lead the league in shorthanded goals against). They were 0 for 5 tonight, though they seemed a bit better organized than usual. Still, when Evgeni Malkin took a four minute high sticking penalty near the end of the second, I had a feeling the Flames had to convert the powerplay and tie the game or they would lose, and that's what happened. Pierre McGuire showed that he doesn't watch the Flames nearly enough when he included powerplay coach Rich Preston in a list of “good things” about the Flames team. Overall though, this was not a bad losing effort, more frustrating than anything. The game was a very playoff like tilt.
Speaking of playoff like tilts, the Flames' next game is tonight against Columbus, in a possible first round matchup. With the Vancouver Canucks creeping up on the Flames, this game will literally be the most meaningful Flames-Jackets game played since the Jackets came into the league…at least until they meet in the playoffs which I hope will happen. If the Canucks beat St. Louis tonight and the Flames lose, the Canucks will be within one point of the division…I calculated with 11 games to go that to beat the Canucks, the Flames would have to go 7-3-1 or better (in that case, the Canucks would have to finish 8-0-2 or better to beat the Flames, a somewhat difficult task even with their creampuff schedule…but one I am not willing to rule out happening still). Two games later, that looks like at least 6-2-1 over the Flames' final 9 games, assuming the Canucks keep up their pace. I respect the Blue Jackets but tomorrow is a winnable game for the Flames, though the Jackets, looking to secure their first ever playoff berth, probably feel the same. If tonight is any indication, it should be as good as a playoff game. I just have to hope that it won't be so frustrating.
(This is my first ever blog on Sportstalkbuzz, so I'd just like to introduce myself. Some of you might know who I am from Hockeybuzz…I am the new Flames blogger, taking over from Randy “Flamestr” Workman…I'm looking for suggestions for a blog title. I can't think of anything playing on my name, but I need something to do with fire…other notes…Darren Dreger said during the intermission that he expects Cammalleri to get $5-5.5 million in unrestricted free agency. I basically gave up on re-signing Cammy when the Flames acquired Olli Jokinen, but this is lower than what I had estimated. Dammit Darren don't suck me back in!…the Flames' shutout tonight was just their second of the season – after being blown out 6-0 in the season opener by Vancouver.)
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Written by Alex Hamilton