When the Flames play a period of hockey as bad as they did in the first period tonight, the universe is shaken. I know this because while I was trying to clear my head get my bearings, I swear Doug Maclean said something that made sense, and I'm certain the words of Charlie Simmer were echoing in my head (and yes, I'm aware he wasn't announcing the game).
"Move your feet" "Move your feet" "Move your feet" "Move your feet"
Maclean noted that the Flames spent the entire period chasing the puck, that they're not classically a puck possession team, they're a dump and chase team, but if they are chasing the puck all the time, they're going to get killed. Nothing approaching brain surgery there, but he's right. Let's leave aside the obvious question (Why aren't they more of a puck possession team? Isn't that the way the winning teams all play? Does anyone win with primarily a dump and chase style anymore?). Okay, that's three questions. Anyway, the Flames are what they are, and that is a team that chisels the puck of the boards in their own end, tries to win battles to the puck in the opposition end, cycles (sometimes, ad naseum) and if all is going well, goes to the net and scores that way.
However, they lost nearly every battle in the first period. They had a classic momentum killing powerplay early. Brent Sutter let Dave Tippett sneak in a mid-shift change at the nine-minute mark that led to nearly two straight minutes of Phoenix pressure on the Flames fourth line. Lee Stempniak tried to show Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman how to celebrate getting traded out of Toronto (12 goals in his first 12 games as a Coyote? Really?), but Kipper got in the way. And the Flames weren't moving their feet (I'm not sure if they were keeping it simple or not - sorry Charlie, I still don't know what that means).
I didn't think the second period started much better, but then realized I was seeing too much of Jarome Iginla, Stajan and Hagman. And so was Sutter, because they started playing a little bit less at even strength. (Of course, Iggy was still second among forwards in TOI at EV by the end of the night, but it seemed to me he was not playing as much as he has been lately, and deservedly so). Instead, we started seeing more of the Craig Conroy and Mikael Backlund trios, and they started driving possession in the right direction. The Flames started holding the puck, making nice passes, winning the board battles and not chasing, chasing, chasing.
Conroy, David Moss and Nigel Dawes, in particular, looked really strong tonight - granted, they spent most of their night against the Czech line and not the Eastern European that really kills the Flames (Poland's own Wojtek Wolski). But Martin Hanzal, Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata are no slouches either, just three of the wave of tough forwards that has Phoenix in unchartered waters. So, despite the lack of goals and the minus they were saddled with in the third period, it was a good night for the third line.
And the second line provided the offense - at least partially on the first goal. Rene Bourque found himself in the right spot on a powerplay, and a bounce went the Flame's way. The first goal has been important for the Flames this year (and Phoenix is 35-3-3 when they score first, best in the league) and Bourque's 25th goal was a welcome end to the scoreless game. The whole second line was full value for the other Calgary goal. Backlund and Ales Kotalik combined for a nice goal early in the third period (I've always loved that Ales Kotalik!). And that was enough to offset another goal from Stempniak (13 goals in his first 14 games as a Coyote? Really?), and a bit of a shell-induced fire drill to end the game.
Overall, it was not a high event game. Not a ton of hits, not a ton of blocks, not a ton of penalties, and despite 30+ shots for each team, not a ton of great scoring chances. Kent's numbers gave the Coyotes the clear advantage there, but I have to say it didn't feel that lopsided watching the game (the Bourque number is particularly surprising). Doesn't matter in the end. The Flames may have received a break by avoiding Ilya Bryzgalov, but Jason LaBarbera played well enough to give the Coyotes a chance to win. Mikka Kiprusoff was one goal better. The Flames got the better of the team that came in with the best record in the league in one-goal games, and now they are one good game away from being tied for the final playoff spot.
Random Notes: It was bad enough agreeing with Doug Maclean earlier, but now I'm really going to go over the top by also agreeing with Nick Kypreos. He noted the Coyote's defense are really active and they certainly were this game. I haven't seen enough of Phoenix to know if this is typical for them, but their D have a lot of goals this year so it wouldn't be a surprise if it is. They definitely put pressure on the Flames forwards tonight...Interesting ice time distribution for the Flames defencemen today - five guys all a hair over twenty minutes and Steve Staios with fifteen...Is Stajan trying too hard to get the puck to Iggy? He wouldn't be the first Flame to focus too much on feeding Iginla, at the expense of his own game, but I'd sure love to see him play with different players to see what he can do outside a position ("#1 center") that he doesn't fit.