Are they really tired? Sick? Effort a bit lacking? If you read the papers in the last few days, that's the impression one might get about the Flames after a couple of dodgy outings over the weekend. Those two games were certainly amongst the worst performances this year, and I do think that fatigue might have played a role.
I think that an honest appraisal of the Flames would submit that they aren't the most skilled team in the league. That doesn't mean they can't have a good season, but what it does mean is that they haven't got very much margin for error, so the team has to play with an effort level very close to the maximum. This current Flames' edition reminds me a bit of the 05/06 team in that regard. There was a solid core of defencemen, not much going on up front, and Kipper was out of his head. Darryl Sutter rode that team pretty hard to end up in third place, and when they were confronted by a team with more scoring depth in the playoffs, the Flames didn't have anything extra. That loss to the Ducks was just the beginning of Calgary's one-and-done springs.
That comparison might seem a bit unfair, and that 05/06 team's forwards didn't seem quite as good as the current group, but the numbers are unforgiving. The Flames have scored 51 goals in their last 22 games. 2.3 GPG over a full season would likely be right at the bottom of the league, so I don't think I'm reaching to say that level of scoring won't get a team very far.
The underlying issue, of course, is the lack of shots. Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen are both tracking towards some of their poorest shot totals since establishing themselves as bona fide NHLers. Iginla's little run of hot shooting last month aside, the two of them haven't really created much at EV or on the PP, and if anyone has a scenario where the Flames don't need those two playing at a high level to have a successful season, I'm all ears.
I just can't see anything changing unless the Flames go completely into the tank. Sutter appears to be as attached to leaving the big two together as Bart Simpson was to his Rock, Paper, Scissors strategy, and if that was at EV only, I could live with it, wrong-headed as I might find it, because the Flames aren't giving up much in the way of EV chances most games. Where this sort of stubbornness strikes me as unforgivable is when the Flames are up a man. Three shots in nine and a half PP minutes in Denver can't just be explained away by bad luck or fatigue. The PP has looked lost more nights than not since the unrepeatable shooting of October, so I don't see why the team is so doctrinaire. Keeping the lines intact for the PP sounds like a good idea in theory, but there's no actual evidence to back the strategy, and this team needs the PP to be good under the best of circumstances.
The other move that has left many of us baffled is the persistent use of Robyn Regehr on the second PP. He's very good at his role, but that role shouldn't include ice-time when the Flames are actually looking to create offence. It's just another part of a very conservative approach that the team has gotten away with because of Miikka Kiprusoff's stellar play this season.
More scoring from somewhere seems like a good plan tonight, since Curtis McElhinney is slated for an outing, and it's the first time he's had a look where the team wasn't playing in a B2B. If Kipper needs a night off due to overwork, you'd certainly understand it given what he faced on the weekend.
Calgary's scoring woes aside, it might not be a bad time for McE to get some run, since the Blues can't throw it in the ocean either. They can't score (2.37 GPG), and they've won 5 games at home all year. Their PP, the source of so many good things as they made a run to the post-season last spring, is DFL, operating at 12.8%. The only reason that the Blues haven't been left for dead is their goaltending and PK work. There seems to be a certain commonality at play, doesn't there?
So, in review, neither team can score, Calgary's using McE, and the game is on PPV, which has been a guaranteed loss for the Flames this season (0-2-2). Oh, and if you believe the lines from the Herald that were in that linked bit, Nystrom is playing with Joker and Iggy. Maybe the Flames can win 2-1? They haven't done anything of that manner in about a week, so they're due ;-)
Game time is 6 MT.