TV: CBC (HD)
Opposition: Copper and Blue
Well, here were are. Game days between the two Alberta rivals have been drained of meaning for some time. The delta between the two clubs has been large enough to make the outcome either foregone or meaningless (beyond bragging rights naturally) with Calgary the usual victors.
However, with the Flames and Oilers combining for precisely one win in the month of January, the stakes have been raised perilously high. Nothing is truly proven in a single regular season contest in the NHL, but the 09-10 narratives surrounding each organization will likely be built around whatever happens in the 'Dome this evening. That will certainly be the case for the Flames and the suddenly embattled Darryl Sutter. For perhaps the first time during his reign, serious rumblings of dissatisfaction with his efforts are starting to roll through town, with the added murmurs of a divided dressing room, unhappy players and a need to "shake up an environment" that may be anything from stale to outright poisonous.
I don't usually give breath to rumors of clashing personalities or dressing room mutiny. Partially because they are often merely hearsay and conjecture; ad hoc explanations for the struggles of a team when, usually, a much more banal explanation is obvious (bad bounces, bad roster, etc.). In Philadelphia, they talked of the "inappropriate" night life of the younger players. Ditto in Montreal, except with the added "gangsta connnections!" bonus. In Calgary, the dour expressions of the ruling brothers grim, as well as the blank, robot-like manner in which the players go about their business both on-and-off the ice may have given rise to the growing chorus of accusations of a souring atmosphere. Of course, failing to score goals and losing a bunch of games in a row is enough to put any NHL athlete in a poor mood, especially while operating under the burden of high expectations and daily scrutiny. It's certainly possible that more is going on behind the scenes that were aren't privy to, and that those issues are currently contributing to or exacerbating the Flames struggles this season. it's also possible that, even assuming the issues are in fact a reality, that a winning streak would cure the depression.
What can't be avoided, though, is the potential fall-out should the Flames lose tonight. Even if Calgary outplays the Oilers, but is jobbed by bounces or officiating; even if the scoreboard falls on the starting line-up during the anthem and the Flames are forced to play with their scrubs and back-up goalie all night. There's no outcome nor circumstance that will assuage the outrage should the Flames lose their 10th in a row to the hated Edmonton Oilers, they who boast the worst record in the league and are the only team currently colder than the Flames. Make no mistake, the city will explode in a fit of lunatic anger should the unthinkable happen. Sutter will have to flee to a panic room in the bowels of the 'Dome and reside there, desperate and alone like Hitler during his last days. Effigys will be burnt while player jerseys are tossed in the garbage in disgust. The disappointment will mint new alcoholics, women will lose faith in their husbands, husbands will seek the cold comfort of either isolation or nameless barroom mistresses. Men in suits will fling themselves off of tall buildings while some bearded juice drinker will point a rigid, accusing finger at "climate change". And, worst of all, Canucks fans will cackle in amusement from their perch atop the NW division. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Saddledome immediately imploded in noisy, Poltergeistian fashion if the visitors score is higher at the end of the night.
Someone's for the chop if the Flames lose this evening. Someone significant. Bank on it.
One way or the other, this should prove to be very, very interesting Battle of Alberta.