Monday, July 03, 2006

What went wrong with the Calgary Flames 2005-06 season?

Calgary Flames: What went wrong?

First let's talk about what went right: first place in the Northwest Division, a formidable defense, strong physical game, Hart and Vezina candidate Miikka Kiprusoff, Calder Trophy candidate Dion Phaneuf, every home game sold out. There were enough positive attributes that would make any NHL team salivate.

The bottom line is teams hate to play the Calgary Flames. Nashville's Tomas Vokoun saw 32 shots from the Flames on their March 7th meeting. "But it felt like 50. You have to battle hard to see the puck. That's what good teams do. They make it hard on you. It's a totally tough team to play against."

However, the season's downside carried straight through to the playoffs: if Kiprusoff wasn't the first star in any given contest, chances are the team put a notch in the "L" column. "It's tough to rely on a goaltender in this day and age," adds Mike Modano. "It's a lot to ask."

Relying on Kiprusoff would have been okay if the team could score at the other end. Their top scorer Jarome Iginla didn't even factor in the league's top 30, although defenseman Dion Phaneuf finished sixth in individual rookie scoring. The team was 2-8 in shootout finishes. While the team had the least goals against in the league, only Chicago and St. Louis had fewer goals for. That really shows how much Kiprusoff meant to the team, especially in such a tight, close conference.

There is no question, expectations were high. Having lost game seven of the Stanley Cup final in 2003-04, there was only one way to improve. The loss of scoring punch in Martin Gelinas and Craig Conroy was painfully obvious, as Tony Amonte never really materialized into a factor, and Shean Donovan's stick sat silent.

Anaheim played the Calgary Flames at their own game -- pound for pound, save by save. "I think that we ran out of gas," admits Sutter. "I think that their big strong wingers wore our team out." Jarome Iginla adds that the Ducks were more desperate. "We had opportunities to take advantage. We didn't, and they were very good." Phaneuf played the series with a broken bone in his foot, Nilson was out for the season, D-men Warrener, Leopold, Marchment, and Hamrlik all took turns on the training table.

Going forward, the core part of the team (such as Iginla, Phaneuf, Kiprusoff, Regehr) won't be touched. "If you put them up to the teams that are still playing, we have a great core," says Sutter. "It's a great one to build around."

Perhaps the man with the best perspective is the one that has been here the longest: Jarome Iginla. "A few years back, we were long gone at this time. We're going to need more offense. Part of that is confidence. Some of our very young players are going to be older and have more confidence next season." That said, look to the Flames as a formidable foe in 2006-07.

Debbie Elicksen


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