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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.

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