The latest sad chapter in the Calgary Flames' incredible fall from grace happened tonight in Minnesota, as the Flames were shutout for the third time in their last four road games, 4-0 to the Wild. Not only did this loss make the Flames another loss away from losing control of their own destiny in the divisional race, Chicago's playoff-clinching win made the Flames drop to the no. 5 seed and lose home ice advantage.
This loss was fairly devastating because it also showcased three critical flaws in the Flames right now. The first is obvious in the score. The Flames' offense, which had weeks ago vaulted to third in the league, has now completely evaporated. I have mentioned this many times, but Mike Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla are all equally deserving of a callout right now. Jokinen and Iginla are rightfully facing the most heat right now. Jokinen has been useless since his first home game in Calgary. He's even being outperformed by Matthew Lombardi, the center he replaced in Calgary. I never saw him enough in either Florida or Phoenix, but was one of many Flames fans who took the persistent Jokinen-to-Calgary rumors that lingered for years as a potential godsend for the team. The fact is that right now, Sutter's big gamble is not paying off.
However, pinning every problem on Jokinen is still reactionary at best. Jarome Iginla is facing the culmination of probably his worst season since his breakout year in 2002. Iginla still leads all RWs in points by a good margin but is on pace for just 35 goals after his second 50 goal season last year. There have been multiple theories offered about Iginla's struggles. Personally, I'm still leaning towards the theory that he's been secretly nursing injuries all year; it's the easiest to believe. Whatever the reason, the Flames will not get anywhere if Iginla can't lead the charge out of this hole.
The other player, of course, who the Flames simply have to have on top of his game is Miikka Kiprusoff. Tonight, he definitely deserved some blame, allowing three weak goals. The worst one was Owen Nolan's goal which made it 3-0 in the first period, which came just after the Flames had nearly made it 2-1. Apologists for Kiprusoff's mediocre stats, who have included me (still am, actually) have pointed out that he doesn't directly cost the Flames games very often (though he did it several times in March.) I don't think Kipper directly cost the Flames the game, but he did not exactly give them the best chance to win either. A bad goal can be forgotten and forgiven if it's allowed at the right time. If Kipper allowed a bad opening goal, but the Flames eventually tied the game, it would not be an issue. But when a goalie allows goals that genuinely kill momentum, as was the case with the Nolan goal, those are the nights when a goalie genuinely costs his team the game. Kipper may have been played too much by Mike Keenan this year, and I think it could well prove a fatal mistake for the Flames. However, it's too late in the season to go back now.
Mentioning Keenan brings me to the third flaw in the Flames exposed tonight: the (insert expletive/adjective here) powerplay. I complain about the horrific powerplay literally almost every time the Flames lose with good reason, and many times even when they win as well. For this reason, it almost gets tiring to bring it up blog after blog, but it is one of the Flames' biggest flaws and always has been. The scapegoat is assistant Rich Preston since he runs the damn thing, but Keenan skeptics take note: in the post game press conference Keenan had to dispel a reporter's claim that the Flames do not practice the powerplay. (I would believe it; if they're practicing they're obviously not doing it right.)
The Flames not only are one loss away from losing control of their destiny in the divisional race, they managed to lose home ice advantage in the same night as they slipped to 5th. The Canucks visit the seemingly dead Oilers Saturday night followed by the clearly tanking Avalanche on Sunday. By the time the Flames wake up Monday to face LA at home, they should be four points behind the Canucks. I have prepared myself for the possibility of facing Chicago, and I know for a fact that the Flames would have to play about ten times better versus the Hawks in the playoffs than they did in the regular season to stand a chance. I am also fairly certain that this would not have much chance of happening if the Flames did not at least have home ice advantage.
Still, for entertainment purposes, here are the chances Calgary has of still winning the Northwest. Here it is: with the Canucks looking virtually unbeatable, and their Tuesday matchup against the Flames being the ONLY game they have left against a playoff team, it seems the ONLY way for the Flames to guarantee themselves the division is by winning out…including a REGULATION win in Vancouver on Tuesday. If the Flames don't win the division OR get home ice in the first round, then, to be frank, they're screwed.
(I did not mention that the Flames dressed only 10 forwards and 6 defenseman for the game tonight due to injuries the previous night to Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin. Due to the cap, Darryl Sutter was forced to send down Dustin Boyd and Warren Peters to make room for the two callups on defense – John Negrin and Matt Pelech. I only pretend to know some stuff about the CBA, but isn't there an emergency recall rule for this? In any case, I have to hope at least one of the defensemen, preferably Regehr, is back in time for Monday's game. Don't think I'm using this as an excuse for the effort tonight though..also, Keenan pulled Kipper for exactly 12 seconds after the second Minnesota goal before putting him back in. After the game, he tried to justify it by explaining that he “needed a timeout”. It was one of those moments where you just have to laugh or cry…)
(Congratulations for reading the whole thing….when the team is this despondent looking I have a higher tendency to break the 1000 word plateau).
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Written by Alex Hamilton