I apologize for the delay in getting this blog out; I had to be released from a Columbus jail for certain phone calls (kidding). No, the real reason is because Thursday's 5-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was so maddening and left me in such a state of despair afterwards as a fan that I could not bring myself to finish the blog on Thursday night. But after experiencing the cathartic experience of the post game call in show, cooling it with The Office, and then having a busy Friday sneak up on me and prevent me from finishing it, I still feel the same. A warning, this blog is basically a rant, and probably a knee jerk one at that. It's one of those moments when I will either look back on what I've written and realize sadly that this was the moment I knew the Flames were done, or look back and shake my head at my stupidity. Either way, I needed to get this off my chest after that latest ridiculous game.
Somehow, the Flames are still alive.
Somehow, after the playoff-desperate Blues beat the Canucks 4-2 at home on Thursday, the Flames remain ONE point up on the division going into the weekend…though they therefore squandered an opportunity to stay three points up by submitting a stinker in Columbus, losing 5-0. Words can't really describe such a loss accurately, rather it raises significant questions.
After falling behind 3-0 in the third period , Mike Keenan resorted to his trademark move of yanking the goalie, ostensibly to “try and pump up the team”. By my count, this is the fourth time this month that he has tried this in the Flames' eight losses, after not bothering Miikka Kiprusoff all year, to the point that concerns were raised about him playing Kipper too much. And yet, the “replace the goalie” move has only worked once in Keenan's two seasons coaching the Flames (Game 3 of their first round series vs. the Sharks last year; the momentum shift in that game was more due to a gigantic hit by Cory Sarich than anything.) The benching hasn't even been deserved most of the time – and Curtis McElhinney simply hasn't been ever able to give them a very good chance to win, allowing momentum-killing goals on multiple occasions. It's a mark of a desperate coach to keep trying the same move like this. But, in all fairness to Mike, he had already burned his timeout late in the first period, trying to map out yet another crucial powerplay….that of course ended up failing. Do you get the direction I'm going here?
Granted, some blame must lie on the players. I don't know how much you can blame the coaching staff when all three players on Calgary's top line disappear simultaenously, when they might as well be shooting at a basketball rather than hockey net, even when the Flames play outright lazy defense. On the other hand, though, you have a powerplay that is downright painful to watch – as far as I'm concerned, power play coach Rich Preston is basically committing fraud against the Flames organization – and a head coach who downright has not proven yet that he still belongs in the NHL. He has only proven further his biggest weakness as a coach: his lack of any knowledge about goaltending. Additionally, his relentless line juggling is only effectively stopping any chemistry. You can call this reactionary if you want, and I may well be proven wrong, wouldn't be the first or last time, but at this point I honestly would not be surprised to see Darryl Sutter pull a Lou Lamoriello and fire his head coach with only a handful of games until the playoffs. Of course, this would be a somewhat courageous move by Sutter, as it was really only his old friendship with Keenan that made him be crazy enough to hire the man in the first place. I may be scapegoating here, I don't know. All I know is that I am at perhaps my moment of highest doubt in the Flames' coaching staff to carry them anywhere past another first round exit.
Well, that felt good to finally get off my chest. I have said stuff when blogging about the Flames that I ended up vastly regretting later. I hope to, perhaps a few months in the future, look back on this blog and laugh at my own knee jerk reactions. But this is a team at the moment with no defense, no chemistry, an invisible top line, no powerplay, suspect goaltending (due to a perhaps tired goaltender), no urgency and, most importantly, a narrow window to contend. The division is still attainable. The Flames play six games out of eight against teams either on the bubble or out of the playoff picture, starting tomorrow night vs. Minnesota. If they beat all of those teams (Edmonton at least once) and two other teams, the Canucks would have to go 7-0-1 or better in their final eight to beat them (though I'm not willing to rule out the Canucks being able to do this). It all starts with that game tomorrow night against Minnesota. If the Flames can beat the Wild for the fifth straight time tomorrow, then perhaps my next blog will not have such a doom-and-gloom tone. But what I do know is that if the way the Flames have been playing in March continues long term, I have no doubt in my mind that it will be yet another first round exit.
– Alex Hamilton
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Written by Alex Hamilton