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Darryl Sutter

John Mayer’s song “Belief,” or track three on his 2006 studio album Continuum, was by all accounts not written about the Calgary Flames. But after Wednesday night’s humiliating 19-shot effort at home against an opponent not only competing for what the Red Mile hoped was its #8 seed, but also one being coached by the very man who took the Flames to within one booth review of the Stanley Cup eight years ago, many of Mayer’s realist, if not indicting, lines seem very relevant to the current state of the hockey franchise in Calgary.
Oh everyone believes
In how they think it ought to be,
Oh everyone believes
They’re not going easily.
Year after year, the Flames seem to get themselves in this position of needing to put a run together at the end of March to make a charge for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. The rhetoric never changes: “Calgary is one of the hottest teams in the league right now (despite a pedestrian record);” “If the Flames find a way to get in, those division winners better watch out… after all, the playoffs are won by the hottest goalie, and Calgary’s got one with pedigree;” “None of the teams battling the Flames in the standings have the kind of heart and soul that Iginla & the boys do,” and so forth and so on.

Come the end of the year, every year, supporters of the Flames work themselves up enough to believe in how they think it ought to be — specifically, that the Flames are molded in the fashion of a good old underperforming-yet-peaking lower seed that can skate toe-to-toe with any squad that it may face in the playoffs. What’s more is the belief that despite habitually trailing multiple teams and spotting said teams a game in hand or two, Calgary seems to always believe that the old “win out” scenario is normal and achievable in the first place.
After all, everyone believes that they’re not going easily.
But after last season’s attempt at pole vaulting out of purgatory fell considerably short, and this season had many wondering why GM Jay Feaster a) would not consider trading Iginla before the deadline to rebuild this stagnant ship, or b) still has a job, the old end of the season desperation set in and everyone forgot all of the problems that still torture the Flames. Despite all of the negativity that comes with following a Canadian team in the NHL, everyone assumed that a home ice meeting with the L.A. Kings, who sat one point ahead of Calgary and without the tiebreaker over the Flames, would go just brilliantly. Because the Flames sure as hell aren’t going easily.
Then, the Flames went easily. By the time the puck was dropped, the lid to the candle was being slid over the Saddledome. Less than six minutes in, Kings’ defenseman Willie Mitchell scored the game winner. Less than twenty minutes later, Dustin Brown, the very much questioned, trade-dangled and under-appreciated captain of the Kings, fired home the insurance goal.
Calgary got outshot 30-19. They were outhit 17-14. Takeaways were 7-6 in favor of the Kings, and the Flames gave away a vomit inducing 15 pucks, compared to L.A.’s grand total of 2. Penalty minutes and faceoffs won were drawn, at 10 and 29 apiece respectively. Again, Calgary was at home.
Everyone believes
From emptiness to everything,
Everyone believes
And no one’s going quietly.
If “emptiness to everything” doesn’t sum up the way most of the hockey world views the Flames’ own self-image over the course of a hockey season, I’m not sure what does. Except maybe “Potential to everything to emptiness to everything to hell in a hand basket.” And yes, in that exact order.
We’re never gonna win the world
We’re never gonna stop the war
We’re never gonna beat this
If belief is what we’re fighting for.
Am I the only one who notices how much of Feaster’s plan seems to be PR-based? Granted, in an age when the public can chant its way to firings, promotions and trades, a lot of Feaster’s job has to be coaxing the public into believing in his plan. I just wonder at what point we realize that there are a lot of educated fans out there who have evaluated the situation and called for a rebuild. When is it alright to make the hard decision to go down the tougher road with the idea that in four or five years the franchise will be much better off?

Make no mistake about it, continually chasing the eighth seed and refusing to consider flipping the few assets one possesses is not choosing the harder route. Sure, there’s honor in the fight, but it’s fun to chase the playoffs. Fans forget this all the time — just look at the sentiment in Toronto right now — but the truth is that prior to the clinical depression that comes with a 9th, 10th or 11th place finish (or a first-round beatdown) is a euphoria of mild success mixed with grandiose hopes and expectations. That euphoric part is fun. A lot of fun. If it wasn’t, nobody would use drugs a second time. Nobody would gamble. Smart people wouldn’t secretly like pop music.
The hard decision would be to start over and gut the thing. The reason this would be hard is that there would be absolutely no foreseeable moments of euphoria for a few years. The team would suck and miss the playoffs. There would be no “we almost made it” salability. Truths would have to be faced. Everyone involved would have to go through rehab.
So instead of making the hard choices that should give the Flames a better chance of being a true Stanley Cup contender five years from now — or “winning the world,” in a hockey sense — the Flames will continue to fight for belief. Belief of the fans, the players, and themselves at the top. Flames’ brass will continue to do what it has to do in order to convince itself that the squad is just one or two pieces away; never mind that those hypothetical pieces would be much too big to fit through the doorway.
The real Cup contenders have built themselves into such. They know they are capable; the only question that remains is whether or not they will win their world, and (temporarily) stop their war. But a team like the Flames will never beat this if belief is what they’re fighting for.
Is there anyone
You can remember
Who ever surrendered
With their life on the line?
Yep. Again, sitting in 11th place and spotting a game in hand to all but Colorado, the Flames’ playoff lives were on the line last night. And I don’t know how a 19-shot performance at home can be called anything but a surrender. There was never a lead to protect. The penalties were even. Calgary simply put 19 pucks on net in a must-win home game.
For those who think the Flames are still in this thing, let’s go to the schedule, shall we? Calgary has four games left, which is one more than Colorado but one less than every other relevant team in the West. The Flames are at home against Colorado on Friday night before heading to Vancouver for an HNIC late game the very next night. After the four days off that follow, Calgary then hosts Vancouver before closing out at home against Anaheim on one of those patented lazy weekend afternoon games (Saturday at 2 p.m. local time).
Those who disagree with my pronouncement that the Flames are doused will cite the three home games coming in. How’d that home thing go last night? They will claim that Vancouver may be resting up for the playoffs. For starters, the Canucks would probably like to finish ahead of St. Louis for home ice throughout the conference playoffs (and probably SCF). On top of that, did anyone notice that 1-0 shutout that Cory Schneider pitched Wednesday night against the desperate-and-actually-playing-like-it Avalanche? Unlike Calgary, Colorado fired an impressive 43 shots on goal in a road game at a superior opponent. Schneider handled them all, and this came just two days after his buddy Roberto Luongo did the Kings in with his own 38-save 1-0 shutout. If Vancouver doesn’t care, somebody forgot to tell the team’s entire defensive system.
With no relevant games to this situation on Sunday, we will know the outlook for the Flames by the end of their HNIC game this weekend in Vancouver. Anything shy of four points between now and then should see the team eliminated by the time the Canucks make the return trip to Calgary. On top of that, there are a few Pacific Division games that could head to overtime and whittle that tragic number down even further.
Let’s see if the Flames play this thing out with true belief, or if 19 shots at home in a must win game was the surrender it seems to be.
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Sundays are almost always lean in terms of NHL scheduling. In my younger 20s, we would refer to Sunday as “the day of reflection,” which usually tied in with getting our minds and bodies right after a few nights of good ways to make bad decisions. I think given my advanced age and rededication to the upkeep of this blog, Sundays are a good day to reflect upon the week that was with specific regard to Tram’s Table posts that previewed something that could use a little reviewing as well.

Boston Bruins d. Philadelphia Flyers 6-0


On Friday I previewed the Saturday afternoon duel for first place in the eastern conference between Boston and Philly. The title of the post was “Concussions Hinder Flyers Ahead of Saturday’s Tilt with Bruins for East’s Top Spot.” While I may have upset some Boston fans by glossing over the B’s issues, specifically the concussion suffered by Daniel Paille, the angle probably was spot on. Granted, it would have taken more than just Giroux and/or Pronger to reverse a 6-0 drubbing on home ice, but the Flyers had the look of a team that was more limited than a typical “9-1 in their last 10” team should be.

The Bruins looked like a team capable of winning a(nother) Stanley Cup. To do so, they may have to face the Flyers for a third straight year, and after last spring’s second-round sweep, it’s hard to find anything from yesterday that would suggest a reversal of the outcome of this potential series. It’s even harder when you consider that Chris Pronger is, at least as it stands right now, not going to take part in any more hockey this season.

Bachman d. Poulin 3-2 as predicted… then gets torched at NJ


On Thursday I keyed in on the Dallas at New York Islanders matchup because it involved the two goaltenders with the least amount of combined NHL experience. Dallas trotted out its AHL usual, Richard Bachman, formerly of Colorado College. The Isles sent out their preferred AHL tender as well: Kevin Poulin.

There is no need to retroactively preview the game, since that was another post, but the “something in the realm of a 3-2 Dallas win” turned out to be something of an exact final score.

Since that game, New York went back to this season’s best starting option in Al Montoya (of the University of Michigan… gotta plug NCAA hockey & especially the soon-to-be-defunct CCHA). Dallas, meanwhile, chose to roll Bachman again on Friday night in New Jersey on Scott Niedermayer jersey retirement night. It didn’t go well for The Pen Name. The Devils beat the Stars 6-3 with no empty netters.

Dallas plays next on Monday night on Versus at 8:00 eastern time, where they will host the horrendously struggling Anaheim Ducks. We will see if Bachman gets his fifth straight start or if Dallas benches The Pen Name in favor of regular backup Andrew Raycroft (he of the 3.53 GAA).

Red Wings blast Kings 8-2


On Tuesday I put my two cents in on the firing of Kings’ head coach Terry Murray, and the possible changes in playing style that may necessarily follow. It was recently announced, to nobody’s surprise, that Murray will be replaced by a Sutter brother for the second time. Eleven years ago, it was Duane Sutter who took over for Murray in Florida. Now it will be Darryl Sutter to try to lead the Kings back to the playoffs.

One possible side effect of Murray’s axing that I noted was a rise in the goals against department for the Kings. This would not necessarily hurt the team, as they could allow 0.5 more goals per game, but score 1.0 more and end up doing better in the overall standings. But the opening up of play would have a negative effect on goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to a lesser degree his backup, Jonathan Bernier. The drawbacks would probably be more fantasy-related than actual hockey-related, since the goal of any netminder is ultimately to just win games. But both gentlemen are up for a contract renewal after next season, and statistics can have a way of affecting a free agent’s next deal.

In the end, I don’t think there should be too much to worry about for L.A.’s goalies, because I don’t believe many people consider Sutter’s style to be all that different from Murray’s. Sutter presided over Miikka Kiprusoff, who in 2004 was not all that unlike Quick as far as career plot. That Calgary Flames team came within one goal line review of winning the Stanley Cup. And who knows, maybe the best forward from that ’04 Flames team will be a King before long… I should note that I doubt this will happen, but the Flames probably should be preparing themselves to trade captain Jarome Iginla before he retires and they get nothing in a potential deal.

After noting that L.A. was 6th in goals against per game in the NHL at the time of Murray’s firing, we looked at the five teams playing “better defense,” and noted that of the five, only Detroit had seemingly no shot at toting a Vezina-winning goalie. I’m sure my opinion is at least a little bit skewed by the fact that I root for the Red Wings, but I constantly hear people saying that Jimmy Howard is not that great, but that he plays for a team that doesn’t require great goaltending.

We broke the shots against per game statistic down and hopefully made a dent in some of that misguided armor.

Last night was a perfect Rug Game (it really tied the room together), as the Kings went into Joe Louis Arena and promptly got blown out of the building. Quick allowed 3 goals on 7 shots and was yanked less than 9 minutes into the contest. Bernier provided little relief, as he was only able to stop 15 of the 20 shots he faced en route to an 8-2 mauling. Howard saved 27 of 29, but as usual, that was of little note. Sutter will reportedly take over head coaching duties for the Kings on Tuesday, per Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.