The season isn't at an end, but you can see it from here. I'm on the record as saying that there is no outcome that may result from the Flames missing the playoffs that is worth it happening. Even first round exits are better than not geting the chance. However, as Resolute noted below, playoff hockey in Calgary may only be the junior variety this year.
Having said that, I'm not here to write obituaries. There are still 13 games left. So, let's talk about this game in particular.
For starters, this was a pretty boring game. Alright, that's not cutting edge analysis, but there it is. There were a relatively small number of decent scoring chances at both ends, particularly by the Flames. According to Kent's count, after Craig Conroy, David Moss and the long lost Nigel Dawes converted three quick chances into the only Flames goal of the night a minute plus in, Calgary had only ten (10!) chances the rest of the night. Sure, they held Detroit to 15 chances themselves (although 5 of them came with Todd Bertuzzi on the ice, so that's still embarassing). But 10 chances in 58 minutes means you're playing with fire, depending on such high quality chances that shooting percentage luck is on your side and goaltending that keeps you in games to convert those high quality chances. And hoping that bleepin' Tomas Holmstrom isn't camped next to the crease with a minute left and a puck zooming toward him and Kipper.
In retrospect, it's been a pretty boring season, particularly if goals and shots are your currency. There has been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere (a LOT of discussion) on Darryl Sutter and the moves he's made, And there will be a lot more, as the roster he's assembled is the one that is failing to truly entertain, while also failing to win enough games - that is not a good combination. I can't help but wonder how much coaching plays a part. I was clearly one who was wanted to see the backside of Mike Keenan, and thought I was happy to see Brent Sutter (although I was loudly calling for Dave Tippett to be considered over Sutter). Sutter's 08-09 team in New Jersey scored at a reasonable rate and was near the top of the league in shots. Anecdotally, I got the sense they played up-tempo with a deep group of forwards that had only one real star.
But now? I don't know. Is Sutter only driving the bus, with the roadmap set in the summer to reduce goals against, at all costs? Sure, they've given up an impressive 0.59 GPG less than last year - never mind that they've scored 0.58 GPG less than last year too. They are passive when leading by a goal in the third, which is frustrating, but even more passive when tied in the third. A lot of it has to do with the forechecking style of the forwards, but last night watching Detroit drove home how important having defencemen willing to challenge breakouts is as well. The winning goal was just one of many times that a Flame forward was challenged right at the blue and lost the battle, or were slowed down, or had the puck deflected away a few feet to short circuit a breakout.
I don't watch Detroit enough to know if their D is that agressive with all teams - certainly, they're not setting the West on fire this year either, so maybe that's not the model to follow. But they were always standing up to the rush and it sure seemed to work last night. There wouldn't even be a Red Wing in the screen when the puck was coming to an apparently open Flame, and yet they'd be there in a flash to make the next Calgary move either rushed or in reverse. The Flames play in retreat mode far too much - while that feels like smart defensive hockey when they win, it is hard to write about when they lose.
To hammer the point home a little more, last night the Detroit announcers (when they weren't saying "there's a trip/hold/slash/interference, no call") referenced specifically the defensive improvement by the Flames and how Sutter was emphasizing the reduction in shots against, and how important that was, etc. Calgary gave up 29.8 shots per game in 2008-09. They are giving up 29.0 this year. That's something, but not a lot. The goals against being down is all Kipper. Combined with the goals for reduction, that leaves the Flames nearly where they are every year at this time - too close to the playoff cut line for comfort.
Detroit Announcer Notes: Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond deserve some special mention for trying to entertain me with laughter last night. Besides the comment on the Flames big reduction in shots against, I also learned that...Brad Stuart was a shutdown defenceman in Calgary "granted, for only 27 games" - presumably they weren't counting the playoffs!...Todd Bertuzzi scored 7 goals in the first "few" games for Calgary last year, and then he got hurt - yes, we have enough evidence this year that 20 game goalless droughts hurt.