My initial choice for the name of this story was "High and Wide", because the bullet by Jarome Iginla in the last few minutes that went, yes, high and wide, is a good metaphor for the entire season. I also thought it could be "The Kid Wasn't Hot Tonight" in honor of Vesa Toskala (and our very own Loverboy fanatic! Sorry, Bob, I couldn't resist!) but he's pretty old and it was an afternoon game, so that didn't work on multiple levels.
Well, hold on, before we get too far. Why the hell was Vesa Toskala in there? I mean, it's a nice story that he had a couple decent outings (by the results, if not necessarily the process). But unless Kipper is begging out of the lineup (which would surprise me), I want him in there every night the rest of the way except maybe next weekend in Boston. I'm guessing the game stories across the blogosphere (and in the MSM) will point to Toskala being the difference in the game, and not the right way. And they'd be right - I firmly believe that they win that game with Kipper from start to finish. But beyond this short rant, I'll leave that story line alone.
Anyway, I settled on the theme for the game noted in the headline above. And it's not because it's not clear from game to game which team we'll see. Whether it was Peter Loubardius noting multiple times "that's the first goal for (insert player) in a Flames jersey" or feeling the pain when one of the few long-time Flames, Daymond Langkow, was felled in a scary incident, it is clear that this is a team of strangers.
The first line is a stalwart (Iginla) and two relative newcomers. Sure, Rene Bourque has been here long enough to become a fan favorite, but it's easy to forget that although he's been here longer than over half the Flames lineup today, he's only in his second year here. Matt Stajan and Bourque will be here a while after signing the big contracts, and they're both good players (although unfortunately evidence has been in scant supply lately), so they'll probably eventually become more familiar in that way that long team players on your favorite team become like a favorite chair. Stajan, in particular, isn't there yet. The second line, again, is a long timer with two guys that haven't earned the Flame fan's affections through either longevity or production. The third line feels like they've been around forever, but that was Nigel Dawes out there today, not Curtis Glencross. Still, two guys beyond their first year in the red and gold is a novelty. The fourth line is back to the "one old guy-two new guys" formula that defines the lineup. The D is the same, of course. Each pairing has a longer term Flame and one in his first year.
So, it's a little bit weird watching these guys, and has been since the big trades. I'm frustrated watching two critical points lost to one of the few non-playoff teams left on their schedule, but I've realized the seeming inevitability of the Flames missing the playoffs isn't bothering me as much as it should. I can't help but wonder if it is because I'm not attached to these guys yet. When Staios scored the first goal, I was hoping someone else had tipped it because I wanted it to be someone I really liked who got the goal. (Of course, Langkow was the only non-first year guy out there, so I'm not sure who I was hoping had tipped it besides him). I know that makes no sense, but I have no attachment to Staios, or Niklas Hagman, or (shudder) Ales Kotalik. Sutter took a big chance in overhauling the roster to the extent he did mid-season, and it turns out it's taken me as long to get used to these guys as they've taken to get used to each other.
At the same time, I've been watching the Nashville-St. Louis debacle while writing this story. Our very own Dustin Boyd (OK, not anymore, but damn!) scored his first and second goals in a Predator jersey, the second one the game winner with three minutes left. And, just to help me remember how much I liked watching him play, he got crushed as he scored the winner but jumped up with a big smile on his face. And, by the way, he was also on the ice defending a one goal lead in the last minute and made the final good defensive play to ice the win. Hard to believe a guy like that couldn't at least work on a fourth line in Calgary!
This is not meant to be a negative story. In time, I'm sure I'll get to really like these guys. Again, I thought they played well today. The game was characterized by a possession advantage up and down the lineup, and considering they were without their best center for half the game (please heal quickly, Mr. Langkow) they were in a position to win that one. They had a strong 3rd period, I thought, except for a five minute stretch or so mid-to-late. Iggy showed more effort to greater effect than in a majority of the games this year. I really like watching Robyn Regehr and Ian White work together, with Reggie in particular showing that he's shaken off the effects of trying to figure out whatever Dion Phaneuf was trying to do and play accordingly. I again loved the Craig Conroy line. Eric Nystrom is improving leaps and bounds, and now getting goals as a result.
But nearly every name noted in the previous paragraph is a longer term Flame, and we're back to where we started. The season is coming to an end too quickly to make this team ours, and a playoff run which burns them into our collective retinas is a longshot.
Random Notes: There were comments asking who the color guy was, since it wasn't the usually reliable Charlie Simmer ("move those feet!"). Personally, I'm always happy to see John Garrett pinch hitting for Simmer, even if he usually does Canuck's games...Watching the Flames on an endless cycle to nowhere far too many times, juxtaposed with the Nashville Predators spending most of the time in the offensive zone off the boards in the middle of the ice, was a pretty good indication of why the Preds are nearly out of reach for Calgary in the standings. The game plan from the coaches to go to the scoring areas, which was so successfully executed during the four game winning streak just a week or so ago, doesn't appear to have legs...A game with only three penalties is always welcome, but I did think that the Wild's Greg Zanon should have received an interference penalty for knocking Langkow to the ice long before the shot that hit him was on the way.