It has been a week of up and downs for the Adirondack Flames. Two losses to a key rival, a 10-0 shellacking of the top Eastern Conference team and then a loss to a team chasing them in the playoff hunt. The team is on the road until the end of February and needs to find some consistency.
The Flames had back to back home games against their division rival - the Utica Comets. Two back to back home games had the atmosphere of a playoff series, and these were hard fought games. During the first loss, Ryan Culkin incurred a serious injury early in the second period - and the team did not seem to recover. Perhaps it was rolling five defenseman, but the Flames seemed to be scrambling from that point on - resulting in a 4-2 loss (Utica scored an empty net goal while the Flames were on the power play very late in the third). The following night was a game the Flames probably should have won - they never trailed until about two minutes left in the contest, when Joni Ortio was beat far side by a snap shot from the right circle. That is a save he makes 95 times out of a 100.
How many times is a team outshot and win 10-0 ? Well, that is what the Flames did to the high flying Syracuse Crunch. Ortio was seeing the puck like it was a beach ball, and the Crunch net minders just weren't seeing anything... It was important to the team that they used that win as a springboard for their content at Rochester two nights later, but that was not the case. The Flames gave up 51 shots and 4 consecutive goals in a 7-4 loss to the Amerks.
As Adirondack approaches the fifty game mark, where are we...
- For the first time in a long time, the Flames are on the outside looking in with regard to the playoff race. They are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and are presently tied for ninth in the Western Conference.
- The Utica Factor - Perhaps the biggest reason they are in their present position is the Utica Comets total domination of the Flames. The Flames are 0-9-0 against their divisional rival, and trail them in the standings by 10 points.
- Turner Elson has been a real bright spot the last few weeks. He has five goals in the last three games and seven goals in his last six. He plays tough in all three zones and is very responsible in his own end. His speed and pressure of the puck has made him one of the team's best penalty killing forwards. He is now an alternate captain and shows a great deal of leadership on the ice.
- Coach Huska has not fully settled in on his lines, and has been shuffling with some regularity. I really liked the line of Emile Poirier, Drew Shore and Sven Baertschi last week and hope that group is held together for a bit. Baertschi has three goals and two assists in his last four games - with all three goals being scored in the blowout of Syracuse.
- Emile Poirier is seventh in AHL rookie scoring with 14 goals and 16 assists in 40 games (he missed the first nine games of the season recovering from injury).
- With Ryan Culkin out for an extended period of time, another young defenseman will need to step up. I think that will be John Ramage. His play has steadily been improving, and he will now be getting regular top four minutes. He served a two game suspension last week, and was sorely missed in the losses against Utica.
- On the veteran front, Mark Cundari has seen a significant increase in playtime the last two weeks and has stepped up nicely. He has played well in his own end and has a goal and three assists in his last four games.
- Goaltender Brad Thiessen and his wife had a baby boy last week - congrats. Thiessen missed a couple games due to his wife having a long labor - during that time, Doug Carr was recalled from Colorado.
- Bill Arnold (out since January 9) and Devin Setoguchi (out since December 12) are both skating, but have not yet been cleared to play.
The Flames are on the road this weekend in Oklahoma City for back to back games Friday and Saturday against the Oilers affiliate. It is the time of the season where everyone starts to watch the standings a bit closer - and the Flames need to find more consistency in their play - hopefully the practice time this week along with a team building road trip will accomplish that.
A study by financial web site SmartAsset named the Glens Falls region as the fourth best hockey market in America. The study weighed quality of life criteria very heavily, which favored smaller and collegiate markets - but a nice recognition none the less for our great little community. One thing we all know here - this is a great place for teams to have their prospects develop and focus on hockey, where the players are treated like family.