Monday, January 30, 2017

FF80F Podcast: Episode 11 - Loubo Joins in for Some All-Star Break Flames Chatter

I really enjoyed my visit with Peter Loubardias, who was my guest on the latest podcast. All Flames fans should be familiar with 'Loubo', who is the colour commentator on Calgary's radio broadcasts. Additionally, he can be heard at noon MT on Sportsnet960's Hockey Central and on the pre-game show prior to every game.

Rather than tackle the day-to-day, which tends to change day-by-day, I got into a few more general topics with my guest.

Topics Broached
  • A passionate sports fan, Peter shared his three favourite hockey memories and it's awesome.
  • He also shared some insights into Glen Gulutzan, who has a half-season under his belt.
  • We debated the struggles lately for both Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau
  • A huge junior hockey aficionado, I picked his brain on skilled but tiny Matthew Phillips.
  • The evolution of the fourth line in the NHL. Where are we at and where are we headed.
  • We answered most of these reader/listener questions that were submitted to Facebook

Options to Download/Listen

You are now able to download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular links to where you can download the latest episode:

Catching up On What You've Missed

The podcast began last July as an experiment. I hope you'll agree, the quality has come a long way since that first one that was ripped off solo, on a whim and literally at midnight one lazy summer evening.

This is the fifth one done during the season. While initially I had concerns about how long each podcast would remain relevant, the insight my guests have brought and the manner in which we're tackling topics still make them worthwhile listens long after after they're recorded.

Past podcasts:
  • Episode 10 (1:11:40) - On Dec. 23, Aaron Vickers made his way up to my Saddledome studio. Vickers is the brains behind prospect publication Future Considerations and also covers the Flames for We chatted lots bout Calgary prospects at the WJC.
  • Episode 9 (1:10:36) - On Dec. 5, Jermain Franklin joined me for some Flames talk. In addition to sharing some stories about life at TSN, Flames topics broached included Chad Johnson, are the red-hot Flames for real and first-third surprises and disappointments.
  • Episode 8 (1:04:49) - On Nov. 12, it was time for Wes Gilbertson from PostMedia to have his say. We talked some more about the coach, special teams, Nik Grossmann and various hot topics.
  • Episode 7 (1:01:01) - On Oct. 30, Kristen Odland from PostMedia stopped by and we looked back on a roller-coaster month of October. We also discussed Glen Gulutzan's unique coaching methods.
  • Episode 6 (58:27) - On Sept. 20, before leaving the rookie tournament in Penticton, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and we discussed which prospects stood out and  also who didn't. Includes some great insight into who Matthew Tkachuk is off the ice and his background.
  • Episode 5 (1:08:24) - On Aug. 28, longtime Flames beat reporter Scott Cruickshank from PostMedia stopped by to look ahead to the season as well as reminisce about the 2004 Stanley Cup run and what it was like to cover that series both home and away. 
  • Episode 4 (1:30:59) - On Aug. 14, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and provided a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes with the Flames -- on the charter, etc. Other topics included who will play RW on the top line, who will benefit the most from the new coach.
  • Episode 3 (1:34:01) - On Aug. 5, I connected with Rob Kerr again, this time to dig into a variety of other off-season topics like the Gaudreau/Monahan contract 'stalemate', Troy Brouwer and expansion.
  • Episode 2 (1:28:43) - On July 19 in a more technically-sound second episode (thanks to the use of actual broadcast-quality audio equipment), Rob Kerr joined me as co-host and we debated the Flames season-opening roster. 
  • Episode 1 (48:04) - In the July 11 impromptu pilot, featuring zero technology, I recapped development camp. This was was a solo effort with sub-part technology but fresh on the heels of the prospects being in town, lots of good stuff discussed.

Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? Please stop by iTunes and rate the podcast as I understand this will make it easier to find for newcomers. Thanks for listening.

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    Saturday, January 28, 2017

    Unveiling the 50 Greatest Players in Calgary Flames History

    Now that the NHL has hockey fans all fired up after unveiling its 100 greatest players on Friday night in Los Angeles, it's time to shift the focus to Calgary and go through a similar exercise. So, I set out to identify the 50 greatest players in Flames history.

    One thing I'll proudly boast is there is no fence-sitting with me. Rather than take the high road like the league did and just say here is the list of 100, you speculate what order they come in, I rank them from No. 1-50.  I think the order is the most intriguing part and while it's difficult to do, it's necessary to do.

    First, a few general comments about the process.
    • Only Time with the Flames Counts - For my list, the only thing considered is their time with the Flames. This makes for a way different dynamic than the league's list as you have to dismiss what they did with other teams prior to coming to Calgary and/or after they left. e.g. Sorry Brett Hull, you didn't make the cut.
    • Only Time in Calgary Counts - Further, this is team history only. This is a Greatest Calgary Flames list, not a Greatest Flames list. So, also not considered is their performance in Atlanta prior to the team moving to Calgary in 1980. e.g. There's no Tom Lysiak or Eric Vail.
    • Many Factors to Consider - It's not a scoring race nor a longevity contest. There are many other factors beyond points and games played I considered such as team success, individual accomplishments or records, overall impact, etc.
    • Current Players are Tricky - Like last night and the furore over three current Blackhawks being selected, one struggle is wear to rank current players. You're not really projecting what they'll be -- even if they're likely to become that, but it's possible for a player to already be great in just a short time. That said, there is some earning that needs to happen too so tenure does play into it.

    Lastly, like anything one does that is subjective like this, there is some personal bias. I was in grade six when the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980 so while I have familiarity with all the players on the list, my observations as a fan at age 12 would be different than as a member of the media as has been the case for the last two-and-a-half decades. 

    While a time-consuming process, it was fun to do and very nostalgic and I hope you enjoy. The best part is there are no right or wrong answers, which means bring on the arguments!

    The 50 Greatest Calgary Flames

    1. RW Jarome Iginla 
    • 1996-97 to 2012-13
    • 1,219 gm, 1,095 pts (525 g, 570 a)
    The Flames leading scorer for 11 straight seasons from 2000-01 to 2011-12. In team history, he's first in games (1,219), first in goals (525), second in assists (570), first in points (1,095), first in game-winning goals (83). Won Maurice Richard trophy as top goal scorer in 2001-02 (52 g). Was runner-up for the Hart in 2003-04 and finished third in 2007-08. Led the Flames to game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. He captained the team for over a decade and will always be the face of the franchise.

    2. D Al MacInnis
    • 1981-82 to 1993-94
    • 803 gm, 822 pts (213 g, 609 a)
    Won Conn Smythe in 1989. Finished top-3 in the Norris voting four times. Is Calgary's career playoff points leader with 102 pts (25 g, 77 a), which is 30 more than second place. Known for his hard slapshot, he was especially dangerous on the power play. In team history, he's third in games (803), sixth in goals (213), first in assists (609), third in points (822), first in plus/minus (+241), fourth in PP goals (102). His presence on the power play was a game changer for Calgary in the late 80s. 

    3. RW Theoren Fleury
    • 1988-89 to 1998-99
    • 791 gm, 830 pts (364 g, 466 a)
    An eighth round draft pick, he overcame the label of being too small to play over 10 years in Calgary. His first season was the year Calgary won the Stanley Cup. He was brought up from the minors halfway through the season and never looked back. He was exciting to watch and a real spark plug. In team history, he's fourth in games (791), second in goals (364), second in points (830), second in game-winning goals (53), third in playoff goals (29) and third in playoff points (62).

    4. G Miikka Kiprusoff
    • 2003-04 to 2012-13
    • 576 gm, 305-192-68 record, 2.46 GAA, .913 SV%
    Made immediate impact after being acquired from SJ in November 2003 and helped turn team's fortunes. In 38 games, went 24-10-4 with a 1.69 GAA and a .933 SV%. Then he went 15-11 in the playoffs with a 1.85 GAA and .928 SV% as Calgary got to game 7 of Stanley Cup final. For four straight seasons, finished top-five for the Vezina. In 2003-04 and 2005-06, finished third and fourth for the Hart. Is the team's all-time leader in wins (305), GAA (2.46), SV% (.913) and shutouts (41).

    5. C Joe Nieuwendyk
    • 1986-87 to 1994-95
    • 577 gm, 616 pts (314 g, 302 a)
    Burst upon the scene joining the Flames late in the season in 1986-87 and scoring in his NHL debut. The next year in his first full rookie season, the 21-year-old scored 51 goals and 92 points to win the Calder. He sniped another 51 goals the next year, then posted back-to-back 45-goals seasons. In team history, is third in goals (314), fourth in in points (616), second in PP goals (130), second in playoff goals (32). Was third on the team with 10 goals in 1989 playoffs as Calgary won its only Stanley Cup.

    6. RW Lanny McDonald
    • 1981-82 to 1988-89
    • 492 gm, 406 pts (215 g, 191 a)
    With his famous moustache making him the most recognizable player in team history, his 66-goal season in 1982-83 remains a club record.

    7. G Mike Vernon
    • 1982-83 to 1993-94, 2000-01 to 2001-02
    • 526 gm, 262-187-57 record, 3.26 GAA 
    Local kid drafted by Calgary in the third round in 1981 was the team's No. 1 goalie through the glory years of the 80s including a team-high 43 playoff wins. 

    8. C Kent Nilsson
    • 1980-81 to 1984-85
    • 345 gm, 469 pts (189 g, 280 a)
    The 'Magic Man' was an electrifying talent. Set the team record for points (131) in Calgary's first season as he finished third in scoring behind Wayne Gretzky (164) and Marcel Dionne (135).

    9. LW Gary Roberts
    • 1986-87 to 1995-96
    • 585 gm, 505 pts (257 g, 248 a)
    Longtime pal of Joe Nieuwendyk but a more physical player, the two Ontario kids were a dangerous duo. His 53 goals in 1991-92 remains the second-most in a season in team history.

    10. D Gary Suter
    • 1985-86 to 1993-94 
    • 617 gm, 564 pts (128 g, 436 a) 
    Won the Calder with a 18-50-68 season as a 21-year-old as Calgary reached the Stanley Cup final in 1986. Two years later, had a 21-70-91 season and finished third in the Norris voting.

    11. RW Hakan Loob
    • 1983-84 to 1988-89
    • 450 gm, 429 pts (193 g, 236 a)
    Scored 30-plus goals each of his first three seasons. When he scored 50 goals in 1987-88, he became the first Swede to ever hit that number.

    12. RW Joe Mullen
    • 1985-86 to 1989-90
    • 345 gm, 388 pts (190 g, 198 a)
    Undersized winger was a huge part of the Flames last 80s success. Led team in goals (51) and assists (110) in their Stanley Cup-winning season in 1988-89.

    13. C Doug Gilmour
    • 1988-89 to 1991-92
    • 266 gm, 295 pts (81 g, 214 a)
    Brought in from St. Louis, he was a huge part of the 1989 team with a 26-59-85 regular season and an 11-11-22 playoffs in which he was second in goals, third in points.

    14. D Mark Giordano
    • 2005-06 to Current
    • 644 gm, 323 pts (92 g, 230 a)
    Captain and current face of the franchise, the late-bloomer is steadily climbing up the Flames various all-time lists.

    15. D Robyn Regehr
    • 1999-00 to 2010-11
    • 826 gm, 163 pts (29 g, 134 a)
    Second in team history in games played, he was a solid defensive defender, who played an honest and very physical style of game.

    16. C Joel Otto
    • 1984-85 to 1994-95 
    • 730 gm, 428 pts (167 g, 261 a) 
    Fourth all-time in Flames playoff points (61). A physical two-way centre, who went head-to-head with Mark Messier in the heydey of the Battle of Alberta.

    17. LW Johnny Gaudreau
    • 2013-14 to Current 
    • 202 gm, 173 pts (66 g, 108 a) 
    Is already arguably the most exciting player in team history. Tied for the league scoring lead as a rookie. Finished sixth in NHL scoring as a sophomore.

    18. C Craig Conroy
    • 2000-01 to 2003-04, 2006-07 to 2010-11
    • 507 gm, 308 pts (97 g, 211 a)
    A fan favourite, developed nice chemistry with Jarome Iginla for many years including in Calgary's Stanley Cup run in 2004.

    19. D Dion Phaneuf
    • 2005-06 to 2009-10
    • 378 gm, 228 pts (75 g, 153 a)
    His career-best season of 20 goals came as a rookie. Finished runner-up for the Norris two years later.

    20. D Paul Reinhart
    • 1980-81 to 1987-88
    • 438 gm, 398 pts (100 g, 298 a)
    Was a major part of the 1985-86 team that reached the Stanley Cup final going 5-13-18 in 21 playoff games.

    21. RW Sergei Makarov
    • 1989 to 1992-93
    • 297 gm, 292 pts (94 g, 198 a)

    22. C Robert Reichel
    • 1990-91 to 1996-97
    • 425 gm, 354 pts (153 g, 201 a)

    23. C Daymond Langkow
    • 2005-06 to 2010-11
    • 392 gm, 288 pts (123 g, 165 a)

    24. C Carey Wilson
    • 1983-84 to 1992-93
    • 355 gm, 263 pts (102 g, 161 a)

    25. LW Jim Peplinski
    • 1980-81 to 1989-90, 1994-95
    • 711 gm, 424 pts (161 g, 263 a)

    26. C Mikael Backlund
    • 2008-09 to Current 
    • 432 gm, 209 pts (86 g, 123 a) 

    27. LW Alex Tanguay
    • 2006-07 to 2007-08, 2010-11 to 2012-13 
    • 342 gm, 284 pts (86 g, 198 a) 

    28. C Sean Monahan
    • 2013-14 to Current 
    • 289 gm, 190 pts (96 g, 94 a) 

    29. C Guy Chouinard
    • 1980-81 to 1982-83
    • 196 gm, 235 pts (67 g, 168 a)

    30. D Brad McCrimmon
    • 1987-88 to 1989-90 
    • 231 gm, 83 pts (16 g, 67 a) 

    31. RW Valeri Bure
    • 1997-98 to 2000-01 
    • 256 gm, 192 pts (93 g, 99 a)

    32. C Dan Quinn
    • 1983-84 to 1986-87 
    • 222 gm, 191 pts (72 g, 119 a) 

    33. D Jamie Macoun
    • 1982-83 to 1991-92 
    • 586 gm, 246 pts (62 g, 184 a)

      34. LW Curtis Glencross
      • 2008-09 to 2014-15
      • 418 gm, 242 pts (114 g, 128 a)

      35. LW Mike Cammalleri
      • 2008-09, 2011-12 to 2013-14
      • 216 gm, 178 pts (89 g, 89 a)
      36. D Jay Bouwmeester
      • 2009-10 to 2012-13
      • 279 gm, 97 pts (18 g,79 a)

      37. RW Jiri Hudler
      • 2012-13 to 2015-16 
      • 248 gm, 192 pts (68 g, 124 a) 

      38. LW Martin Gelinas
      • 2002-03 to 2003-04 
      • 157 gm, 87 pts (38 g, 49 a) 

      39. D Phil Housley
      • 1994-95 to 1995-96, 1998-99 to 2000-01 
      • 328 gm, 238 pts (50 g, 188 a)

      40. G Reggie Lemelin
      • 1980-81 to 1986-87
      • 303 gm, 136-90-45 record, 3.67 GAA

      41. LW Kristian Huselius
      • 2005-06 to 2007-08
      • 216 gm, 182 pts (74 g, 108 a)

      42. RW Colin Patterson
      • 1983-84 to 1989-90
      • 416 gm, 187 pts (88 g, 99 a)

      43. LW Cory Stillman
      • 1994-95 to 2000-01
      • 393 gm, 235 pts (109 g, 126 a)

      44. D Denis Gauthier
      • 1997-98 to 2003-04
      • 384 gm, 58 pts (13 g, 45 a)

      45. C Mike Bullard
      • 1986-87 to 1987-88
      • 136 gm, 157 pts (76 g, 81 a)

      46. D Derek Morris
      • 1997-98 to 2001-02
      • 343 gm, 163 pts (34 g, 129 a)

      47. D TJ Brodie
      • 2010-11 to Current
      • 388 gm, 162 pts (28 g, 134 a)

      48. C Doug Risebrough
      • 1982-83 to 1986-87
      • 247 gm, 169 pts (68 g, 101 a)

      49. LW John Tonelli
      • 1985-86 to 1987-88
      • 161 gm, 116 pts (40 g, 76 a)

      50. RW Tim Hunter
      • 1981-82 to 1991-92
      • 545 gm, 108 pts (49 g, 59 a)

      10 Honourable Mentions

      LW Eddy Beers (1981-82 to 1985-86) - 226 gm, 87-105-192
      C Olli Jokinen (2008-09 to 2011-12) - 236 gm, 59-106-165
      LW Paul Ranheim (1988-89 to 1993-94) - 354 gm, 94-100-194
      D Phil Russell (1980-81 to 1982-83) - 229 gm, 23-66-89
      D Cory Sarich (2007-08 to 2012-13) - 379 gm, 10-49-59
      C Marc Savard (1999-00 to 2002-03) - 221 gm, 60-94-154*
      C Matt Stajan (2009-10 to Current) - 461 gm, 53-118-171
      C German Titov (1993-94 to 1997-98) - 345 gm, 107-121-228
      D Rhett Warrener (2003-04 to 2007-08) - 231 gm, 11-26-37
      C Stephane Yelle (2002-03 to 2007-08) - 339 gm, 31-65-96

      * Omitted errantly on the original list so a late addition.

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        Wednesday, January 25, 2017

        Anatomy of a Rant: Line-by-Line Dissection of Mount St. Gulutzan's Volcanic Eruption

        Simmering below the surface for who knows how long now, the first visible indication that first-year Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was on the brink of erupting came Saturday night.

        Fresh on the heels of being humiliated 7-3 on home ice by the archrival Edmonton Oilers, signs of smoke were visible as he stepped up to the podium post-game.

        "I don't talk to the guys after the game, win or lose, I talk to them the next day," Gulutzan told the media. "But certainly in the coaches room, emotions are high. It's embarrassing. Our resolve to stick to it wasn't there."

        The next day was a flight to Toronto that was followed on Monday by no fight in Toronto as the Flames slinked to a third straight setback, a lifeless 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.

        But after that game, the 45-year-old native of the small northern town of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, kept his emotions in check. Trying a different tact, he went down the path of positive reinforcement, pointing out the elements of their game that he liked, however miniscule.

        But after another uninspiring effort from his club on Tuesday night, a 5-1 shellacking by the Montreal Canadiens, Gulutzan finally blew his top. His fiery Irish temper he says he inherited from his mom's side of the family, finally burst through and the lava was spewing.

        "I’m generally a happy person. I’m good. I don’t like to be grouchy or miserable every day," Gulutzan told George Johnson from in this profile piece back in August. "But if I get mad… I get mad. There’s no middle ground. I’ve heard people say: ‘Glen? Oh, good guy. Nice guy. Good communicator. Patient. But push him far enough and … snap.’”

        Oh, he snapped alright. The audio -- and it's well worth the listen -- is available here on Sportsnet960's website.

        What I thought I'd do for something different is take you beyond the audio.

        Below is the transcription of his entire rant, broken down into sections, along with relevant background or context that is (likely) the fuel behind each of his scathing points. As you'll hear and see, it's all very valid.

        1. "We were pathetic. We were pathetic. It was a pathetic display. No bite back, no kick back. Just accept it."

        Calgary has given up the first goal in nine straight games. But lately, it's been more than just the first goal. It's also been the second, the third, the fourth...

        In the last four games respectively, Calgary has fallen behind by scores of 4-0, 5-0, 4-0 and 5-0. Yep, that's pathetic alright. In fact, that could be bordering on record-breaking stuff for futility.

        But here's the rub. There have been very few signs of anybody being pissed off about it. It's like the Flames are the 98-pound weakling at the beach, getting sand kicked in his face, basically being bullied around, and just taking it. Not getting mad. Not pushing back. Nothing.

        Look back over the game summaries from the last week and this team has basically flatlined as soon as they fell behind. There are a very few signs of life to be found:
        • Against Nashville, the club finally woke up in the final four minutes and scored three goals, but it was too little, far too late.
        • Against Edmonton, rookie Matthew Tkachuk got visibly angry in the third period, eventually getting banished to the penalty box for a dozen minutes for his refusal to go down quietly. But there wasn't much emotion from anyone else.
        • In Toronto, there were a couple roughing penalties near the end of the game -- the 19-year-old kid again in the middle of it -- but otherwise it was a meek response.
        • Last night in Montreal, Deryk Engelland got a little scrappy but again, he was about it. 

        Adversity is different from death. Adversity is adversity. It's about time this club figure that out and start dealing with it, rather than caving as soon as something bad happens.

        From the start of the game through the 15 minute mark of the third period, Calgary has been outscored 18-2 over the last four games. That's a minus-16 goal differential. Ouch.

        Sure, the final scores ended up closer than that but who's fooling who. Five of Calgary's seven goals have come in the final five minutes after the games have long been decided.

        2. "Our top guys didn't do anything and we need somebody to step up."

        Sam Bennett did get his first point in 13 games with a goal with 1.1 seconds remaining. But that hardly qualifies as stepping up when it counted.

        What about some of the other so-called top guys?
        • Johnny Gaudreau is 1-3-4 in last 14 games. He's gone from sixth in the league in scoring last year to a tie for fifth on the team in scoring this year.
        • Troy Brouwer has no points in his last nine games. The veteran hasn't had a point since Dec. 19, before his broken finger.

        It can't always be the line of Mikael Backlund, Mikael Frolik and Tkachuk that rides in to the rescue. As top guys, the Flames need more from the aforementioned Bennett, Gaudreau and Brouwer. You can add Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie to that list also. The goaltenders mixing in a key save in the early going wouldn't hurt either.

        Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott combined have given up 19 goals on 99 shots over the last four games. That's an .808 save percentage. Ugly.

        3. "It's the same old story. We had the better chances in the first 15 (minutes) of the first."

        It's mostly true. This exact same storyline has unfolded in five of the last six games, the Toronto game was the lone exception:
        • Jan 24 at MTL - Prior to Shaw goal at 19:17 of first, Flames led 11-5 in shots
        • Jan 23 at TOR - Prior to Marner goal at 18:59 of first, Leafs led 12-8 in shots
        • Jan 21 vs EDM - Fell behind 3-0 after the first, Flames led 13-8 in shots
        • Jan 19 vs NSH - Fell behind 1-0 after the first, Flames led 14-9 in shots
        • Jan 17 vs FLA - Fell behind 2-1 after the first, Flames led 10-5 in shots
        • Jan 14 at EDM - Score tied  0-0 after the first, Flames led 8-5 in shots

        Calgary has been OK to start the game, but the opposition goaltender has been better and the other team has been way more opportunistic (which is code for the Flames goaltender hasn't been as good).

        The players on this team need to realize the book each night isn't already pre-written. It's very much a choose-your-own adventure and there is still plenty of opportunity for a happy ending, even if you fall behind in the first period.

        4. "We extend ourselves on a minute shift. We've got our fourth line out there. They decide to take one more crack at it because they've scored so many goals and they all come off and let them fly into our zone, and catch the other line a little off guard. That's what happened on the first goal."

        A few things are going on here as Gulutzan talked about the Andrew Shaw even-strength goal at 19:17 of the first period that gave Montreal a 1-0 lead.

        A. It's only two-thirds of the fourth line and here's why

        With the Flames slowly retreating into their own end to get the puck but with no forecheck due to the Canadiens forwards changing, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan choose to head to the bench while inexplicably, linemate Alex Chiasson remains on the ice. Sure enough, Dougie Hamilton's wayward pass slides down the ice untouched for icing. Now Chiasson is caught out with Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma.

        Montreal wins the face-off and controls the puck in the Flames end, eventually getting a dangerous chance in the slot when Alex Radulov spots Nathan Beaulieu creeping in from the blueline. His quick wrist shot from 30 feet out is blockered away by Johnson.

        Soon after, the puck is knocked to the neutral zone near the Calgary bench but instead of taking that opportunity to change -- all three were in the vicinity of the bench and you can see the Flames next line standing up and ready with one leg straddling over the boards -- all three opt to head up ice on a rush instead, despite it being a routine three-on-three rush not resembling anything dangerous.

        Sure enough, it doesn't amount to anything and as they finally head off the ice from deep in the Canadiens end, it allows Montreal to break out clean and fast with tons of open ice. Ten seconds later the puck is in the net with the Bennett-Brouwer-Versteeg line tagged with the minus.

        It's a bad look for Chiasson in particular. I'm not sure why he never changed and as a result, he ended up with a 1:40 shift. The shift length for Bouma and Stajan was clocked at 0:55.

        For Chiasson, this is the same guy that Gulutzan benched on Monday night for nearly the entire final period after his foolish roughing penalty 1:33 into the third.

        Perhaps this was Gulutzan hinting that Chiasson might be soon back on the fourth line where many of his critics -- and there are plenty -- have argued he should have been all along, if in the line-up at all.

        B. Gulutzan with a shot across the bow

        "They decide to take one more crack at it because they've scored so many goals..."

        Ouch, there's a sneaky little jab from the coach. This team isn't scoring these days, especially when the game is still up for grabs. But in particular as Gulutzan muttered, the fourth line is very cold. Looking at the three players in question on that shift:
        • Matt Stajan - 1 goal in his last 23 games
        • Alex Chiasson -  2 goals in his last 23 games
        • Lance Bouma - 1 goal in his last 12 games

        It doesn't get any better when you look at others that have been used in that fourth line role:
        • Micheal Ferland - 1 goal in his last 25 games
        • Garnet Hathaway - 0 goals in his last 20 games
        • Freddie Hamilton - 1 goal in his last 21 games

        Chiasson is surely one of the bigger points of frustration because he's had several great chances lately while playing in the top six with Gaudreau. But he hasn't been able to convert. Scoring chances and plays of all kinds frequently seem to die on his stick.

        5. "We had our windows to get back in. We spot them one. Johnny bobbles the puck at the blueline, turns it over and it's 2-0. We're on a power play. 1-0 in a road game and on a power play."

        If it can go wrong, it is going wrong these days for Gaudreau.

        Given how often he has the puck on his stick, he's always going to be a guy that will turn over the puck more than your average forward but you hope it's most often going to be a byproduct of trying to make something out of nothing such as on a one-on-two rush.

        But on Tuesday night, with nobody around him, he just blew it at the blueline. He had the puck, was in full control of it, then had it pop right off his stick and just like that, away broke Tomas Plekanec and 14 seconds into a power play where Calgary was hoping to tie the score, they're down 2-0 instead.

        It looked eerily similar to what Gaudreau did against Columbus a month ago, coughing it up that night to Matt Calvert. Flames trailed 3-1 at the time but were on the power play. Same thing though, a giveaway followed by a shorthanded breakaway goal.

        NHL Leaders - Giveaways (forwards)

        1. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 60
        2. Logan Couture SJ, 55
        3. Joe Pavelski SJ, 51
        4. Kevin Hayes NYR, 50
        5. John Tavares NYI, 48

        Considering he also missed 10 games, that giveaway number is uncomfortably high and it's been costly.

        6. "We get a 5-on-3, broken stick, can't even muster a shot. These are things we work on. It's not like we have a bad power play. We're running at 20 percent, top third of the league. But for some reason mentally, we just didn't get a shot to the net."

        Montreal lead 3-0 at the time but with half the game still to go, Calgary got a great chance to get back into it when a high-sticking penalty to Jeff Petry followed by a tripping penalty by Jacob De La Rose resulted in a two-man advantage for 47 seconds.

        Further, right off the face-off in the Montreal end, Shea Weber broke his stick. Plekanec gave his to Weber but the result was all sorts of space for the Flames to move the puck around given the high guy in the Canadiens triangle, Plekanec, could not take away any passing lanes.

        However, Giordano and Brodie as they passed it back and forth at the point seemed uncertain about what to do. First, Giordano nearly gave it away after whiffing on a shot attempt. Then with the puck down low, Gaudreau centered a pass off the skate of Monahan that caromed out to centre. Off for a line change went Plekanec and a glorious chance was squandered.

        Late on the 5-on-3, Kris Versteeg got the only shot they would muster but it came from a sharp angle and was a routine stop for Carey Price.

        Calgary falls to 2-for-7 on two-man advantages this season.

        7. "You've got to man up. You've got to man up. You play well, one bad thing happens, we crumple. We crumple. Everybody talks about our starts. Our starts? Our starts have been good. One little shot, it goes in, we crumple. We just crumple. We had no resolve to stay with it."

        As already mentioned in section 3, the last six games Calgary has had good starts. There's been nothing wrong with how the Flames have been starting off in games. But when that first goal against goes in and there's the tiniest bit of adversity, the game completely gets away from them.

        From that point, they get away from the game plan that makes them successful and subsequently, they are very much unsuccessful.

        Games are 60 minutes long. That's a lot of time. One goal in the first period, or in the second period, that doesn't change anything. Or at least it shouldn't. But it does, and it's a point of frustration for Gulutzan, who has sounded off about that a couple times lately. That resolve just isn't there.

        8. "We've got to look internally here at ourselves, everybody. Everybody in the organization and figure out how we're going to pull ourselves out because the league doesn't feel sorry for you."

        When Gulutzan looks at himself, one thing that he might need to consider is changing up the lines and pairings. After the Edmonton game, I made five suggestions for tweaking the line-up. They've tried two so far but the other three more impactful moves would be worth a try.

        Summarizing the entire article, which can be read here,
        • Break up the 3M line and put Tkachuk with Monahan and Brouwer
        • Break up the 3M line to put Gaudreau with Backlund and Frolik.
        • Break up Wideman and Brodie.

        But maybe other help is needed too.

        Perhaps it's a trade to shake up the club. The Flames do have some pending UFAs that decisions have to be made on soon. That list includes Wideman, Engelland, Versteeg, Elliott and Johnson.

        There are also options to try in Stockton. Mark Jankowski is having a great rookie season. Is Hunter Shinkaruk worth another look. What about Tyler Wotherspoon? I don't know if you can say anybody in the AHL is 'knocking down the door' right now for an NHL look but desperate times call for desperate measures. What's there to lose?

        9. "They're all important. What scares me in your comment is eight in a row. There's a history of streaks and these let-downs."

        The question posed by Sportsnet960 radio voice Derek Wills was referring to 2014-15 when the Flames were winless in eight and went into Los Angeles in the final game before Christmas. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 and it ended up turning around their season. They would make the playoffs after a terrific second half.

        But with their long losing streak last year, that one the year before. That's some bad history where this team has a pattern of a digging a hole for themselves that is nearly impossible to dig out of.

        It suggests the team isn't mentally tough when things begin to go sideways. When it comes time for 'fight or flight', it's the latter far too often.

        10. "We're out of the playoffs now. We sat there for 45 days. We're going to start to play now? Now when it gets easy, that's when we play? That's the concern. What bugs me most is we play when it's easy. We play when it's easy. So, we've got that mentality. You've got to fight out of it."

        It was the knock on the club last year. They played their best hockey after they were all but officially eliminated from playoff contention. With the pressure off, it's easier to play when you've got nothing to play for.

        That pattern went for individuals too with former-Flame Joe Colborne the poster boy. Colborne piled up the points in 'garbage time' last year. Sure enough, this season, he's got three goals and four points in 38 games -- all three goals in the season opener. Nothing since.

        The bigger question is can this group step up in games that matter and win consistently when the pressure is on? We're still looking for proof of that.

        Even this season's earlier hot stretch didn't come until they bottomed out at 30th and were in the NHL's cellar.

        That mentality as the coach scoffed, to only step up once the games are easy and no longer matter, is not a formula for success.

        By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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            Sunday, January 22, 2017

            Fixing the Flames: Five Adjustments I'd be Tempted to Try

            It was seven seconds of awkward silence that spoke volumes.

            As embattled Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan stepped to the podium Saturday night to address the media post-game, I started off the proceedings with this question: What tops the concern list out of a game like that?

            I was referring, of course, to the final chapter in this year's 'Slaughter of Alberta' in which Edmonton swept the season series for the first time in history. Before a rare sell-out crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome in the most anticipated game of the season, the Flames were run out of the building by their archrival.

            "I don't even know where to start," Gulutzan began. Then he paused as he mulled over what by now must be a list of concerns the length of my Costco shopping list for today.

            "I think we have to relook at everything," he finally said, breaking the silence. "But how we play without a lead is probably the top thing on the list."

            First Period Faceplants Continue

            They've had plenty of chances at practicing that lately. Saturday night when Chad Johnson surrendered goals on shots No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, as Edmonton took a 3-0 lead less than six minutes into the game, it was the seventh straight game Calgary has given up the first goal.

            In six of the seven, they didn't make it to the 11-minute mark before falling behind. In the last three games, they haven't even reached the five-minute mark. Not ready to play. Not even close.

            In Saturday's early 'shock and awe' barrage in which Edmonton took an immediate stranglehold on the game, it was the third goal in particular that left Gulutzan dumbfounded.

            Defending a seemingly innocuous two-on-two rush, Calgary defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka -- as if he suddenly saw a bright shiny object -- abandons his position and makes a beeline across the ice for the puck carrier Benoit Pouliot. In doing so, he completely abandons his man, Jordan Eberle. Pouliot nonchalantly passes the puck over to Eberle and with acres of open meadow ahead of him, he cruises in and whips a wrist shot past Johnson.

            Suddenly it's 3-0 and there is still 14:02 to go in the first period.

            "The third one, I don't know what we were doing," said Gulutzan bluntly. "I actually have no explanation for what our D were doing on the third goal. It was a complete mistake."

            Myriad of Miscues

            Oh, there were plenty of mistakes to choose from on this night. Plenty.

            On the fifth goal, Eberle's second, that made it 5-0 halfway through the second period, the Flames exhibited the type of defending you might see while watching atom hockey today at your local community hockey rink and I emphasize 'might'. Even at ages 9 and 10, teams should know better than to have everyone on the ice fixated on and chasing the puck carrier.

            On this one, Matt Benning had everyone in red focused on him -- yes, I said Matt Benning -- leaving Eberle open in front for a redirect of Benning's centering pass.

            "Some of the mistakes we're making, are glaring mistakes," conceded Flames captain Mark Giordano. "At this level, it can't happen, especially at this time of year, they just ate us up tonight."

            I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in Calgary's coaches office after that game. The smoke that would have been billowing out of that chimney. My goodness.

            "It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing," said Gulutzan, echoing himself as well as the feeling from fans across Flames nation. "I don't talk to the guys after the game, win or lose, I talk to them the next day, but certainly in the coaches room, emotions are high. It's embarrassing. Our resolve to stick to it wasn't there."

            Urgency Setting In

            The season has not yet gotten away. Calgary still woke up Sunday morning sitting in second place in the Western Conference wild card race. However, sort by the more telling points percentage that incorporates games played and the Flames are now fourth, behind Vancouver and Los Angeles. It sure feels like the season is getting away.

            This raises the question of what next?

            I expect that is the question weighing heavily on the mind of the entire Flames front office on Sunday, a travel day for the team as they fly to Toronto for a three-game Eastern road trip that begins Monday night at the Air Canada Centre and will be followed by stops in Montreal on Tuesday and Ottawa on Thursday.

            By "relook at everything" as the fuming Flame coach vowed on Saturday night, what might that look like? Since we won't begin to know until Monday when Calgary hits the ice at the ACC at 9:30 am MT for its game-day skate, we're left to speculate.

            With three games to go until the all-star break and with all three being difficult assignments -- all three opponents locked in playoff spots in the Eastern Conference -- now might be the time to experiment at least a little.

            Five Things I'd Try to Fix the Flames

            1. Break up 3M to Leverage Tkachuk

            For much of the season, the Flames have been a one-line team. It's been the vaunted trio of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk, and then everybody else. You can't win as a one-line team, no matter how good that one line is.

            The obvious risk in breaking up one of the best lines in the NHL is you end up with zero lines going, but the potential reward that makes it at least worth pursuing is you end up with two lines going and while zero is worse than one, two is twice as good.

            It seems completely wrong that a 19-year-old kid is the key variable in this but once again he was one of the handful Saturday night that seemed to care, who seemed determined to not just stand around and accept sand being kicked in his face.

            I would move Tkachuk up with Sean Monahan and Troy Brouwer, The hope would be that Tkachuk will drag Monahan and Brouwer into the game, as he tends do with whoever his linemates are -- and both of them could use the jumpstart.

            Sure, Monahan is scoring again lately -- a five-game goal-scoring spree is second only to Nashville's James Neal (6) for the NHL's longest this season -- but more fire, more emotion from the 22-year-old would raise his game to an entirely new level.

            We're talking about a guy that is 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds. When you're often playing beside Gaudreau, who is regularly treated like a pinata by the opposition, and you're built like Monahan is, you need to get your nose dirty far more often. That's part of your job.

            2. Break up 3M to Kickstart Gaudreau

            Meanwhile, I would drop slumping Johnny Gaudreau onto the left side of the Backlund-Frolik line.

            Backlund-Frolik as a pairing has been an effective duo for a long time. With Gaudreau mired in an awful funk -- one goal and three assists in his last dozen games -- he looks frustrated and doesn't appear to be enjoying the game like he normally does. Maybe playing with two guys having tremendous seasons will rub off and get him back headed the right direction.

            I'm not sure the heavy lifting asked of the Backlund line is the right long-term relocation for Gaudreau but to help him get reset, it's sure tempting to try in the short-term.

            3. Free Brodie

            TJ Brodie is a better defenceman than we're watching right now. Way better. The last few years were not an anomaly, Brodie has shown that he can be one of the most dynamic defencemen in the league. Using his blinding speed, he can be up ice, joining (or leading) the rush in one moment and then be the first guy back seconds later.

            That dynamic nature of his game that made him one of the NHL's rising young stars on the blueline not that long ago has completely evaporated and you wonder how much of that has to do with his defence partner, Dennis Wideman. Wideman's foot speed is frighteningly slow given today's light-speed NHL and as a result he has become a defensive liability at five-on-five. This sure seems to be impacting Brodie, who perhaps doesn't feel he can play the same way as he has in the past when paired with a steady and more reliable partner like Giordano.

            For me, I want to get Brodie back into a similar setting in which he's enjoyed success in the past. That means a different D partner that is a better skater. Also, I am determined to get him back to where he's been most comfortable his entire career and that is playing the right side. It may not be his natural side in respect to how he shoots, but he's stated in the past he's more comfortable on that side, and if that's the side he's played throughout his career, than that's how I'd define his 'natural side'.

            Not wanting to break up the Giordano pairing with Dougie Hamilton, I move Brodie to the right side alongside the left-shooting Brett Kulak.

            4. Insert Kulak

            Early in the season as his game seemed to get better and better, Kulak looked like he would never come out of the Flames line-up again. Then the defenceman's game went through a rough patch, which isn't unusual for a 23-year-old, and he eventually ended up back in the minors to build himself back up.

            He's been back in the NHL for over two weeks now but all seven games since his January 9 call-up, he has been left gnawing on overly salty press box popcorn. The time to insert him into the line-up is long past due.

            There are multiple options that Calgary could pull out of the line-up to make room for Kulak. Jokipakka, as mentioned earlier, is an obvious one. Wideman would certainly be another. The latter, a pending UFA in his final season as a Flame, has twice already this season been pulled out of the line-up for multiple games. There was a three-game absence in October. Then came a four-game string of healthy scratches in November. Might a third stint be forthcoming? It wouldn't be unwarranted.

            Considering they haven't been playing Kulak at all, inserting him into a third pairing role is the more likely landing spot for Kulak, if they play him at all, but I'd sure be tempted to move him straight into the top four and try him with Brodie.

            5. Play Elliott

            Last weekend in what I billed the biggest game of his season, Brian Elliott delivered for 65 minutes. In Edmonton last Saturday, the veteran made 26 stops including six in overtime. Only Patrick Maroon's first period power play goal beat him before the Oilers eventually won 2-1 in a shootout.

            For that effort that backstopped a solid all-round game played by Calgary, Elliott puzzlingly found himself wearing a ball cap to start each of Calgary's three games in the homestand that followed.

            Meanwhile, Johnson has struggled mightily of late. In his last two starts, he's given up seven goals on 25 shots. On the homestand, he had a .809 save percentage. In the first period alone, his SV% was a dismal .667.

            You traded a second round pick to get Elliott for a reason. You kept going back to him as your No. 1 goalie to start the season for a reason. It's time to give him the same amount of leash that Johnson has got lately.

            Who knows what the goalie picture will look like next season, but for right now, it's time to turn back to Elliott and give him another opportunity to see if he can get back to being the outstanding goaltender that he was last April and May when he helped the the Blues dispatch of the Chicago Blackhawks and then the Dallas Stars in the playoffs.

            Final Word

            There are all sorts of things the Flames could do, and maybe will do come February, but with three games to go until the all-star break and a five-day break to reset, there may be a limit to the extremes of any shake-up we see this week.

            In the above scenarios, I still have scuffling Sam Bennett playing centre on the third line. Put Kris Versteeg on one side and try Micheal Ferland on the other. Or put Bennett on the wing with Matt Stajan and Versteeg, that might be something to try also.

            Mark Jankowski's hat-trick on Friday night makes the Stockton Heat leading scorer someone that you wonder if GM Brad Treliving is considering recalling. But again, that call-up is likely to wait for now.

            Heck on the back end, I'd bring back Tyler Wotherspoon and insert him on the blueline as well as Kulak. Wotherspoon and Engelland on the third pairing while Jokipakka and Wideman sit? Why not. You really wonder what Calgary's line-up would have looked like against Toronto if Gulutzan was forced to declare such in the fresh aftermath of Saturday night's debacle.

            What we do know is change is needed and quickly or that six weeks of tremendous hockey the Flames played from mid-November through the end of December to get themselves back into the playoff race, will have all been for naught.

            By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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                Saturday, January 14, 2017

                Late-Season Meaningful Battle of Alberta: Saturday is the First One in Nearly Eight Years

                The Flames and Oilers in a meaningful hockey game in January. It hasn't happened very often.

                In fact, tonight when the two sides clash at Rogers Place will be the first time in nearly eight years that Calgary and Edmonton have met this late in the season with both teams in a playoff spot.

                The last time the provincial rivals met in that type of setting was at Rexall Place on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009.

                As astonishing as that sounds, it's also not all that surprising considering not very often in the last two-and-a-half decades have both teams been good at the same time. Only once in the last 25 years (2005-06) have both have made the playoffs in the same season.

                To give you a sense of how long ago the last late-season meaningful Battle of Alberta was, not one player that appeared in the last one remains with the team today, or at least not in a playing capacity.

                Revisiting February 21, 2009

                Going into that showdown -- game No. 59 for both teams -- Calgary (34-18-6) sat atop the Northwest Division with a comfortable eight-point lead on Vancouver. Twelve points back of the Flames and clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference was Edmonton (29-25-4). By clinging, I mean it. The seven teams behind the Oilers were all within five points, beginning with Anaheim, just one back.

                Calgary won that night 3-2 in a shootout. Erik Cole had the only goal of the first period to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead. Jarome Iginla, converting a stunning Bobby Orr-like set-up from Cory Sarich, tied it in the second period. In the third, Ales Hemsky scored 1:46 in but with 1:05 remaining and Miikka Kiprusoff pulled for an extra skater, Matthew Lombardi snapped a shot through a screen that beat Dwayne Roloson just under the crossbar.

                In the shootout, Todd Bertuzzi shot first and beat Roloson with a nifty one-handed backhand and that would be it. Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Hemsky each failed to get a shot away on Miikka Kiprusoff.

                Relive the shootout:

                After that game, Calgary went on to win won four of its next five to open up a 10-point gap on the Canucks as of Mar. 6.  But it would not be enough. A 7-11-0 finish while Vancouver went 12-5-2 over the final five weeks cost the Flames the division title and resulted in a 4-5 match-up with Chicago in round 1. That series was won 4-2 by the Blackhawks. Calgary missed the playoffs the next five seasons before finally returning to the post-season in 2014-15.

                As for Edmonton, they lost just twice in regulation the next month going 6-2-4. With three weeks to go, they were in a playoff spot and had a four-point cushion to work with. But they lost eight of their final 11 to fritter that lead away and finish six points out. That's as close as they've finished lately and by a long shot. In the seven seasons since, they've missed the post-season by 33, 35, 21, 10 (lockout-shortened 48-game season), 14, 25 and 17 points respectively.

                Where Are They Now?

                While none of the players in uniform that night in 2009 are still with the team, one player on the roster still is. Mark Giordano was a member of the Flames but he did not play that night as he hurt his shoulder injury two nights earlier in a collision with Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck. He would end up having season-ending surgery. Playing defence in his place was Jim Vandermeer.

                Of the 40 players in uniform that night, only a handful are still in the league. For the Flames, Jarome Iginla (Col), Mike Cammalleri (NJ), Dion Phaneuf (Ott), Adam Pardy (Nsh) and back-up goaltender Curtis McElhinney (Tor) are still kicking around.

                For Edmonton, Kyle Brodziak (Stl), Andrew Cogliano (Ana), Sam Gagner (Clb), Tom Gilbert (LA) and Ales Hemsky (Dal) are still on NHL rosters.

                Playoff Match-Up Long Overdue

                Once considered by many the best rivalry in the NHL, the Flames and Oilers met in the post-season five times in the span of nine years from 1983 to 1991. For me, I was age 13-21 during that time and it was an absolutely glorious time to be a hockey fan.

                But tragically, there hasn't been a post-season Battle of Alberta since.

                That last playoff game between these two sides was played at the Saddledome on April 16, 1991 and it is a memory that haunts longtime Flames fans. With the opening round series tied 3-3, Calgary opened up a commanding 3-0 lead, only to see the Oilers storm back with four unanswered to take their first lead. The Flames got the tying goal late in the third from Ronnie Stern but lost 5-4 in overtime on Esa Tikkanen's third goal of the night at 6:58 that gave Edmonton the dramatic series win. It was a heart-breaking, punch-to-the-gut setback for the home side.

                As bitter as Flames fans likely still are, it's a game worth re-visiting via the brief highlight package below. If you're in your 20s or early 30s and have no recollection of it, just listen to the continual roar in the building that night. Man, what an atmosphere.

                Could there be a Flames-Oilers meeting in the playoffs this season? That's asking a lot.

                For that to happen in the first round, there's just the two scenarios of course. In one, Calgary or Edmonton would need to finish in top spot in the Pacific Division. That's a big ask. Just as unlikely is both teams finishing ahead of two California teams in order to meet in a 2-3 match-up.

                While still a long shot, the odds are probably better of a second round match-up although that would require the dominos to fall just right.

                Final Word

                It's incredibly sad to think that if you're under the age of 35, you have nothing but a vague, distant memory at best of watching a Flames-Oilers playoff game.

                The oldest player on Calgary's roster today is Deryk Engelland, 34, who coincidentally was born in Edmonton. He would have been nine years old during that 1991 series. What do you remember from when you were that age? Probably not much.

                The game has changed so much that the rivalry will never be what it was back in the 80s and early 90s where blood on the ice and jam-packed penalty boxes were a regular thing. But that doesn't mean it can't still be intense and compelling in its own way.

                The Oilers with lots of young skill in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.  The Flames with much of the same in Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Dougie Hamilton.

                Is there less edge? Absolutely, but there's still plenty of snarl in the likes of Darnell Nurse, Milan Lucic, Matthew Tkachuk and Troy Brouwer.

                As you're watching the game tonight, let your imagination wander to when these two franchises finally do meet once again because sooner or later, and hopefully sooner than later, it's going to happen and it will be fantastic.

                Both teams are finally heading the right direction at the same time. Both have young cores that should make success sustainable for the next several years.

                I can't wait.

                By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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