Progress isn't always pretty, but it's invariably encouraging.
Last night, Rene Bourque and Miikka Kiprusoff threw an unwilling and broken Flames squad on their backs and led the charge in a 4-1 victory over the Oilers, the Flames' first in three games and only their fourth in the month of December.
Despite the end result--two points and ever-important provincial bragging rights--the dark cloud surrounding this team has not entirely dissipated. The Flames were outshot 16-5 in the first period and were fortunate to escape the opening frame in a 1-1 deadlock. The final shot totals favoured the Oilers 35-24 in a game where they blocked eighteen Flames shots. The Flames also totaled fifteen missed shots at even strength--a disturbing trend that shows no signs of stopping. Besides getting outshot by a team with only a marginally better Shots For/Game average (28.3 for the Oilers compared to 27.0 for the Flames), the Flames also lost the faceoff battle to the Oilers, winning 42% of the draws compared the 58% for Edmonton. I know I said that the faceoff debate seemed like a moot point a little while back, but since this awful streak of bad hockey began, faceoff percentage just jumps out as another glaring weakness of this team. Again, they got beat by a team with only a marginally better faceoff winning percentage--46.6% for EDM vs. 46.2% for CGY. Essentially what I'm saying is that the Flames were lucky to come away with a win against the second-worst team in the league, despite the lop-sided score.
All that aside, this game showcased excellent bounce-back performances from three players who struggled mightily Saturday night against Vancouver--Bourque, who was -2 against the Canucks, Jokinen, who was benched for all but two shifts in the third period, and Kiprusoff who allowed four goals on thirteen shots in the first period. The newly configured line of Bourque-Jokinen-Dawes combined for six points against the Oilers and was a combined +5. While the new top trio of Glencross-Langkow-Iginla didn't exactly shine, Iginla was still involved in the game physically, dropping the mitts with the Oilers' Ladislav Smid in the third period. Also, kudos to Dustin Boyd, who registered his first career NHL fight when he tangled with Andrew Cogliano early in the first.
We needn't be reminded to take this victory in stride; a much tougher contest awaits this team tomorrow night at home against Ryan Smyth and the L.A. Kings (7:30PM, Sportsnet). Given how hard they made the game against the Oilers for themselves, it'll be a huge challenge that I'm not feeling all that optimistic about, especially given the fact that the Flames have lost three straight at the 'Dome. I'm leaving California today, so the Kings and I have separated for the time being, citing irreconcilable differences. Really, I was just trying to make the Flames jealous; it didn't mean anything, promise ;)
After missing three Flames games and catching only snippets of Canada's three World Juniors' games, I'm not a very happy hockey fan. Upon my return to the Great White North, I will do my best never to miss a game again. Ever.
I did manage to catch two periods of Canada's 8-2 win over Slovakia on the flight home (thank goodness for Westjet and their mini TVs); Canada was impressive once again, showcasing their pure offensive skill and breaking a previous shut-out record in the process. However, the game was not as much of a blowout as the score indicates; the shots ended up 35-27 in favour of Canada, and if Canada hadn't scored three goals on their first four shots of the game, it may have been a different story.
Slovakia has an above-average team that isn't afraid to play physical, and they made life miserable for Canada's defenders and penalty kill on a few occasions. Greg Nemisz was held pointless yet again, despite playing with Windsor teammates Ryan Ellis, Adam Henrique (albeit injured), and Taylor Hall, who had a hat-trick in this game, which can't be doing much for the nineteen-year-old's confidence. Hopefully he finds a way to put some points on the board sooner rather than later, being that this is such a short tournament.
Oh, and there's also the small matter of the Canadian Men's Olympic team being announced tomorrow morning at precisely ten o'clock, with TSN's preview show airing at nine-thirty. Stay tuned for the inevitable debate on which media type's projected roster was more correct and the glorified self back-patting that will surely ensue. Everyone and their dog likely has a pretty good idea of what the finished product will look like, and I'll be shocked if there are any major omissions or surprise add-ons akin to the Crosby-Bertuzzi debacle of Gretzky's doing in 2006.
L.A. tomorrow and Edmonton the day after that. Let's see if the Flames can close out 2009 in style.
Go Flames Go.