Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Been There, Done That: Marty Gelinas Recalls Flames Worst Offensive Skid Ever

As frustrating as this current stretch is for the Calgary Flames – shut out twice in a row and in three of its last six games, this is nothing compared to November 2002.

In a tumultuous seven-game stretch from Nov. 7-21 -- under the guidance of head coach Greg Gilbert (who would be fired less than two weeks after), the Flames were shut out four times and scored one goal in the other three games. A meager output of three goals in seven games stands as the worst stretch of offensive futility this club has ever experienced. Current Flames assistant coach Marty Gelinas, as he not-so-fondly recalls, was on that team having just signed in the summer as a free agent.

(Take a insightful and nostalgic look back at the Flames history of being shut out in consecutive games -- or not being shut out at all for several seasons. Craig Button, Marc Savard, Bill Ranford, Valeri Bure and Miikka Kiprusoff are just some of the names that make an appearance.) 

“When you don’t score goals, you always question your ability,” said Gelinas after Monday’s practice. “But as you get older, there’s one thing that you’ve got to keep doing and that’s getting pucks at the net and crashing the net. It’s simple, it’s basic and if you do that, eventually the odds are on your side that you’re going to get a goal or two. It might not be a pretty goal, but it will be a goal.”

Sixty-Two Minutes From a Team Record

During that offensive skid 11 years ago, the latter set of back-to-back shutouts were both on home ice – a 1-0 loss to St. Louis and a 5-0 setback to Detroit. In total, the Flames went 186 minutes and 39 seconds at the Saddledome without scoring a goal. That is the team record.  Calgary will enter the New Year’s Eve game with Philadelphia having not scored at home in 125 minutes and 5 seconds.

“When you go through a stretch like this. You have to take some ownership on your shoulders as a player and say, ‘I’m going to be the guy that will put the team back on the right track,’” Gelinas said.

The goal that mercifully ended the drought of 2002 came from Czech defenceman Petr Buzek, one of only four goals he scored in two seasons with the Flames. The goal, which came against Tommy Salo and the Edmonton Oilers, was set up by Gelinas and Mathias Johansson.

“Now that was an odd guy to score a goal, wasn't it?” said Gelinas, with a laugh. “But it shows that it doesn’t matter where it comes from. You’ve just got to have everybody in that room wanting to be that guy that will be the difference.”

Many Flames Squeezing the Stick

There are several Flames that are mired in extended scoring funks. TJ Galiardi has no goals in his last 24 games, Joe Colborne has none in his last 15, David Jones hasn’t scored in his last 13. After four goals in the season’s first 10 games, Lee Stempniak has just two goals in his last 22 since returning from injury. The reliable Mike Cammalleri has just two goals in his last 12 and Matt Stajan has no goals in his last 7. Even rookie Sean Monahan has cooled off with no goals in his last six and having mustered just four shots during that span.

“I always said when things are tough, I don’t care how I score. If I have to take the goalie with me, I’ll take the goalie with me,” Gelinas said. “You have to find a way and that’s the nature of this game, you’ve got to find a way and we will.”

Gelinas says for a perfect example of what Calgary needs to get back to doing more of, they just need to look at video of the Edmonton game.

“Sometimes goals come easy but usually it takes determination and takes some kind of desire to get in front of the net and be willing to pay a price. You look at Ryan Smyth’s goal that he scored against us. It hit him in the crest. You have to be in that position to be able to score a goal. You have to be able to screen the goalies,” Gelinas said. “Those little details will eventually get you back on the right track. The work ethic is here, we work, but we have to work smarter and once the puck is there, you’ve got to have that burning desire to want to be the guy that will get the ball rolling.”

Power Play Misses Kris Russell

Gelinas spends much of his time working on the Flames power play. It’s only had three chances to score in these past two games so it’s not exactly the main culprit with the dried up offence but even so, he admits when they do get chances, they need to be better.

“We’ve got to create more on the power play which is a little tougher when you have a lot of pieces that you’re missing -- Glennie is missing, Russell is missing, so we’re putting in some pieces that have never played there. But you have to make it work,” said Gelinas.

In particular, Gelinas acknowledged what a pivotal role Kris Russell played with the man-advantage. Russell is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee.

“To me, he was our best defenceman on it,” said Gelinas. “I felt confident whenever he took the puck out from behind the net that we were going to get one. I love him as a player.”

Gelinas offered up an interesting comparable for Russell -- and by comparable, this does not mean they’re exactly similar, but more so have similar qualities.

“To me, I look at him, and I don’t want to put him in that category because he’s not quite there, but he’s a little like a Duncan Keith,” Gelinas said. “Speed-wise, smarts-wise, and defensively, he’s probably one of our best because he’s always got a good stick in a good position and he’s just a small guy.

“That tells you if you have speed, you’ve got hands, and you’re willing to learn the game and play the game the right way. Ijust  think he’s awesome. You wouldn’t know that he’s just a little guy because he’s got a lot of heart and he gives it all the time.”

Flames coach Bob Hartley said his team spent 95 percent of its practice on Monday working on drills around scoring goals. We'll see if it that extra focus pays off.

Calgary could certainly use a goal to kick start an offence that wasn’t shut out at all in the season’s first 33 games. If they don’t score and they’re shut out in regulation again, they’ll close within two minutes of eclipsing that record from November 2002 and making the worst type of history.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Flames History of Offensive Futility at Home

Calgary isn't in unprecedented territory quite yet. Being shut out twice in a row on home ice is something that has happened four times previously before the 2013-14 edition of the Flames completed the feat Sunday night with a 2-0 setback to the Vancouver Canucks.

However, having gone 125 minutes and five seconds since Mark Giordano's dramatic game-tying goal against the St. Louis Blues at 19:55 of the third period in Calgary's 4-3 shootout win on Dec. 23, they're certainly closing in on making some dubious team history.

Longest Stretch Without a Goal at the Dome

The record for offensive futility on home ice is 186 minutes and 39 seconds, a streak mercifully ended by Czech defenceman Petr Buzek on Nov. 21, 2002. As some longtime fans may remember, Buzek beat Edmonton Oilers goaltender Tommy Salo after being set-up on the play by Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas. It was one of only four career goals for Buzek in his short tenure with the team.

If the Flames were to get shut out in regulation again by the Philadelphia Flyers on New Year's Eve, that would leave them less than two minutes shy of the record. Their chance at making history would then come against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

Most Recent Stretch of Two Home Games Without a Goal

Interestingly, this one has a Miikka Kiprusoff angle to it. On Nov. 4 and 7, 2003, Calgary suffered identical 3-0 losses to Detroit and Minnesota. It was nine days after the loss to the Wild that Coach and General Manager Darryl Sutter pulled the trigger on a trade with the San Jose Sharks that brought Kiprusoff to the Flames and ultimately rejuvenated and changed the course of the organization.

At the time of the deal, the Flames were in 14th place in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Columbus Blue Jackets. They ended up sixth to make the playoffs where they beat the Vancouver Canucks to get out of the first round for the first time since 1989, and then went three more rounds before ultimately losing in game seven of the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Also notable about that Nov. 7 loss to Minnesota - the last home game before the Kipper era began, was that it was a time when fan interest in the Flames had become dangerously low.

It seems like a long, long time ago given the Flames have been announcing sell-out crowds of 19,289 seemingly forever, but back on that Friday night against Minnesota when Dwayne Roloson shut out Jamie McLennan, the attendance at the Saddledome that night was just 13,839.

Last Time Shut Out Two Games in a Row - Home or Away

These last two games is the first time in five years that the team has gone two games in a row without scoring a goal. The last time the Flames were blanked in consecutive games was Mar. 25 and 29, 2009. Coached at the time by Mike Keenan, both of those games were on the road. A 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh was followed up by a 5-0 defeat in Columbus.

Worst Stretch of Offensive Futility Ever?

Talk about your 'dead puck' era. How about this for a horrible stretch for the Flames. I wouldn't blame long-time fans if they have erased this two weeks from their memory banks. These 15 days of ugliness featured a meager three goals in seven games. It happened during the 2002-03 season with Greg Gilbert as head coach -- although he would be fired 10 days later.

Nov. 7 - 1-0 loss (OT) at NYR
Nov. 9 - 3-0 loss at Fla
Nov. 11 - 2-1 loss at Atl
Nov. 14 - 2-1 loss vs NYR
Nov. 16 - 1-0 loss vs Stl
Nov. 19 - 5-0 loss vs Det
Nov. 21 - 3-1 loss vs Edm

Another historic footnote to this stretch is right in the middle -- on Nov. 15, sandwiched after the loss to the Rangers and prior to the loss to the Blues, Flames General Manager Craig Button traded disgruntled centre Marc Savard to Atlanta for Ruslan Zainullin. Who?  Exactly. Zainullin never surfaced in North America although he will be forever remembered because of this deal in which he was acquired for a player that would go on to score over 500 points for the Thrashers and then Boston Bruins before injuries forced him into early retirement.

Back When Home-Ice Shutouts Were Rare

There's been two shut outs in the span of three days for the Flames. Compare that with the high-scoring glory days for this team in the late 80s and early 90s when in one stretch, Calgary went four full seasons without being shut out on home ice.

After Bill Ranford and the Boston Bruins blanked the Flames on Oct. 26, 1986, Calgary scored at least one goal in 224 straight regular season games at the Saddledome before Dominic Roussel of the Philadelphia Flyers pitched a zero on Feb. 27, 1992.

Recap: Home Ice Futility Streaks

Here is a closer look at the five sets of consecutive shutouts that have happened at the Saddledome, how long the shutout streak was and other pertinent information. Never before have the Flames been blanked in three consecutive games (home or away).

-----------------------------------

Season: 2013-14
Dates: Dec. 27 & 29, 2013
Coach: Bob Hartley
Scores: 2-0 loss to Edmonton, 2-0 loss to Vancouver
Last goal before: Mark Giordano at 19:55 of third of 4-3 shootout win over St. Louis on Dec. 23, 2013
Goal that ended it: TBD
Span: Currently at 125 minutes and 5 seconds

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Season: 2003-04
Dates: Nov. 4 & 7, 2003
Coach: Darryl Sutter
Scores: 3-0 loss to Detroit, 3-0 loss to Minnesota
Last goal before: Shean Donovan at 17:41 of third of 3-0 win over Columbus on Nov. 1, 2003
Goal that ended it: Steve Reinprecht at 14:20 of the first in 3-2 OT win over Toronto on Nov. 18, 2003
Span: 136 minutes and 39 seconds

-----------------------------------

Season: 2002-03
Dates: Nov. 16 & 19, 2002
Coach: Greg Gilbert
Scores: 1-0 loss to St. Louis, 5-0 loss to Detroit
Last goal before: Jarome Iginla at 19:21 of first in 2-1 loss to New York Rangers on Nov. 14, 2002
Goal that ended it: Peter Buzek at 6:00 of the second of 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Nov. 21, 2002
Span: 186 minutes and 39 seconds
Notes: Gilbert was fired less than two weeks after these two games -- with Calgary on four game-losing streak and having lost 11 of 12 (see above note). He was replaced by Al MacNeil on an interim basis. Later that season, Darryl Sutter was hired.

-----------------------------------

Season: 2001-02
Dates: Jan. 24 & 26, 2002
Coach: Greg Gilbert
Scores: 2-0 loss to Colorado, 2-0 loss to Vancouver
Last goal before: Dave Lowry at 12:22 of first in 6-1 loss to Toronto on Jan. 22, 2002
Goal that ended it: Marc Savard at 18:21 of first in 4-3 win over Detroit on Jan. 30, 2002
Span: 185 minutes and 59 seconds

-----------------------------------

Season: 2000-01
Dates: Mar. 29 & 31, 2001
Coach: Greg Gilbert
Scores: 1-0 loss to Colorado, 2-0 loss to Dallas
Last goal before: Valeri Bure at 1:30 of the third in 3-0 win over Columbus on Mar. 27, 2001
Goal that ended it: Oleg Saprykin at 15:57 of first in 3-2 loss to Los Angeles on Apr. 7, 2001
Span: 154 and 27 seconds
Notes: Head coach Don Hay was fired in mid-March and was replaced by Greg Gilbert. Gilbert had been on the job for only eights games when these two blankings too place.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Berra and Ramo are Finding Their Groove

After the Calgary Flames practice last Sunday, I had one-on-one conversations with both Karri Ramo and Reto Berra. It's been three months since the first exhibition game and I wanted to know how the adjustment has been going for the two 'older' goaltenders who had come from Europe. We talked about improvements they've made, what they're still working on, the upcoming Winter Olympics and other things.

Below is a link to the story I wrote for The Canadian Press that went on the wire on Wednesday. It appeared in the sports section of the print edition of Thursday's Calgary Herald.

> Dec. 25, 2013 - Berra and Ramo Starting to Fill Flames Goaltending Void

Meanwhile, here are some other random excerpts that I didn't have space to include but I thought were interesting:

Other Ramo Thoughts on the Finnish Olympic Team

I asked Ramo straight-up who he'd pick if he was selecting the three Finnish goaltenders and legitimately he passed on himself although more than anything, it was almost as if he didn't want to be the guy that had to explain why he passed on one of the big four. "If I was to pick, Rinne’s injured so he’s probably going to be out although I don’t know his situation, but then (Tuukka) Rask, (Antti) Niemi and (Kari) Lehtonen for sure. It doesn’t matter who you put in the net out of those three. It’s who has the best day," Ramo said. "Even if I’m really hot and they wanted to pick me, it would be hard for them to talk to the media and tell them that this guy isn’t going to be there".

Instead, Ramo says his priority is the Calgary Flames. "I’m only focusing on these games. Winning here is more important for me than thinking about the Olympic stuff."

Berra on His Relationship with Ramo

Berra noted he's never had one of those 'bad roomate' scenarios with his goalie partner. "I always have it good with my other goalies," he said. "I've never had a bad guy next to me and Karri’s really nice too." He described their relationship as a "really healthy competition" in which they both want to play but realize that it's the coaches decision so when they're not playing, they support the other. "We both want to play but we help each other out.  I’m not angry when he’s playing or anything like that. The coach makes the decisions and all we can do is give our best and whoever plays plays and that’s it. I really enjoy it and we have a really good relationship with (Flames goaltender coach) Clint Malarchuk also."

Ramo on Adjustments NHL Goalies Need to Make in Sochi

Of the eight goalies invited to the Finnish Olympic Orientation camp in late July, the one advantage I thought Ramo and Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta might have over most of the others is that they most recently played on an international-sized ice surface having done so up until last season. One other invitee -- Petri Vehanen, is currently playing in the KHL.

However, Ramo says all the goalies have plenty of experience playing on the big rink so it will not be a big factor. "Even if it’s bigger ice, you can’t be so focused on that, you just have to adjust and get into the game," he said. "All rinks are different -- different ceilings, different marks on the boards, different colours, and that’s all stuff you have to adjust to over here."

Ramo did provide a couple tips for the Canadian and U.S. goalies. "It gives the players a little more time to make plays so for goalies, you have to be more patient. You can’t be as aggressive as you can be here because guys can just go around you because they have so much space."

Ramo also pointed out that the Finnish "camp" was more a dinner get-together for the same insurance concerns that kept Team Canada off the ice and resulted in Sidney Crosby and his teammates playing ball hockey.

Berra on Getting Into a New Season

Berra noted he feels he's come a long way since September and said it always takes him some time to settle into a new season. "Always, when you go into the season -- and after the whole summer. For me, at first I feel like shit. I don’t really feel comfortable. You have to practice hard and be focused every shot and then it always comes back over time."

Ramo on the Flames Improved Team Defence

It's something the fans, players, and the media repeatedly heard from Brent Sutter during his entire time in Calgary as head coach, good defence results in improved offence. "Since the start of the year, we’re more focused now on being ready to defend than focused on trying to score a goal,” Ramo said. “That’s also key for us to score a goal. When we’re playing good defence , we limit their chances and we’re going to get more chances. That’s been a big key in our goals against going down and us winning more games.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Looking Back on the Return to Calgary of 10 Longtime Flames Greats

Jarome Iginla's return to the Saddledome tonight for the first time since being traded by the Flames last March is being heralded as a really big deal -- and that's because it is. Having played 16 seasons and a franchise-high 1,219 games with Calgary, there has never been a more anticipated return of a former player than for the guy who was the face of the franchise for a decade and a half and is the club's all-time leader with 525 goals and 1,095 points.

Here is a look at how the return night went for 10 of the most notable, longest tenured former Flames players, who began their NHL career in Calgary, eventually left, and then made (or will soon be making) a return to the city and arena they once called home.

While it was a story line at the time, none of these return visits carried anywhere near the hype that Iginla's return has created. In fact, I had forgotten that defenceman Robyn Regehr -- second to Iginla in career games for the Flames, had yet to make a return visit to Calgary despite being traded three seasons ago.

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1. Jarome Iginla - 1,219 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Ben Hanowski, Kenny Agostino and a 2013 1st round draft pick (Morgan Klimchuk).
Date He Left - Mar. 28, 2013
Date He Will Return - Dec. 10, 2013 (8 months, 13 days later)

How He Fared - TBD
Game Summary - TBD

Iginla Stat Line - TBD

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2. Robyn Regehr - 826 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Buffalo Sabres with Ales Kotalik and a 2012 2nd round draft pick (Jake McCabe) in exchange for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. (Subsequently on Apr. 1, 2013, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for two 2014 2nd round draft picks.)
Date He Left - June 25, 2011
Date He Will Return - Feb. 27, 2014 (2 years, 8 months, 2 days later)

How He Fared - TBD
Game Summary - TBD

Regehr Stat Line - TBD

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3. Al MacInnis - 803 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the St. Louis Blues with a 1997 4th round draft pick (Didier Tremblay) in exchange for Phil Housley, a 1996 2nd round draft pick (Steve Begin) and a 1997 2nd round draft pick (John Tripp).
Date He Left - July 4, 1994
Date He Returned - Jan. 24, 1995 (6 months, 20 days later)

How He Fared - 6-4 Loss
Game Summary - Early in the abbreviated season after the first NHL lockout was finally settled, St. Louis (2-1-0) and Calgary (2-0-1) met in a battle of unbeaten teams. Joe Nieuwendyk had a goal and two assists to lead the Flames to the victory. Phil Housley chipped in with three assists. German Titov had a a goal and an assist and Steve Chiasson had a pair of helpers. Trevor Kidd got the start for the Flames. Esa Tikkanen paced the offence for St. Louis with a goal and two assists. Al MacInnis and Bill Houlder each had one goal and one assist.

MacInnis Stat Line - 1 g, 1 a, minus-3, 5 shots, 0 PIM

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4. Theoren Fleury - 791 games with Flames

How He LeftTraded to the Colorado Avalanche with Chris Dingman in exchange for Rene Corbet, Wade Belak, Robyn Regehr and a 2002 2nd round draft pick (Jarret Stoll).
Date He Left - Feb. 28, 1999
Date He Returned - Apr. 15, 1999 (1 month, 15 days later)

How He Fared - 5-1 Loss
Game Summary - Colorado (43-27-10) was having a superb year but were not very good on this night as they were knocked off by Calgary (30-39-12) in this late season clash. The Flames got two goals from Clarke Wilm, three assists from Cory Stillman and one goal-one assist nights from Valeri Bure and Hnat Domenichelli. In net, Ken Wregget made 24 saves for the victory. The losing goaltender was Patrick Roy, beaten five times on 24 shots. The lone goal for the Avalanche came from Eric Messier.

Fleury Stat Line - 0 g, 0 a, minus-1, 3 shots, 4 PIM

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5. Joel Otto - 730 games with Flames

How He Left - Signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent.
Date He Left - July 21, 1995
Date He Returned - Dec. 29, 1995 (5 months, 8 days later)

How He Fared - 3-2 Win
Game Summary - This was a mismatch on paper but Calgary put up a good fight, only to lose by one. Joel Otto and Rod Brind'Amour each had two assists to help Philadelphia (22-11-5) to the victory. Pat Falloon, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg scored for the Flyers, who were backed by Ron Hextall's 25 saves. Dean Evason and James Patrick replied for Calgary (10-21-7). The Flames got 21 saves from Trevor Kidd.

Otto Stat Line - 0 g, 2 a, plus-1, 0 shots, 0 PIM

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6. Gary Suter - 617 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Hartford Whalers with Paul Ranheim and Ted Drury in exchange for Michael Nylander, James Patrick and Zarley Zalapski. (Subsequently on Mar. 11, 1994, Hartfotd traded Suter, Randy Cunneyworth and a 1995 3rd round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Frantisek Kucera and Jocelyn Lemieux.)
Date He Left - Mar. 10, 1994
Date He Returned - Feb. 3, 1995 (9 months, 24 days later)

How He Fared - 4-3 Win
Game Summary - Gary Suter along with fellow American defenceman Chris Chelios each had a goal and an assist to lead the way for Chicago (5-3-0), which had Jeff Hackett in net. Tony Amonte and Eric Weinrich also scored. Calgary (3-3-1) got two goals from German Titov and one from Theoren Fleury. Trevor Kidd had 27 saves for the Flames.

Suter Stat Line - 1 g, 1 a, plus-1, 2 shots, 0 PIM

--------------------------------------------

7. Jamie Macoun - 586 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with Doug Gilmour, Ric Nattress, Rick Wamsley and Kent Manderville in exchange for Craig Berube, Alexander Godynyuk, Gary Leeman, Michel Petit and Jeff Reese.
Date He Left - Jan. 2, 1992
Date He Returned - Mar. 5, 1992 (2 months, 3 days later)

How He Fared - 5-5 Tie
Game Summary - In a battle of sub .500 teams, the Leafs demonstrated who won the controversial deal. Doug Gilmour -- also in that same trade, led the way for Toronto (24-36-7) with a goal and two assists. Wendel Clark and Ric Nattress -- part of the deal as well, each had two assist nights for the visitors. Calgary (25-31-10) got a goal and an assist from Joe Nieuwendyk and two-assist games from Al MacInnis and Gary Roberts. Mike Vernon made 28 saves for Calgary. Rick Wamsley and Grant Fuhr split the Leafs goaltending duties.

Macoun Stat Line - 0 g, 0 a, plus-3, 0 shots, 0 PIM

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8. Gary Roberts - 585 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Carolina Hurricanes with Trevor Kidd in exchange for Andrew Cassels and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Date He Left - Aug. 25, 1997
Date He Returned - Oct. 11, 1999 (2 years, 1 month, 16 days later)

How He Fared - 3-3 Tie
Game Summary - In an early season meeting, Sami Kapanen led Carolina (2-1-1) with a goal and two assists. Ron Francis had one goal and one assist and Bates Battaglia had two assists. David Tanabe had the other Hurricanes goal. Cory Stillman paced still winless Calgary (0-3-1) with a goal and an assist. Derek Morris and Clarke Wilm also scored. In net, Grant Fuhr for the Flames and Arturs Irbe each made 26 saves.

Roberts Stat Line - 0 g, 0 a, even, 2 shots, 0 PIM

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9. Joe Nieuwendyk - 577 games with Flames

How He Left - Traded to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Corey Millen and Jarome Iginla.
Date He Left - Dec. 19, 1995
Date He Returned - Jan. 26, 1996 (1 month, 7 days later)

How He Fared - 4-2 Win
Game Summary - In a battle of struggling teams, Dallas (14-23-10) got two goals and two assists from Mike Modano as the Stars scored three power play goals in the victory. Dave Gagner had a goal and two assists and Joe Nieuwendyk had a goal and an assist. Allan Bester made 27 saves for the win. Theoren Fleury had a goal an an assist to lead Calgary (17-23-9). Gary Roberts also scored for the Flames, who had Rick Tabaracci in net.

Nieuwendyk Stat Line - 1 g, 1 a, even, 3 shots, 0 PIM

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10. Mike Vernon - 467 games with Flames (at time of trade, 526 total including his second stint with Calgary)

How He Left - Traded to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Steve Chiasson. (Subsequently on Aug. 18, 1997,  Detroit traded Vernon to the San Jose Sharks with a 1999 5th round draft pick in exchange for a 1998 2nd round draft pick and a 1999 2nd round draft pick.)
Date He Left - June 29, 1994
Date He Returned (and started) - Dec. 1, 1997 (3 years, 2 months, 3 days later)

How He Fared - 3-2 Loss (overtime)
Game Summary - In a showdown between two dreadful teams, Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist to lead Calgary (6-15-7) over San Jose (9-18-2). German Titov and Jamie Allison also scored for the Flames as Rick Tabaracci outduelled Mike Vernon between the pipes. Murray Craven had both goals for San Jose, Owen Nolan assisting on both of them.

Vernon Stat Line - 3 GA, 25 SV, 28 SA, 61:22 TOI

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Monahan's Red Jersey This Christmas Should Say "Canada"

Calgary Flames rookie centre Sean Monahan will be playing a hockey game on New Year's Eve this year. The question is where.

Will he be right here in Calgary at the Scotiabank Saddledome, donning the new Flames third jersey for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers?

Or, will he be 7,200 kilometres and eight time zones away at the Isstadion in Malmo, Sweden, wearing a Canada jersey for the traditional Dec. 31 World Junior Championship showdown with the United States?

Team Canada will soon release the list of players invited to its final selection camp, which will not be held in Calgary at WinSport this year but instead will take place in Toronto beginning on Dec. 12. You can bet Monahan will be included on that list as a possibility, subject to him being released to play by the Calgary Flames.

That decision, which will need to be made prior to the start of camp -- so in less than three weeks, will fall on the shoulders of the Flames management team of Brian Burke and Jay Feaster. I expect they will take as much time as they can to decide so it's conceivable such an announcement won't come until after the Flames host Jarome Iginla and the Boston Bruins on Dec. 10.

For me, it's not a difficult decision at all. In fact, it's an absolute no-brainer. Here are a dozen reasons why Monahan should join Tampa Bay's Brett Connolly and Anaheim's Devante Smith-Pelley -- both in 2011, as the only players since the 2004-05 lockout to be loaned from an NHL roster to Team Canada for the WJC.

12 Reasons Why Monahan Should Play for Canada

1. Why Not?

Let me break it to you. The Flames are not making the playoffs this year. Blame the ridiculous difficulty of the Western Conference if it makes you feel better. It doesn't change the fact that Calgary woke up Friday morning 14 points back of eighth spot in the West and that gap could easily be 20 by the time the Monahan decision needs to be made. Based on the current NHL standings, the Flames need to go 44-10-6 over its final 60 games to crack the top eight. Yeah right. So, you're certainly not sacrificing your playoff hopes by letting Monahan go and play for his country.

2. Into the Pressure Cooker

What a growth and development opportunity it would be for Monahan to shoulder the pressure of being one of the leaders of Team Canada.

Because it falls during the Christmas holidays when kids are off school and adults are off work, it feels like the entire country follows this team's every move. The expectations Canadians put on this team of gold medal or failure is insane.

The spotlight will be hot, it will be intense, and for a kid that didn't play in the OHL playoffs last year and won't play in the NHL playoffs this year, they would be the most important games he has played and will play for some time. What a chance to drop him into that type of setting so he's got that much more experience when the Flames eventually do get back to the playoffs.

3. Live the Dream

In this country, kids grow up dreaming of two things: 1. Winning the Stanley Cup. 2. Playing for Team Canada. For many retired NHLers, the 1972 Summit Series was a source of inspiration. Younger guys would have got caught up in the excitement of the 1987 Canada Cup. Junior hockey-aged kids today will have fond memories of Canada winning Olympic gold in Salt Lake in 2004.

Monahan has worn a Team Canada jersey before but not on this type of stage. Most recently, he played for Canada in the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in 2011. He scored a goal in the final as Canada won gold. Prior to that, he suited up for Team Ontario in the U17 Hockey Challenge, another international hockey tournament.

It's an honour that should never get old -- right, Ryan Smyth? During this Flames rebuild, Monahan may get a few chances to play for Canada in the IIHF World Championships that take place in the spring but that will pale in comparison to the high octane experience of the WJC.

 4. Leadership Development

If he does go, he'll be one of Canada's most experienced players. Whether that translates to a letter on his jersey, it's hard to say for sure. What we do know for certain is he'll be one of the team's leaders whether it's figuratively or literally and that's not new for him.  He was captain of the Ottawa 67s and you can bet that one day he will also wear a letter for the Flames.

What a great opportunity for him to take a break from being a 19-year-old passenger on a Flames roster with a bunch of 30-somethings, to being one of the guys driving the bus. Being a captain or being a leader is the type of experience that cannot be taught in a practice and you can't learn it from watching video. You can only get good at it and better at it by being in these types of situations and accumulating experience. What a chance to start preparing Monahan for his future role as a leader and potential captain of the Flames.

5. Taste Victory, For a Change

Last year's Ottawa 67s won an OHL-low 16 games. By the time this NHL season concludes in mid-April, the Flames could very well have the fewest wins in the NHL. I know, I know, it's not Calgary's fault, blame the difficulty of the Western Conference. Now, Monahan will never admit this, but winning so infrequently has got to wear on a guy eventually. Heck, I go a few weeks without winning my Friday morning hockey game and I get down in the dumps.

What a refreshing and pleasant change it would surely be for Monahan to be part of a great team for a few weeks, one that is expected to win and will win a bunch of games from the pre-tournament exhibitions right through the round-robin and medal round games. Experiencing that winning feeling again and on a regular basis could really energize the kid for his return to the Flames in January. Calgary will be at the halfway point in the NHL season by then and might be in desperate need of an adrenaline boost.

6. Organization-Wide Ripple Effect

By sending Monahan to the WJC, that essentially opens up bonus one-month NHL trial for a Flames prospect currently in the minors. In a year where developing players across the organization should be of paramount importance, this is the equivalent of found money. You could also look at it as an opportunity for a guy already on the Flames roster to elevate his role and try and get his career back on track -- and I'm talking about Mikael Backlund.

  • I'd sublet Monahan's spot in the top nine to Backlund and tell him, "OK kid, here you go. You've got a dozen games to show us that you're still a key part of our future." Baertschi-Backlund-Hudler as a trio for an extended period? Why not. 
  • Meanwhile, recent call-up Blair Jones gets a chance to try to resurrect his career and as a pending unrestricted free agent -- build up some possible trade value,  by regularly centring Calgary's fourth line. 
  • Lastly, with Jones gone from Abbotsford, that opens up a role on the top line there alongside veteran Ben Street and red-hot Michael Ferland. That will benefit another Flames prospect or prospects, who will get increased minutes, power play time and responsibility.

That's a whole series of bonus development opportunities for the organization, simply by removing Monahan from the Flames roster for a month. Of course, Monahan will be getting his own unique development experience.

7. No Regrets

It's happened to all of us. You have an opportunity to do something or go some place that we turn down because we weren't old enough to fully appreciate or 'get' the significance of it at the time. For me, it was a trip to Europe that a couple buddies went on after we finished high school. I declined for a few reasons, none of them very good as I look back on it now. Sure enough, 25 years later, I still have never been to Europe.

Twenty years from now when Monahan is looking back on his pro hockey career, I guarantee he'll be glad he had the chance to travel to Sweden with the best players his age in this country and go head-to-head with the best from around the world. He might downplay it right now -- caught up in the excitement of being in the NHL and all, but that would be short-sighted. This is the first of many, many years for Monahan of five-star hotels, charter flights, full NHL buildings and adoring fans. Seize this Team Canada opportunity while you can.

8. Get Into the Team Canada Pipeline

Who knows if the NHL will shut down and allow players to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, or in the 2022 Winter Olympics, or in 2026. But if they do, Monahan has the potential to be a guy that will certainly be in the conversation come roster selection time. While playing for Team Canada previously in a high profile event like the WJC is not a pre-requisite, it certainly won't hurt your case. If you look at the five centres projected to be on Canada's Olympic Team in Sochi in February, all five played for Canada in the World Juniors:
  • Sidney Crosby Pit - Twice
  • Jonathan Toews Chi - Twice
  • John Tavares NYI - Twice
  • Ryan Getzlaf Ana - Twice
  • Patrice Bergeron Bos - Once
Monahan hasn't had that chance yet so why not now. It may just give him that little extra boost for when another opportunity to play for Canada may come up in four or eight years.

9. Because He Can

Sometimes the opportunity just isn't there. You're not age-eligible, you're injured, you're playing on an NHL team that is in playoff contention and can't afford to lose you, or whatever. But the chance to play for Team Canada is right there in front of Monahan, so close he could reach out and grab it.

The circumstances if you look at his age, having not played in the World Juniors before, being with a non-playoff NHL team, it is the perfect storm of factors for when it makes total sense for a player to be loaned from his NHL club to Team Canada.

10. Erase Memory of Being Cut Last Year

What if?

You know that was a question on Monahan's mind throughout last year's WJC in Ufa, Russia, especially when Canada was whipped 5-1 by the U.S. and lost 6-5 to Russia in the bronze medal game.

As you'll remember, Monahan was not a part of last year's Canadian squad. Instead, he was one of the early cuts by coach Steve Spott. Six months later at the NHL Entry Draft, Monahan was drafted sixth overall, the third Canadian-born player off the board behind Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin -- both of whom were there.

You know Monahan would like an opportunity to step on that international stage and say 'hey, I could have been the difference last year' by making a difference this year under coach Brent Sutter.

11. New Year's Eve Staredown with Jon Gillies.

What a great way to begin New Year's Eve for Flames fans. Sleep-in, eat breakfast, then at 9:30 a.m. you get the dynamite match-up of Flames top goalie prospect (and arguably their top overall prospect), Providence College's Jon Gillies -- who everyone expects to be the U.S. starting goalie, going head-to-head with Monahan in that New Year's Eve game. It would be spectacular.

Who knows, maybe this high stakes meeting -- or an even more important clash in the gold medal game, could turn out to be the first of many international clashes between the two potentially significant pieces of the Flames future. Think Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin, two arch-rivals when playing for their respective countries, yet great team-mates otherwise that form the backbone of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Admittedly, this next statement is a 'Hail Mary' on my behalf and my intention is not to burden either player with unfair expectations but you have to wonder, could Monahan and Gillies one day evolve into the two anchors of the Flames franchise and the next generation of Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff? With a bit more post-season success, of course.

12. Gives Canada a Better Chance To Win

When it's time for the World Juniors, I am a fan like everyone else, sitting on the couch and cheering Canada on. Canada's chances of winning gold will be a lot better with Monahan in the line-up than without him. So, selfishly but in the spirit of national pride, I say let the kid play!

Canada was shut out of the medals last year and only won bronze in 2012 when the tournament was held in Alberta. With back-to-back silvers before that, Canada hasn't won gold since 2009, which capped off a stretch of five straight years winning gold. It's time to start a new streak and having the services of a guy with over 30 NHL games on his resume by then and at least eight NHL goals, would be a huge advantage.

Dismissing the Counter Arguments

As always, there are a few counter arguments out there. Here are some I've heard and why I'd dismiss them.

  • Best place for him to get better is by being at NHL practices and playing in NHL games. From a raw skill development perspective, you're probably right. But I'd argue you're looking at the situation from a far too narrow perspective. If he stays healthy, he'll still play as many as 70 NHL games this year and that's still a lot.
  • It will decrease his chance to win the Calder. Yes, you're right, if you're looking at this strictly in the here and now. But it's a small sacrifice in the big picture if it increases his chance at winning the Stanley later on in his career. My sense from talking with him this year is he's about as team-focused as you can get so I can't see him getting too caught up in how it might harm his rookie-of-the-year chances. Plus, 68-70 games is still a large enough body of work to prove you should be the rightful winner of the Calder, anyway.
  • But he's one of the team's top scorers and most important players. So? Even if his absence for a dozen games costs the Flames two victories (shootouts, perhaps) -- and that's a stretch, what are the ramifications? Calgary misses the playoffs by 28 points instead of 24? View it this way. Four less points at year end could improve where the Flames draft in June by a few spots and that's not entirely a bad thing.  
  • What if he gets injured? Pardon? He's playing hockey! Whether he's playing in North America or in Europe, there's no difference. In fact, I'd say the odds of getting injured are probably higher playing in NHL games given the smaller rinks, more physical game, mismatch in age, and huge size of most defenceman. I'm sorry but I don't get this argument at all.
In Conclusion

There are so many intangible and spill-off benefits of Monahan playing for Team Canada that I find it impossible to believe that the Flames will be able to rationalize that it's best that he remain in Calgary for meaningless Flames games No. 31 through No. 42. As it is, this season is going to start dragging soon enough (and for some, has already begun) in the take-no-prisoners war zone that is the Western Conference.

Boxing Day at the very raw hour of 5:30 a.m. Calgary time, that's when the round-robin begins for Canada. Monahan's first game would come against Germany. I predict a goal and an assist for Monahan, a convincing victory, and most importantly, a big smile -- with way more to come through the ten days after that.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back to the Future: The State of the Flames Goaltending

Many refer to Sean Monahan as the face of the Calgary Flames rebuild but perhaps the guy that really should adorn the cover is prospect Jon Gillies.

After all, in order to get back to being perennially playoff relevant -- what a rebuild blueprint is designed to do, the assembled pieces must include a reliable, steady go-to option in goal that can be counted on nightly to keep the Flames in the game. That includes stealing a point here and there and more importantly, not being a liability.

As the season winds on, it's looking more and more like the current lot assembled in Calgary are merely temporary fixes until a permanent solution comes along.
  • That long-term answer won't be Laurent Brossoit, he was just traded to Edmonton in exchange for Ladislav Smid
  • It won't be Olivier Roy, who the Flames got from the Oilers along with Smid. If he had that kind of upside, Edmonton wouldn't have parted with him. 
  • It could still be Joni Ortio, currently toiling at Abbotsford, but that's wait and see.
  • More so, it's looking like Jon Gillies, who we know is highly thought of within the Flames management team, is where Calgary's future hopes lie.
Saturday, Nov. 16, provided an interesting and revealing dichotomy of the current state of the Calgary Flames goaltending as an organization.

All Hail the College Kid

First, earlier Saturday evening, you had Gillies with yet another stellar game in net for the Providence College Friars. The Flames third round pick in 2012 made 23 saves in a 3-0 victory over Vermont. It gives the sophomore three shutouts this year and a school-record eight in less than a season and a half. 

It's conceivable that the only way uber talented Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau from Boston College doesn't win the Hobey Baker Award this year for top U.S. college player is if Gillies wins it instead.

Through 10 games, Gillies is 8-1-1 with a microscopic 1.59 goals-against average and a scintillating .949 save percentage. Somehow the 19-year-old has found a way to make his freshman numbers, impressive in their own right -- 17-12-6 record, 2.08 GAA and .931 SV%, look merely ordinary.

After another sterling performance by Gillies, you can't blame Flames fans for wanting to close their eyes and dream of the 6-foot-5 American wearing the Flaming 'C'. Heck, maybe a bunch of them did as they laid down last night for a nap after shovelling the snow drifts off the driveway.

But while they drifted away to visions of Gillies leading the Flames back to respectability, they were jarred awake by the nightmare that is quickly becoming the state of Calgary's current goaltending.

Collective Failings at the NHL Level

It was understood coming into this season that among the Flames many holes in the line-up, goaltending was the biggest of the question marks.

Well, we're now 20 games into the season and that hasn't changed.
  • Joey MacDonald made seven starts and was disgracefully shipped away to the minors.
  • Karri Ramo has also made seven starts but other then being given the keys for opening night in Washington, has yet to convince Bob Hartley he's the guy. 
  • Reto Berra has made six starts, all of them in the last seven games. He started about as good as anyone could -- a stunning 42-save win in Chicago. But his play has been up and down since and he seems to be losing his grasp on the starter's job rather than securing it.
As much as the organization hoped one of them -- preferably one of the two European imports, would seize the reins of the No. 1 job, it hasn't happened yet with the first quarter of the season now in the books.

You get the feeling and this makes the most sense anyway as it allows further stocking of higher draft picks the next couple years, that Flames fans will have to patiently wait for Gillies as the team's best hope at being the Miikka Kiprusoff heir apparent.

To that point, I would expect Calgary to make a determined effort to sign Gillies this spring and pry him away from school. The sooner he turns pro and gets into the Flames system, where he can face a higher level of hockey and receive instruction from the likes of Calgary goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk and Abbotsford goalie coach Jordan Sigalet, the sooner he may be ready for the NHL.

Ugly Deja Vu

It was a mere 15 days ago at the Saddledome with the same 2-2 score, also in the third period, and in the very same corner of the rink, that a very similar play unfolded to David Perron's god-awful goal on Saturday night that proved to be the game-winner in Edmonton's 4-2 come-from-behind victory.

That night against Detroit, Tomas Tatar was the guy on the grassy knoll that harmlessly flung the puck towards the Calgary net and after changing directions slightly off the skate of Joakim Andersson, it fooled MacDonald and went in, giving the Red Wings the lead for good and sucking the life out of the home side.

Until that point, it seemed MacDonald could do no wrong in the eyes of Hartley. He was the favourite son, rarely blamed for anything, seemingly above impunity.

Things changed quickly after that. By the next morning, MacDonald was placed on waivers and by Sunday, Berra had arrived on the scene and stepping on a flight bound for Abbotsford was MacDonald. That was the last we saw of the veteran, who has been backing up Ortio in the AHL ever since.

Now, under eerily similar conditions last night, it's Hartley's latest favourite son -- the big Swiss netminder, who gives up a bad goal from the corner, over a foot below the goal line. After the game, Hartley described the goal in one word, "awful". And if you were in the rink, you could feel the deflating impact it had on the team.

There are 42 goalies with enough playing time to be eligible for the NHL's save percentage leaders. MacDonald ranks 39th, Ramo is 40th. Berra is one start shy of qualifying but if he did have enough minutes, he would be 41st, right behind Ramo.

In defence of all of them and especially Berra, the Flames are guilty of playing some pretty shoddy defence of late. This was especially the case in going winless this past home stand. Mark Giordano continues to be missed a ton.

In particular, there were some absolutely egregious mistakes, giveaways and blown coverages in the 7-3 loss to Dallas on Thursday that produced scoring chances that the best goaltenders in the league would not have stopped. Yet, there's no disguising what really are some pretty underwhelming and mediocre numbers thus far:
  • MacDonald - 3-3-1 record, 3.17 GAA, .885 SV%
  • Ramo - 2-4-1 record, 3.59 GAA, .882 SV%
  • Berra - 1-4-1 record, 3.65 GAA, .882 SV%

So, What do the Flames Do Now? 

Not much.

It's way too early to ship either of the new guys out to sea. Berra and Ramo have shown enough to suggest they are at least deserving of a longer trial and this is certainly the year for such experimenting. Given the extra leash Berra has had the last two weeks, it would make sense to extend the same courtesy to Ramo and give him the baton and see what he can do with a string of consecutive starts.

Adjusting (or re-adjusting in the case of Ramo) to the North American game -- the smaller rinks, the quicker/harder shots, the more densely populated slots, is not easy. We're not yet at the two-month mark so there is still very much the possibility either Ramo or Berra will find their groove and emerge as the defacto starter, making this discussion a moot point. However, it's safe to say fans are growing less confident with every mounting loss that either one is going to be the Flames goaltender of the future. Instead, they'd be satisfied if they're just adequate goalies of the present.

When the club is ready to try something new, behind door No. 4 is Ortio. He's been getting the bulk of the starts at Abbotsford and reportedly has been solid. He was impressive during Flames rookie camp and has already played with the men in the Finnish elite league. With the Heat, he's gone a perfect 7-0-0 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 SV%.

Meanwhile, as the two goalies described as the best goalies not playing in the NHL last year, show there was maybe a reason they weren't playing in the NHL, a former Flames goalie prospect is having himself an excellent season not playing in the NHL.

Leland Irving, the Flames first round draft pick in 2006, is currently getting his resume back together while playing for Jokerit in Finland and he's off to a fine start. Signed to a one-year contract, Irving has put together a 1.81 GAA and .928 save percentage for the club that will join the KHL next year.

Bottom Line

Don't let the 3-0-2 start fool you, this is a development year for the Flames, the first of a few years that will need to be looked at through that lens. That development includes the goalie position where on a night-by-night basis, it seems you won't know what you're going to get and that is something everyone is still getting used to.

Enjoy your retirement Miikka Kiprusoff, the stability you provided for all those years is certainly missed. Meanwhile, Jon Gillies, enjoy quiet college life while you can, the spotlight will be affixed on you very, very soon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Unveiling of Ladislav Smid

Sunday morning at the Saddledome, with Calgary in the midst of three days off, Ladislav Smid put on a Flames practice jersey for the first time and joined his new team for a gruelling practice.

Sounding genuinely excited to be in Calgary, here is a link to the story I wrote this afternoon for The Canadian Press:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/hockey/Ladislav+Smid+adjusts+life+Calgary+including+Hartleys/9149596/story.html

Meanwhile, here are some other random notes and quotes from Smid, which I couldn't fit into the wire story:

Offensive Offence

Smid hasn’t scored much in his career, just 11 goals in 474 games. But he did score three goals as a rookie, one of them coming in the final game of the season at the Saddledome and came against Miikka Kiprusoff. Although it's almost impossible to believe, he then scored just one goal over his next four seasons. Now that’s a defensive specialist.

Falling Ice Time

Smid’s ice time had been slightly down this year. So far in 2013-14, he was averaging 17:53, fifth behind Oilers defence regulars Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Andrew Ference and Anton Belov. He had been a mainstay in the Oilers top four during the previous years, averaging over 20 minutes per game.

Hitting Machine

This year and last, Smid has been credited with 203 hits. That compares to 384 for the entire Flames team.  This year, he has 52, which is third amongst NHL defencemen behind Radko Gudas (55) from Tampa Bay and Cody Franson of Toronto (54). Last season he was also third with 151. He trailed Philadelphia's Luke Schenn (187) and Toronto's Mark Fraser (153).

On the Transition

“I barely slept last night,” said Smid. “I was a little bit nervous about meeting the new guys and going to a different organization but everybody was so nice and so supportive so they’ve made it real easy for me.”

Smid admits he was caught off guard by the call from Edmonton General Manager Craig MacTavish.

“When I first heard, I was kind of upset,” Smid said. “After signing a four-year deal, I thought I would be there for quite a while but that’s how the hockey business works. I didn’t expect my name to be the one that is going to be traded but it is what it is. After one day being shocked, I talked to my wife and she’s excited to come here and start a new chapter and same with me.”

On Mark Giordano

“With Gio going down, obviously that’s a big loss. He brings that grit, he plays hard every night, losing him, it’s a big hole to fill,” said Smid. “Me coming here, I just need to focus on my role and that’s being physical, obviously blocking shots and being good on the penalty kill. I’m going to try and do my job on an every night basis.”

Smid and Giordano had battled each other hard over the years. In 2009, they dropped the gloves and duked out, a fight Smid described today as a "draw". Well, here it is so judge for yourself.

"We always had good battles. We always chirp each other. But I respect him a lot," said Smid. "He brings a work ethic and the grit and everything that a great leader is supposed to have on an every night basis and you can’t ask to have a better captain than that. I was happy for him to get the ‘C and I’m looking forward to working with him."

About Playing His Old Team on Saturday

“Obviously. It’s going to be weird to face my old team this early but I’m really excited for it,” said Smid. “I believe we’re going to beat them. It would be a really nice feeling to leave the ice with the two points.”

Apparently he’s missed, or so he’s been told.

“Some guys are still upset about it up there. They’re going to miss me, I hope,” said Smid with a chuckle.

When he got the news he was traded, he was in Philadelphia and out for dinner with fellow countrymen Ales Hemsky and Jakub Voracek from the Flyers.

“Voracek, actually,” said Smid, when asked who picked up the tab. “He felt bad, he’s like 'tough day for you.'”

Then the Hemsky trade rumours started swirling to the point they thought all three of them may end up being traded that same night.

“It was funny because Hemsky was there too and the Twitter was going crazy with him being traded to Philadelphia so we're like, maybe Voracek will be part of the trade too, then it would be three guys traded the same night. It was a fun night.”

Smid admits he will miss his old buddies.

“Obviously, I’m going to miss my former teammates in Edmonton, I had a great time there but it’s kind of over and I’m looking forward to this challenge.”

On the 2014 Winter Olympics

“I haven’t spoken to them for quite a while. The last time I spoke to the assistant coach (Frank Musil) was before the year started,” said Smid. “I don’t know. Hopefully I can fight for a place to make it there. It’s obviously a huge honour to represent your country at the Olympics so I’ll do whatever it takes to get there but at the same time, my main focus is on Calgary and succeeding here.”

Smid was not a part of the Czech team in 2010.

“I wasn’t there, I was just watching,” said Smid. “This year, we had camp there in the summer and I was there for that and we had some meetings and went over our system and stuff like that.”

There are a whopping 67 names on the Czech National Team invite list for their orientation camp.

“I know,” said Smid, laughing about how long the list is. “There’s European guys, NHL guys, it’s crazy but that’s how it is.”

And no, the Czechs did not adopt the Canadian model of playing ball hockey. “I would probably hurt myself. I’m not very good with runners and a hockey stick.”

History of Flames Czech Defenceman

Smid becomes the fourth Czech defenceman to play for the Flames. The others were:
  1. Frank Musil - 335 games from 1990-91 to 1994-95
  2. Roman Hamrlik - 128 games from 2005-06 to 2006-07
  3. Peter Buzek - 76 games from 2001-02 to 2002-03
In addition to being the Czech National Team’s assistant coach, Musil has also been a long-time scout for the Oilers so Smid knows him.

“Frankie, he’s actually the guy that called me from the Olympic team. I hope I’m going to talk to him soon. He was a hard-working guy too.”

On Choosing No. 3

“They gave me a pretty narrow list of numbers,” said Smid, who wore No. 5 with the Oilers. “I forgot that Dion Phaneuf wore this number, so that’s kind of weird. I like to keep it single digits and simple so No. 3 it is.”

Interestingly, Musil also wore No. 3 for the Flames.

Since Phaneuf wore it, it's also been seen on the back of Ian White and most recently, Brett Carson. Others that have worn that number include Steve Konroyd, James Patrick and Denis Gauthier.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Right Here, Right Now: It Was the Right Time To Shuffle Berra and MacDonald

For most Calgary Flames fans, it was a move that was long overdue. For the organization, it was a move that probably came sooner than they ideally would have hoped.

Either way, Calgary did the inevitable Saturday morning by waving good-bye to a 30-something and hello to a 20-something by placing veteran Joey MacDonald on waivers and recalling Reto Berra from the American Hockey League's Abbotsford Heat.

The move comes the morning after MacDonald's disappointing 18-save performance in a discouraging 4-3 setback to Detroit at the Scotiabank Saddledome. It was a game in which Calgary fell behind 2-0 early despite holding a 12-5 edge in shots after the first period, then resiliently rolled up its sleeves and scored twice in the second to get back on level terms with the veteran-laden Red Wings, only to see the guests retake the lead for good on a weak goal early in the third.

The go-ahead goal at 1:25 came on a harmless-looking shot... or more so a centring pass from deep in the corner by Joakim Andersson. Despite being released from well below the goal line, the puck somehow found its way off and through MacDonald and into the net, absolutely silencing the sell-out crowd of 19,289 and sucking the life right out of the home side.

"They got a lucky one there at the start and that kind of changed the momentum in the game for a little bit. We had it going pretty good there in the second," said Matt Stajan.

Coach Bob Hartley, after the game, admitted it was a a tough blow.

"Obviously, it's like you take a good punch on the nose, but, at the same time, you have to regroup. In a game, anything can happen and you have to be ready for it.”

As difficult as the goal was to concede, MacDonald's remarks afterwards were perhaps even tougher for the team to swallow.

"Guys make lots of mistakes on the ice but once we make one, everybody knows," said MacDonald, who seemed more determined to deflect the blame rather than accept it. "I didn't think we had much in the third. I know they got that lucky one but we've got to turn it around and get some chances. I thought in the third, we just kind of stepped back, we played the majority of our time in our end and you can't do that."

While the tie-breaking goal was the primary talking point, the fourth Detroit goal making it 4-2 with less than four minutes remaining, was also a shot that needs to be stopped at the NHL level. While this one was at least above the goal line, the wrister from Justin Abdelkader was still from a sharp angle and a long ways out. MacDonald dropped to his knees early and got beat over his shoulder.

Why The Time Was Right For This Move

As I see it, there are three reasons that President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and General Manager Jay Feaster were left with no recourse other than to pull the trigger on this move right now. 

1. Free Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit

While the Flames are hopeful Karri Ramo, or Berra, or a combination of the two will give Calgary a chance to contend in the here and now, the reality of the situation in the ultra-competitive Western Conference is that this hockey club, as adorable and charming as it is, is still a couple years and a few pieces away from being a legitimate playoff contender.

When that time does arrive, it's very likely that the Flames starting goaltender will be neither Ramo or Berra but instead be one of the Flames three younger prospects in the system. 
  • It could be Jon Gillies, considered by many as the organization's top goaltending prospect. The 19-year-old is currently in his second year at Providence College and is off to a superb start as he looks to build on a sensational freshman campaign in which he chalked up a 2.08 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. He's a candidate to leave school, sign with the Flames and turn pro next summer.
  • It could be one of the other younger goaltending prospects already playing pro this year. Joni Ortio has already played in the Finnish Elite League and is just 22 years old. He made a strong impression during Flames development camp as well as the rookie tournament in Penticton. With Berra in the NHL, Ortio will now be handed the reins in Abbotsford and as the starter for the Heat, will get the playing time he needs to continue his development.
  • Laurent Brossoit, 20, is a guy not to forget about as he is also a highly thought-of prospect for the future. But, with less pro experience than Ortio, having him as the No. 1 starter with the Flames ECHL affiliate in Alaska gives him also a chance to play every game and hone his craft. The ECHL is not quite the AHL, but is a nice step-up from the WHL where Brossoit last played.
Depending on what happens with MacDonald and if he ends up unclaimed and getting on a flight to Abbotsford, expect the Flames to look into signing another goaltender simply to be the back-up to Ortio. Make no mistake, the best thing for the Flames is for both Ortio and Brossoit to not be splitting time but rather starting virtually every game as No. 1 goaltenders in the AHL and ECHL respectively.

2. It's Time to Find Out 'What is Reto Berra?'

Let's not forget that Berra is on a one-year deal. He's still a restricted free agent at the expiration of this contract but this is obviously a pivotal year for the Flames to find out exactly what they have right now, but maybe more importantly, what they may have in the future with Berra so they can make the right decision contract-wise when negotiating with him next summer.

Who knows, maybe they conclude Berra will never be an NHL netminder and don't resign him -- although I doubt that's how it unfolds (From the archives, 12 Things I Like About Reto Berra). However, giving him a long audition is certainly prudent as there are a lot of hockey people that feel he has the tools to be very good, which is why he was a key part of the package the Flames received when Calgary traded Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues last year.

Despite everyone's inclination to put Ramo ahead of Berra on the organization's depth chart coming into the 2013-14 season, Feaster never said that was the pecking order. The variance in salary between Ramo ($2.75M) and Berra ($850K) was not a reflection of a '1a' and '1b' but more a by-product of their two different situations. Ramo has already had his NHL entry-level contract and also, needed to be lured away from the KHL. Berra did not have the same leverage and is just now on his ELC as he plays his first year in North America.

At the end of September with only a limited amount of playing time in the short pre-season to evaluate them, starting Berra in the AHL was the easy choice so he could continue to get acclimatized to the 200 x 185 rink, something he's had very little experience with compared to Ramo, who had been in North America from 2006 to 2009 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

One thing for certain, you can't accuse the Flames of babying Berra. This upcoming Flames four-game road trip is not going to be any easier than the last road trip. Their opponents are all off to good starts and have a intimidating 20-4-5 record on home ice. So, it's right into the bonfire for Berra, regardless of whether he gets the start Sunday in Chicago, or Tuesday in Minnesota, or Thursday in St. Louis.

Although, of all the possibilities, if Berra does end up making his NHL debut at the United Center against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, the Flames may hear from the United Nations as isn't that type of inhumane act covered off in the Geneva Conventions?

3. MacDonald's Purpose Had Run It's Course

I always viewed MacDonald's role on this team and the impetus for controversially re-signing him in the summer to a one-year deal, as not unlike that of Derek Smith, Tim Jackman and even Chris Butler, to name just a few. They are veteran NHL players on expiring contracts that are place holders only -- like seat fillers at the Academy Awards so the rows are all filled when the broadcast goes to a commercial. There are a lot of players on this club's roster that are here primarily to allow Calgary the luxury of not unnecessarily rushing the development of its top prospects and keep these keys to the future slotted correctly and playing and learning at the appropriate level -- i.e. the AHL, NCAA, or junior.

For example, the club is very high on Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff but as excited as they are about the future they'll have in the NHL and as ready as these two appear to be on the surface to the excitable, salivating fan in Flames nation, playing them in the NHL this year makes no sense and could hinder rather than help their development. The best next step for these two junior hockey graduates was the AHL and a half-year, full year, or maybe even a year-and-a-half or two years of playing against that level of competition where mistakes aren't as critical and the spotlight isn't as intense.  

It was the same situation with MacDonald. Calgary signed him to a contract for $925,000 which let's be honest, is not a big money deal for a NHL goaltender. The Flames did not offer him that size of contract nor did MacDonald accept it had their been an expectation from either side that he was going to be the Flames No. 1 goaltender this season.

What having MacDonald around this year -- at least to start -- allowed the Flames to do was have Berra go down to the AHL and get his skates wet with the North American game gradually and in a less pressure-filled situation against teams like Lake Erie, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee.

Everyone knows how hot the spotlight is on the goal crease in Calgary so why rush anyone if you don't have to. In fact, I'd suggest in a perfect world, MacDonald is having a year more like he had last season, the Flames win last night's game 3-2, and this move didn't happen today and Berra spends another month or two in the AHL. Or, Calgary eventually flip-flops Ramo and Berra and keeps MacDonald around as the capable NHL back-up.

But, that's not how it shook down. Last night's third period mistakes by MacDonald and the noticeable drain it had on the psyche of this hockey club mentally, was evidently the tipping point in this decision happening right now.

Final Thoughts

Calgary has a good thing going right now. The identity this hockey club has forged with its lunch bucket work ethic has been entertaining to watch and the excitement level around the Flames this year has been the highest its been in a long time. But, in order for that style of play to be sustained, the 18 skaters in uniform every night need to believe that the guy in pads behind them is going to come up with some clutch saves in key situations so they can get rewarded for their tireless efforts.

There will be games when Berra's performance will be disappointing, you can count on that. It is the nature of the position. However, he's at a different stage in his career compared to MacDonald and the expectations should be different both from the fans, as well as the five guys on the ice in front of him. More than anything, as long as when he makes a mistake, he owns up to it and points the finger at himself rather than the other direction, then even the mistakes will be tolerated because with this team, where it's at, mistakes are going to happen, it's just a matter of learning from it and continuing to get better and doing so together as a team.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Night Full of Pluses for Kris Russell

Literally and figuratively, there were plenty of pluses when it came to Kris Russell's game on Saturday night.

In one of the best games of Russell's seven NHL seasons, the Flames defenceman scored the game's first goal and was on the ice for all five of Calgary's goals, which were all even-strength. His career-best plus-5 helped Calgary to a badly needed 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.

(My game story on Saturday's 5-2 victory, as filed for The Canadian Press. It's focused around Mike Cammalleri, who paced the Flames offence with two goals and an assist.)

How good of an evening was it for the native of Caroline, Alberta? Only twice before in 374 NHL games had Russell finished a game greater than plus-2. On both of those nights, which were three seasons apart,  he was a plus-3:
  • Mar. 23, 2013 - With St. Louis, at Edmonton, 3-0 W (defence partner was Roman Polak)
  • Nov. 30, 2009 - With Columbus, vs St. Louis, 5-2 W (defence partner was Mike Commodore)

Furious Start for the Flames

The evening began about as good as an opening shift in an NHL game can go. Russell and his defence partner all season, Dennis Wideman -- also a career-best plus-five on the night (three times Wideman has been a plus-4, the latest was Mar. 7, 2009), combined with the starting forward line of Mike Cammalleri alongside Calgarians Joe Colborne and TJ Galiardi, to hem the puck in the Capitals' end for nearly the entire 64 seconds it took to eventually generate the first goal. Calgary took a 1-0 lead when Russell's wrist shot through a screen beat Braden Holtby.

"It was huge. It's always important to get a good first few shifts," said Russell, who was recognized post-game with the Flames fire hat, which is given out by the players after each win. "If you can score early, you can build momentum and especially in your home rink."

After limping home from a long, gruelling road trip with a 1-4-0 record, it was important for the Flames to jump out to an early lead and regain the good feeling the club had when it started the season 3-0-2.

"Especially the way the last few games went on the road, we knew we had to have a big game, especially against a team like this with how much offensive power they have," said Russell. "We had to have a sharp start and I thought we did a great job.”

Russell also added an assist to give him five points in the season's first 11 games. Last season with the St. Louis Blues, he managed only seven points in 33 games. At his current pace, he'll eclipse his previous high of 23 points in 2010-11 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that drafted Russell from the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry draft.

“Russell played very, very well. I thought that he jumped in the play and made some great decisions with the puck defensively," said Flames coach Bob Hartley. "For a small-sized defenseman it is pretty unbelievable how he’s always in the play. He always finds a way to get it done. A very intelligent player.”

Don't Judge Him By His Size

Russell is listed as 5-foot-10 and 173 pounds. He's the only Flames defenceman under six-foot and he and TJ Brodie (182 pounds) are the lone Calgary blue-liners south of 195 pounds. But as he showed, weight and height are no measure of a player's will.

Russell also played a strong game defensively versus Washington. In one sequence in the third period with the Capitals pressing to get back in the game, he denied a scoring opportunity for the ever-dangerous Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin.  Bursting down the right wing with a ton of speed, Ovechkin tried to get past Russell but Russell stood his ground -- sort of, and denied him. Russell went tumbling backwards as can happen when you're giving up five inches and over 55 pounds but it was a significant defensive 'stand' and preserved momentum for the Flames.

“You don't want him to get past you, first of all," said Russell, who was acquired by Calgary in the summer in exchange for a fifth round draft pick in 2014. "You know he's a shooter and he likes to shoot through you so I just tried to do the best job I could of staying in his lane and trying to get as much body and stick in front of him as I could."

Ovechkin would finish the night without a point for the first time in eight career games against the Flames. He had eight goals and seven assists in his first seven games versus Calgary. He also entered the night as the NHL's leading goal scorer with 10 and third in points with 15.

"Guys like him, with his special talent, you have to have a five-man unit out there defensively and I think our forwards did a great job of coming back hard and even when they did get opportunities, that back-check was there and we took their second chances away," Russell said. "Obviously (Karri) Ramo made some big saves, especially that one power play on Ovechkin coming across so whenever you get those saves, it's huge as well."

Restoring that Winning Feeling

Kicking off a pivotal three-game home-stand, which will be followed by another very difficult road trip, Russell said it was important that the Flames get back to their good habits from the start of the year.

"We needed to get back to the basics. That's why were successful earlier. We're not a team that can rely on one line to score every night," Russell said. "We did a better job tonight of throughout our line-up, coming in waves. Every shift, we kind of had momentum and if we lost it, the next shift had the task of getting it back and I think we did a really good job of that."

With Calgary missing the services of captain Mark Giordano for the third game in a row, the rest of the club's veteran defencemen continue to see more ice time. Russell's 27:12 was his highest haul of the season and second most minutes played in a single game in his career. With Columbus, he played 28:18 in a victory over the Edmonton Oilers back on Mar. 15, 2010. 

The Flames now have three days off to prepare for their next test, which is Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Desperately Seeking Context for Monahan's Shooting Percentage

Sean Monahan has been a member of the Calgary Flames organization for less than four months. It's absolutely staggering this young man's rise in fame and popularity over such a short period.

While it's easy to get caught up in the hype, it's so obvious it shouldn't need saying that there will be a regression at some point. Five games, 10 games, maybe 15 games without a goal -- some sort of cold stretch is coming and there may be a few of them.

Monahan's goal-scoring prowess -- a remarkable six goals in his first eight NHL games -- has come as a result of a 31.6 shooting percentage that is absolutely and unequivocally unsustainable over a full season. Sorry if this is coming as a surprise.

This is not to say he won't be a prolific goal scorer this year, assuming that Flames management decides to... well, you know. Heck, with the start he's manufactured, he could very well reach 30 goals just like then-rookies and now-KHLers Marek Svatos (32) and Peter Prucha (30) did in 2005-06 (and in 61 and 68 games respectively, no less).

What 'people' -- fans, media and the like, need to be honest about is Monahan is not going to score 61 goals, which is the ridiculous pace he's currently on.

Shooting Percentage in a Season

So, what is a realistic shooting percentage over the span of a full NHL season? To sum it up in two words -- significantly lower. In the previous 15 seasons, only 42 players in the entire NHL -- an average of less than three per season, have finished the year at 20 percent or above.

Typically, a NHL team's shooting percentage will fall somewhere between 7 and 11 percent and naturally, the league average from year-to-year is somewhere in the middle. However, if you parse it out, the shooting percentage for forwards will always be much higher than for defencemen.

As an example, from 2008 to 2013, the Calgary Flames team shooting percentage of 9.2 percent has been comprised of 10.7 percent for forwards and 5.0 percent for defencemen.

Here are the top 10 shooting percentage seasons, by individual, since 1997-98:

1. Mike Ribeiro, Dal – 25.2 in 2007-08 (76 gm, 27 g, 107 s)
2. Sergei Kostitsyn, Nsh – 24.7 in 2010-11 (77 gm, 23 g, 93 s)
3. Curtis Glencross, Cgy – 23.6 in 2011-12 (67 gm, 26 g, 110 s)
4. Alex Tanguay, Col – 23.2 in 2005-06 (71 gm, 29 g, 125 s)
5. Petr Prucha, NYR – 23.1 in 2005-06 (68 gm, 30 g, 130 s)
6. Patrik Berglund, Stl – 23.0 in 2012-13 (48 gm, 17 g, 74 s)
7. Mike Eastwood, Stl – 22.9 in 1999-00 (79 gm, 19 g, 83 s)
8. Mark Parrish, NYI – 22.9 in 2003-04 (59 gm, 24 g, 105 s)
9. Anson Carter, Van – 22.6 in 2005-06 (81 gm, 33 g, 146 s)
10. Gary Roberts, Tor – 22.6 in 2003-04 (72 gm, 28 g, 124 s)

It's an interesting collection of names, isn't it. There aren't as many household names as one might expect. There's one current Flame, two ex-Flames and Eastwood, Parrish and Carter, that sounds more like a Manhattan law firm.


Shooting Percentages in 2013-14

As for this season, Monahan is hardly alone in being overly opportunistic in the first few weeks. In fact, there are seven players that have had an even shinier golden touch around the opposition net.

Here are the top 10 shooting percentages after Monday night's games.

1. Valtteri Filppula, TB - 44.4 (8 gm, 4 g, 9 s)
2. David Backes, Stl - 42.9 (7 gm, 6 g, 14 s)
3. Chris Kelly, Bos - 37.5 (7 gm, 3 g, 8 s)
4. Alexander Steen, Stl - 35.0 (7 gm, 7 g, 20 s)
5. Boyd Gordon, Edm - 33.3 (9 gm, 4 g, 12 s)
5. Jonas Brodin, Min - 33.3 (9 gm, 3 g, 9 s)
5. Craig Adams, Pit - 33.3 (9 gm, 3 g, 9 s)
8. Sean Monahan, Cal - 31.6 (8 gm, 6 g, 19 s)
9. Marcel Goc, Fla - 30.0 (9 gm, 3 g, 10 s)
10. Vladimir Tarasenko, Stl - 28.6 (7 gm, 4 g, 14 s)


Percentage of a Team's Goals

I don't know about you but it sure feels like Monahan has scored at least half of the Flames goals so far -- and of course, red-hot Jiri Hudler has scored the other half.

However, upon further analysis, while Monahan has accounted for nearly a quarter of the Flames offence at 23.1 percent of Calgary's goals, that barely lands him in the top 10.

Here is the top 10 after Monday's games, which shows which players are shouldering the biggest portion of their team's offensive load so far:

1. Brad Richards, NYR - 36.4 (4 of 11)
2. Alex Ovechkin, Wsh - 30.0 (6 of 20)
3. Ryan Callahan, NYR -27.3 (3 of 11)
4. Alexander Steen, Stl - 26.9 (7 of 26)
5. Henrik Zetterberg, Det - 25.0 (6 of 24)
5. Tomas Vanek, Buf - 25.0 (3 of 12)
7. Jason Spezza, Ott - 23.8 (5 of 21)
7. Evander Kane, Wpg - 23.8 (5 of 21)
9. Sidney Crosby, Pit - 23.3 (7 of 30)
10. Sean Monahan, Cgy - 23.1 (6 of 26)
10. David Backes, Stl - 23.1 (6 of 26)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blocked Shots Becoming a Part of the Flames Identity

Eleven days into the 2013-14 NHL regular season, there are a few patterns developing for the Calgary Flames -- and all of them are good.

For one, it seems rookie sensation Sean Monahan is going to score every game so that's a positive for this supposedly rebuilding hockey club.

(My story for The Canadian Press on Friday night, focused on Monahan's dream start and the Flames unprecedented start.)

Secondly, the Flames are blocking a lot of shots and by a lot of shots, I mean a lot of shots. Calgary players have successfully dropped in front of 92 shots through five games. Going into Saturday's games, that ranks the Flames No. 1 in the NHL in that badge-of-honour category which embodies courage, determination, heart, commitment -- and requires a whole bunch of post-game ice bags.

The Philadelphia Flyers are second (86) and the Toronto Maple Leafs are third (79).

The third pattern, very much a by-product of the first two, is this team has yet to lose in regulation through its first five games. Such a feat has only happened once before and that was 25 years ago in 1988-89, which just happens to be the only season the Flames have won the Stanley Cup.

"When you watch your team-mates lying in front of pucks, slapshots, one-timers, and then they generate a scoring chance for themselves because of it. It's a great feeling," said Flames captain Mark Giordano, "It's a great feeling to know that the guys are really buying in and doing whatever it takes to win."

Giordano was alluding in particular to a furious display of shot blocking by the Flames during a frantic sequence midway through the third period in which with the scored tied 2-2, New Jersey had the Flames hemmed in for a minute-and-a-half and poured on the pressure but couldn't get any shots through on goaltender Joey MacDonald.

Warrior Mentality

In the middle of all the frantic action was Lance Bouma and TJ Galiardi, who were diving and sprawling everywhere -- Bouma getting his 6-foot-1 frame in front of a pair of dangerous chances. To deservedly cap off one of the grittier shifts you'll ever see, the two then ended up on a two-on-one rush the other direction that Bouma was not able to finish off after being set up neatly by Galiardi. 

But, no matter.

As Bouma and Galiardi dragged themselves to the Flames bench to mercifully grab a sip of water after gruelling shifts that were 2:24 and 2:04 in length respectively, much of the sell-out crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome rose to its feet to applaud their gutsy efforts. 

"You just read the play and think when is he going to shoot it. Read what he's doing and just try and get in front of it however you can," said Bouma.

Asked how many ice bags he'd need to apply, Bouma admitted with a smile that he's need at least a couple on this night. "I'll need a few, for sure, I'm not sure how many, I'll have to count them up."
Post-game, it was Giordano's turn to acknowledge Bouma's efforts.

"Boumer... that's about as good of a shift as you'll have in the defensive zone," said Giordano. "You don't really see that very often where they give you a standing ovation after a defensive shift. We're giving them an exciting brand of hockey and they're loving it."

Down the hall in the Devils dressing room, a dejected Jaromir Jagr pointed to that sequence as a key moment

"We had it for a minute and a half but they were able to block everything," said Jagr, who along with linemates Danius Zubrus and Patrik Elias were on the ice for the Devils for the barrage.

Despite the frustration you could see in his eyes and hear in his voice, Jagr still managed to mix in some humour as he reflected on the chances that got away in that one frenzied scramble.

"They're smart, huh. They're tired so they laid down," Jagr said. "Everybody does it, so do you. When you're tired, you go sleep. They went down but we couldn't lift the puck up. We had so many chances."
Top Ten Filled With Flames

Impressively, when you look specifically at shots blocked by forwards, Calgary has four players in the top 10.

Tied for third with eight is Galiardi. Tied for fifth with seven is Curtis Glencross, Mikael Backlund and David Jones -- who is on the IR listed as week-to-week with an upper body injury. The overall team leader on the Flames is Chris Butler with 11. 

Sven Baertschi, who orchestrated the winning goal with a terrific pass to Monahan with less than three minutes remaining in the game, says watching guys lay out in front of opposing shooters makes you want to do better yourself when you're on the ice.

"I've known (Bouma) for a while now and I know how passionate he is and how much he sacrifices himself for the team and that's something I'm really amazed by," said Baertschi.

"It makes you want to go hard and makes you want to do the same things. Having him on the team and that whole PK group has done an amazing job," Baertschi added. "To see those guys sacrifice their body. When you're out there and you have to play offence, that's something that really gets you going."

New Identity Being Forged

Calgary can't sustain the level of play they've begun the season with, everyone knows that. But this new identity they're forging is winning them a lot of fans and is making for some pretty darn exciting hockey on a nightly basis and there's something to be said about that. 

Next up is the most difficult assignment yet, however, a five-game roadie that starts next Wednesday in Anaheim. 

Giordano says that in the absence of important pieces like the hobbled veterans Jones, Mike Cammalleri, and Matt Stajan, they need to just keep doing what they're doing.

"We have to have a big road trip. We're playing some of the best teams in the league coming up here. You ain't going to beat those teams if you don't play the right way," said Giordano. "We're looking forward to it. We have to bring the juice."

Yes, indeed, bring the juice, and don't forget the band aids, Advil and ice packs too.

Related Flames Reading
  • 12 Key Factors if the Flames Are to Contend for a Playoff Spot - They're not expected to be very good but the Calgary Flames weren't supposed to be very good in 2003-04 either and they nearly won the Stanley Cup. My pre-season look at 12 things that (mostly) need to happen for Calgary to be in the playoff chase this season.