Flames Badly Need To Step Up Their Defense

David ProtheroeContributor IMarch 15, 2009

It's April 2006.

It's the first season after the lockout, and the Calgary Flames finish the season in the "new" NHL as the only team to keep their opponents to under 200 goals for the season, letting in just 193 over the full 82 games. Carolina wins the Cup with a playoff GAA of 2.40.

It's April 2007.

Ten teams allow fewer goals that the Flames, who end the season with 221 goals against and an average of 2.70 per game. Anaheim allows only 198 goals in the regular season for a GAA of 2.42 and goes on to claim Lord Stanley's Cup.

It's April 2008.

The Flames defense and goaltending allow 224 goals, good for 16th in the league. The Detroit Red Wings, on the other hand, let only a handful of markers past them, finishing the season with 179 pucks in the back of their net for an average of a mere 2.18 goals against per game. And we all know who took home the hardware that year.

This year, after only 69 games, the Calgary Flames have already surrendered 212 red lights...and that's enough to put them 25th in the league. 

On average, opposing teams have managed to light the lamp against Calgary just over three times per game this season. Granted, the Flames also have the second most firepower in the league, scoring 3.28 goals a game, but when they hit the Playoffs, they come up against the best of the best.

I know, I'm stating the obvious, bear with me. I think that it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to keep up their current rate of scoring once they the regular season ends.

My point is that defense wins championships. This is a given in any major sport: basketball, football, even baseball.

And while the teams who have won it all in the post-lockout era have allowed less than two and half goals per game, Calgary's defense has been worse and worse every year. 

Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has the ability to steal a game (or even a series) for a team, but he cannot do it solely by himself. Facing over 30 shots per game, night in and night out, he would have to have a save percentage of roughly .920. While this is by no means unattainable, it hasn't been happening this year.

Kiprusoff does not rank among the league's top goaltenders in terms of save percentage and goals against. If he gets hot during the Playoffs, he definitely could put his name up there, but Calgary cannot rely on him to do so. They need much more help from the blue line.

Gary Sutter realized this and brought in Jordan Leopold from Colorado at the trade deadline to help bolster his defense. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as if Sutter's moves have paid off, considering Calgary has surrendered 28 goals in the six games since the deadline.

On paper, the Flames' blue line looks very solid. Robyn Regehr, Adrian Aucoin, and Dion Phaneuf are all proven defenders, and the additions of Leopold and rookie Adam Pardy make a nearly complete lineup. But somehow, even with all these names on the roster, Calgary still can't manage to keep the puck out of its net.

Case in point: last night's game against Toronto (yes, Toronto). This is a team whose leading scorer has amassed only 23 goals. Three players on the Flames have more: Iginla, Cammalleri, and Jokinen. And Bourque likely would also have more had he not been injured. Yet somehow, the Leafs managed to score eight times!

Okay, it was the last game of a grueling seven-game road trip that included matchups in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Detroit. Nights like last night happen, I get that. But twice in two weeks? And to teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay?

What's gonna happen when the Calgary Flames meet Detroit or San Jose in the semifinals (assuming the make it out of the first round)?

Sure, the Flames have proven that they can beat both of those teams. But can they do it consistently?

If they can beat Philly 5-1 on one night, then lose to the Hurricanes 6-1 the next, or beat Detroit 6-5 in a hard-fought shootout, then go into Toronto and lose 8-6, I shudder to think what could happen in the Playoffs. After all, that's when anything can happen.

Bottom line: The offense is flying, Jokinen is churning out goals as fast as Wayne Gretzky was back in his day. Kipper is Kipper, he has his off nights, but he is usually incredible, making stops that most people didn't think were possible.

However, the defense is letting him face 30 shots a night. They need to get their act together and play as a tight, cohesive unit, limiting the shots Kipper has to face to maybe 25. Then they will definitely be a serious threat to contend for the Cup.


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