Thursday night is beer-league hockey night in San Diego and therefore this game was scheduled to be viewed in full tape-delay mode. As I settled in to watch and spent the first five minutes fast forwarding past Mike Brophy and John Shannon killing time while the glass was being repaired, I had the first of two major revelations on the night. Namely, I was going to regret not taping more than three hours on the DVR! Sure enough, just as Daniel Alfredsson was apparently icing the result with a hooking penalty in the final two minutes, the screen went blank. Oops! I figured I didn't miss much anyway, given the result, but a look at the play by play of the game showed the obligatory Rene Bourque offensive zone penalty and a lot of "SHOT OTT ONGOAL". No sense the Flames making it easy on themselves.
The other revelation was revealed bit by bit throughout the whole game...
...I finally understand what it feels like to be a fan of the Colorado Avalanche this season. The Flames may have had the beautiful retro jerseys on, but they may as well have had the Avs colors. The Flames had everything the Avs have had this season. Great goaltending? Check. Tons of blocked shots? Check. Timely, quick strike goals on relatively few chances? Check. Spend most of the game swimming against the tide? Triple Check. Of the four losses the Flames have to show for their efforts against Colorado this season, there isn't one where the players and the fans weren't convinced they were the better team and lost because of the bounces. If I'm an Ottawa fan, I'm pulling my hair out after tonight's game.
Colorado fans have been pretty convinced that the stats like Corsi are not predictive in any way, and have noted this many times on this site and others. And who can blame them - the Avs continue to hold a playoff spot, and are certainly in a better position than the Flames. Certainly, you could watch the game tonight and say things like "Ottawa really didn't have great chances", "All those blocked shots just showed the Flames wanted it more", "A bend-but-don't-break defense and timely goals will win all the time". You could say those things, but you'd be wrong. Playing that way is like teetering on the knife's edge - it's worked for Colorado longer than we could have guessed, but Calgary can't afford that this time of the year. The only thing separating this game from the 4-0 loss to Minnesota last week was the early goal instead of the early deficit, and a better effort will be necessary Sunday in Vancouver.
OK, enough of that. It's still a win, and right now any way those come is welcome. There were certainly efforts worthy of celebration. For one, those blocked shots. Kent has shown many times in many ways that the Flames don't tend to emphasize blocked shots, and they rarely win that battle. Tonight, however, they were throwing themselves in front of everything. Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Cory Sarich all had four or more and even Jarome Iginla had two blocks. Ironically, Robyn Regehr managed no blocks - he must have been too busy knocking guys down in front of the net to get in front of shots. Gotta love Reggie!
A special note of appreciation is reserved for Craig Conroy for being the only Flame with a positive Corsi tonight. It helped that his line was the only one with more offensive zone draws than defensive zone draws (only one more, mind you) and that they saw much more of Matt Cullen than Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher. However, Old Man Conroy has been full value since getting back in the lineup (give or take an egregious own-zone pass or two) and he may have had the set-up of the night had Niklas Hagman taken the time to put the puck in the net. His presence has pushed Mikael Backlund to the press box and makes one wonder why he just wasn't left in Abbotsford coming out of the Olympic break until they really needed him. But this is likely the last go-round for Conroy, and I'm glad he's making the most of it.
I still think "the energy line" plays too much (and yes, I dislike that name). With two minutes left in a 2-0 game, I really don't need to see Eric Nystrom, Curtis Glencross and Jamal Mayers out there against Ottawa's big guns, and icing it no less. However, they did draw the Alfredsson penalty and more importantly, they did score the first goal. It's always a bit of a shock to see a tough guy rifle such a nice shot, but it's easy to forget these guys are all pretty damn talented and Mayers made the most of his opportunity.
Speaking of ice time, it's a little surprising to see the disparity of even strength ice time tonight amongst the forwards. Iggy, Bourque and Matt Stajan had over 16 minutes at EV and the rest of the forwards were within shouting distance of 10 minutes or less. The number of penalty kills were a factor, since the Iggy line doesn't kill penalties. However, coach Sutter clearly made a decision to ride the hot line tonight. Going forward, I believe this will balance out a bit, because Daymond Langkow and Christopher Higgins continue to show they're just as valuable as the first line. (Ales Kotalik continues to show some talent but also that he should be down one line on the depth chart).
Another win and the Flames now need 9 wins in 15 remaining games to hit the "magic" 95 point barrier. The Nashville-San Jose result was pleasing just as the Detroit and Colorado wins were not. The Flames can't rest now, with the Vancouver-Detroit back to backs coming up. Time to file this one away.