I've been somewhat of a bad fan again lately.
I didn't order the Flames vs. Blues game on Flames PPV tonight because I didn't want to waste my (well, my parents') money on another losing effort, and I just couldn't shake that sinking feeling that the Flames would come away empty-handed on Brett Hull night in the Show Me State. Well, it turned out I was right. Brent Sutter didn't seem to give off the same level of poorly-disguised rage tonight as he did after the loss to Colorado on Sunday, but he can't be happy with another incomplete effort from his club in a game they could have won.
I watched the debacle against Minnesota unfold in its entirety and expected a better effort against the Avs; I was disappointed and frustrated when that didn't materialize and anticipated a stronger showing in St. Louis. After this game, I simply have no explantation for the funk the Flames find themselves in. Chalk it up to an inability to play a full sixty? Not sticking to your game plan? Lack of confidence? Maybe, but after such a successful month in which it appeared Brent Sutter had finally got this team playing the way he envisioned when he took the job in the offseason, the fact that this team has gotten away from that style of play for so long is disconcerting. The fact that they don't seem to be in any hurry to get back to it is even more so.
Clearly this team is aware of what they're doing wrong--allowing too many shots, not getting enough, undisciplined play--and they know what they have to do in order to win and be successful. Going into the third period of a tied game in which you still have a very good chance to win, being held to only four shots on goal and getting outplayed the way the Flames did tonight against St. Louis is unacceptable. Forcing your backup goaltender to make thirty saves while offering little defensive support is negligible. Every team goes through tough stretches, they say it builds character, but three games worth of consistently bad hockey does little to enforce that saying. This losing streak is not the result of bad luck, but the inability to compete at the same level as the opposition, to rise to the challenge, to maintain consistent levels of effort, emotion, and involvement, and that is what is so endlessly frustrating about it. Is this all just "coach speak?" Very possibly, but I can't think of any other way to describe what I'm currently witnessing.
It goes without saying that the leaders on this team need to step it up in this situation--Jarome Iginla hasn't scored in seven games, Jokinen in three, Robyn Regehr was a -2 tonight, and Jay Bouwmeester is a combined -4 in his past three outings. Perhaps it is unfair to call Bouwmeester a leader in his first season with the Flames, but on such a young defence he arguably gains the title automatically. While the Flames have been getting contributions from the likes of Bourque (1G, 1A), Giordano (+2, 1A), Boyd, and Langkow, this team has proved that they are at their best when everyone is doing their part, and, needless to say, that hasn't been happening lately. Sean O'Donnell of the L.A. Kings said it best tonight after he scored the game winner against the Oilers; he explained that the Kings have been successful because even when they don't play their best hockey, they still find a way to win. The Flames seemed to have that aspect of their game down pat early in the season and in November, and they need to get back to it.
The Western Conference is shaping up to be even tighter than I anticipated, and every point only increases in significance as the season wears on. The Flames have fallen from second to sixth while going 2-4-1 in their past seven, meanwhile the Coyotes and the injury-riddled Wings have crept up to within two and three points respectively and Edmonton, Vancouver, and Minnesota are all inching ever closer to the Flames' second-place division perch. The Predators are tied with the Blackhawks. Are you sweating yet? You should be. Welcome aboard the Stress Train, folks, next stop: Pengrowth Saddledome. Enjoy the ride.
A date with the best-in-the-west Kings does not seem like the best remedy for the Flames' ills; sometimes good teams bring out the best in them, others, the worst. I honestly don't know what to expect from this team on Thursday. The Flames have the advantage of a rested Kiprusoff and a powerplay unit that appears to be on the up-swing, and after three straight road losses, they may be looking forward to a return to home ice, despite their most recent showing at the 'Dome.
L.A. on Thursday. Let's show this punk-ass losing streak who's boss.
Go Flames Go.