The Calgary Flames will need to continue crushing road competition through their upcoming away stretch, and avoid succumbing to pressure themselves. The team currently holds a gleaming 7-1-2 record when playing away from the Pengrowth Saddledome, but own a surprisingly-sloppy 6-5-0 at home.
With two weeks between tonight’s contest against the Phoenix Coyotes in Calgary and their next home game, the Flames will need to pick up all the wins they can—and keep their road numbers sparkling— to maintain decent overall numbers through their next ten tilts.
Tonight, at around 5p.m. MST, the Phoenix Coyotes would have hit the team bus, headed to the Pengrowth Saddledome for their Wednesday night tilt against the Calgary Flames.
Local players, on the other hand, would’ve made their way to the rink from various parts of the city. Perhaps inspired by the road asphalt flowing beneath, driving separately but thinking one thought:
Bring this one home.
The Calgary Flames play their last home game of November tonight, not returning to the C of Red until the 9th of December, when they take on the Atlanta Thrashers. The club is then slated to stay in the city until their December 11 date with the Minnesota Wild, before shipping back out for two more road riots, matching against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver and the Blues in St Louis.
December’s rear-loaded schedule eventually sends the Flames back to their own barn for six of the seven remaining contests that month. The teeter-totter pitch caused by home/away imbalance over the next few weeks adds extra pressure now , on a team already grasping for consistency.
Heading into the game against the Coyotes, Calgary held a by-the-skin-of-their-teeth 6-5-0 record at the ‘Dome. After that tilt, the Flames calendar sets eight of their next 10 meetings on the road, leaving their currently-pristine 7-1-3 away numbers wide-open.
If they continue their winning ways, the Flames could return to Alberta in mid-December with incredible travel stats. On the other hand, considering their just-over-.500 status at their own arena, if they drop too many in the coming weeks, they’ll expose their already-criticised flaws through an only-just-average record.
There’s nothing terribly worrying about Calgary’s competition over the next few weeks, the most difficult opponents arguably being the League-leading San Jose Sharks and the Northwest-topping Avs. However, the Flames are a team who have faltered at the most unexpected times.
Scouting the opposition and buckling down should give the club few excuses as they embark on this cross-continental jaunt. With the right tools at their disposal, if the Calgary Flames flounder this stretch, head coach Brent Sutter will demand to know the reason why.
Stating the Obvious—Calgary’s Resources Known To All
Jarome Iginla has kept his November fire burning bright, personifying his trademark method of lifting his team by raising his game. One of the NHL’s best players this month, Iginla has also been his club’s most noticeable skater, tagging 12 goals and 14 points in ten November games. It’s not exactly a newsflash: the Flames will continue to sizzle as long as their captain stays hot.
Iginla now leads his team in points, surpassing Rene Bourque, who had sat atop the stats until last Saturday's game in LA versus the Kings, where Jarome grabbed a hat trick and the roster lead. Bourque, a consistent threat to become a break-out player, was placed on the IR with an undisclosed injury last week after the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fans wait with bated breath for his return.
Luckily for all concerned, local media sources reported Bourque’s presence at Wednesday’s pregame practice; though he didn’t take part in more intense aspects of the workout, his efforts indicate a desire to get back out there as soon as possible.
No one wants to see a repeat of the season-busting interruptions he’s suffered in years past, and in wake of the scoring streak he was on before this most recent bump, Bourque will be gnawing eagerly at his day-to-day status. Set to return by early December, he’ll work to boost team production by hiking his personal data up even further.
Olli Jokinen will have to make the most of the friendly terrain that has been the Flames highway. The Joker’s point-totals are good enough for third overall on the Flames, but include just three goals—the only markers he's recorded in his past 35 regular-season matches, reaching back into last year.
Appreciated assist totals aside, the Finnish centreman will be expected to even out his game on what has so far been steeply-slanted road ice. For the moment, Daymond Langkow has taken up some of the slack, tied with Bourque for second in team goal-scoring, with seven markers and 13 points.
Tying things together, Calgary’s supporting cast remains strong, and as demonstrated early this season, when Flames star names aren’t producing, these guys are ready to play stand-in.
Nigel Dawes, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Eric Nystrom, Dustin Boyd, and others have filled in the gaps so far, and are relied upon to keep Calgary’s play even as the season goes along. Role-players step up for their specialised ice time, and call-ups are available for depth and substitution.
Calgary’s blueline has also steadied out, and none of the defensemen on the current roster have a negative rating in the plus-minus column—a blinding contrast compared to last year‘s dismal defensive rankings.
It may seem out of place to praise the defensive responsibility of a roster which has allowed so many shots-against, double 3-2 losses to Colorado, plus the 6-5 and 7-1 flub-fests at the hands of Chicago. However, those deflating defeats create a misleading impression, remembering that the two iffy November tilts versus the Avs and the 'Hawks were the only times this month in which the Flames allowed more than two goals-against in regulation.
After a nasty minus-11 recorded last year by Dion Phaneuf, the Flames 2003 first-round choice has pulled back up to a respectable plus-two, matching stalwart Robyn Regehr and risk-taker Mark Giordano ’s current ratings.
Adam Pardy clocks in with a plus-three, while Jay Bouwmeester —whose 12 points to-date put the rearguard on pace to match career highs—sits pretty at plus-eight, second on the team only to forward Curtis Glencross, plus-9.
Calgary’s rearguards must work with their forward ranks to help lower the shot-count against the Flames net, an area easily improved by cranking up fore- and back-checking efforts, especially from offensive skaters.
Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has been admirable in net recently and has improved his GAA to a respectable 2.57, down from earlier numbers which rocketed well over 3.00. Back-up Curtis McElhinney earned a morale boost with his win against the Dallas Stars earlier this month, but will need to keep his performances solid if he wants the team to feel confident in relying on his play.
Find the balance
It is two weeks to the day between Wednesday night’s game and their next match-up on home ice. Despite Calgary’s prior reputation as a home-barn team with troubles on the road, this year has been a flip. Working with the schedule they’re playing through right now, they must improve their Saddledome record as the chances arise, and work hard to maintain their newfound stability away.
If the Flames can reassert their home-ice dominance while continuing to roll on the road, they will have finally found the balance they‘ve been building towards—at last, allowing the team to fully utilise the increased production and bolstered bench which GM Darryl Sutter has spent the past few years developing.
If not, they may have to deal with a mirror-opposite season with similar results: wins on the road plus losses at home equals another average overall outcome—not to mention increasingly tired, frustrated Flames personnel.
At least when the team struggled through travel sessions in the past, the Flames gave their local crowd something to cheer for. Despite road woes, it helps keep fans happy when they actually get to see their team rule their own roost. Obviously, it’s time for the Calgary Flames to bring their game home.
Keep your bags packed, boys, but bring back a souvenir.
Other games and scores Flames fans should keep tabs on tonight
What some of the competition is up to:
Flames fans will hope these games are decided in regulation, avoiding extra points being spread around the sardine tin which is the Western Conference.
Edmonton Oilers vs. LA Kings, 7:30 p.m. — It’s natural for Flames fans to want Calgary’s Northwest Division rival Oilers to lose whenever possible. Tonight, however, Edmonton takes on the LA Kings, a team trailing the Flames by just one point in the tight Western Conference race for playoff seeding. With the Oilers just six points distant of Calgary, this one will end with one or the other a bit closer to the erratic Flames.
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. — Similar to the LAK-EDM match, this game features a pair of Western competitors; also, a win for either is bad news for Calgary. But someone has to win. The Avs sit just one place and three points above the Flames, while the Preds chase for Calgary’s current fourth-place position, just two points behind.
Chicago Blackhawks @ San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. — The Flames may not be able to catch the much-hated ‘Hawks tonight, dancing three points behind the Central Division leaders. But keeping tabs on this clash of the titans will be worth while to all Western watchers, as first-place overall battles second.
Chicago is on a seven-game winning streak, while the NHL-topping Sharks have yet to lose at home in regulation this season. Will HP Pavilion be enough to topple the high-flying Blackhawks?
If so, the Flames could find themselves that much closer to catching up with their 2009 playoff rivals, who have already scored an embarrassing 13 goals at the expense of the Calgary club. Next to the Division-rival Avs, the Flames are most interested in pulling even with the Windy City’s certified fire-dousers.
Also, Flames fans will recognise Matthew Lombardi, playing in Calgary as a Phoenix Coyote tonight, for the first time against his former Flames team mates.
See Comments section below for post game updates from Calgary vs Phoenix, November 25, 2009
Calgary Flames Next 10 Games (all start-times listed in MST, home games italicised )
Fri, 27 Nov 2009 Calgary Flames @ Detroit Red Wings — 5:00 p.m., RDS, SNET-W
Sat, 28 Nov 2009 Calgary Flames @ Columbus Blue Jackets — 5:00 p.m., CBC
Mon, 30 Nov 2009 Calgary Flames @ Nashville Predators — 6:00 p.m., SNET-W
Thu, 3 Dec 2009 Calgary Flames @ Phoenix Coyotes — 7:30 p.m., Flames PPV
Sat, 5 Dec 2009 Calgary Flames @ San Jose Sharks — 8:00 p.m., CBC
Mon, 7 Dec 2009 Calgary Flames @ Los Angeles Kings — 8:30 p.m., SNET-W
Wed, 9 Dec 2009 Atlanta Thrashers @ Calgary Flames — 7:30 p.m., SNET-W
Fri, 11 Dec 2009 Minnesota Wild @ Calgary Flames — 7:00 p.m., Flames PPV
Sun, 13 Dec 2009 Calgary Flames @ Colorado Avalanche — 6:00 p.m., SNET-W
Tue, 15 Dec 2009 Calgary Flames @ St Louis Blues — 6:00 p.m., Flames PPV
M MacDonald Hall is a Calgary Flames Featured Columnist, covering hockey ins-and-outs for B|R and syndication.