November 22, 2010

Weekend at Burnie's: How Three Days Epitomize just what's Wrong with the Flames

A lot can happen in under four seconds: you can cut yourself shaving, you can switch channels on the television, you can chug a beer if you're especially talented, you can miss your bus if the driver feels like being a knob and sees you coming only to drive off anyway, and, hell, you can even climax (although, I would hope the foreplay and actual intercourse would last at least a tad longer). However, if you're the Calgary Flames, what happens is that one weekend's worth of hard work nearly all goes down the drain.

On Sunday, with the Flames leading the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings 4-3 late in the third period, Henrik Zetterberg tied it up with approximately 3.2 seconds left. In overtime, Nicklas Lidstrom scored the game-winning goal in spectacular fashion to not only send his team home with two points but leave the visitors shaking their heads as to just what they have to do to get it right... consistently. Because that's all the Flames' woes this season boil down to (dysfunction within the organization has already been analyzed to bits leaving the on-ice product the only thing left to criticize).

A few days earlier, on Friday to be exact, the Flames skated rather easily to a 7-2 victory over the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks. And up until the 10-minute mark of Sunday's third period the Flames were doing quite well and even held a 4-2 lead, and, then: disaster struck.

Clearly the Red Wings are a good team and ironically if Detroit had embarrassed the Flames yesterday, there would probably be no reason to write this because everyone would have just accepted that the Wings were the superior team. While that's true, the fact of the matter is the Flames arguably deserved to win that game (giving up three-straight goals including the game-tying one with three seconds left notwithstanding), and yet they didn't.

The Flames' longest winning streak of the season lasted three games and right after that ended they started their longest losing streak, which lasted four. After that ended, they won one game and then began another three-game losing streak, and then they beat down the Hawks, and then yesterday happened. There's little to be made of it except for the fact that they are good enough to make the playoffs, but will maybe just fall short, winning 10-straight at the end of the season to put themselves in playoff contention only to lose their last game 13-0 and miss out on the post-season. With this team anything can happen.

When it all comes down to it, the Flames are deep enough to at least make the post-season this year. When healthy, with the addition of Brendan Morrison and with the hopefully eventual return of Daymond Langkow, the Flames are deeper than any team in the league at centre. When Jarome Iginla is going, there's arguably no better captain in the league (he now has six points in his last two games, fyi). Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is undeniably one of the most effective starters in the league as well, when well-rested. And defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has near-limitless talent that once justified his five-year $33.4-million contract. These are all facts, but it's those qualifiers that do the Flames in:

1) Bouwmeester has yet to live up to that limitless talent.
2) Kiprusoff has started all but two of Calgary's 19 games, putting him on pace for over 70 appearances yet again.
3) Before these latest two games, Iginla had only 10 points (three goals) in 17 games, putting him on pace for only 48 (14).
4) The Flames aren't healthy and the recent three-game suspension to Olli Jokinen only evidenced just how fragile even the greatest depth can be.
5) And, oh, yeah, Alex Tanguay, who has more gears than a mountain bike (an incredibly soft, not-all-there mentally mountain bike), leads the team in scoring. How more inconsistent can the team be proven to be?

So the Flames are now forced back to square one, with their latest loss serving only as a cruel reminder of how great they can be and yet aren't. For the record, I picked them to finish eighth in the conference (link here), but like Weekend at Bernie's it's a very real possibility that they may end up disappointing... unless you like watching things die a horrible death.

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