Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Calgary Flames show promise and bust at the same time

Great expectations was the mindset of the Calgary Flames' brass when they opened their swanky new digs on the final weekend to the season: Flames Central -- a four-tiered sports bar with more TVs than Wal-Mart. Just in time for playoff season. It was a good and undoubtedly prosperous bet.

The team faces Detroit in the first round but in the previous 11 games between the two clubs, the Flames' record was an unsavory 4-6-1. However, the Wings fell victim in 2004 during Calgary's sensational trek to the final. And on paper, the team looks even better than it did then. Statistically, the Flames are better than its 42-30-7-3 record in 2004, has collectively scored more goals, but allowed several more, too.

Bolstering the lineup with a couple of players before the trade deadline (D Brad Stuart, C Wayne Primeau, and Welcome Back C (Craig) Conroy), C Daymond Langkow, RW Kristian Huselius, and D-man Roman Hamrlik have been solid support for RW Jarome Iginla all year round, who has already surpassed his 2004 overall point total.

It took a while into the season, but LW Alex Tanguay finally added some oomph to the lineup and finished with 81 points. C Matthew Lombardi, who may easily be one of the fastest skaters in the league right now, has showed up when others have slowed down. D Dion Phaneuf continues to add that physical presence as the gatekeeper to the blueline. D Rhett Warrener has added leadership by example, both on and off the ice.

On the other hand, LW Marcus Nilson isn't even a quarter of the player he was in 2004. RW Tony Amonte continues to be a major disappointment, although he has come mighty close to scoring on many a night. D Andrei Zyuzin has been more effective as a healthy scratch, and LW Jeff Friesen, well, let's just say that he only recently scored six goals and 12 points on the season.
The darling of 2004, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, has posted a better GAA, has come up big at times, but a lot of the goals that went in were considered on the soft side, causing some concern when crunch time rolls around.

Because the Flames' season (even though its numbers were on par with 2004) has been up and down with consistency (for example, having the best NHL home record but at times a horrific road record), coach Jim Playfair has been on the hot seat. Just prior to the trade deadline, all of Calgary was most certain that GM Darryl Sutter would take over the reins before the end of the season.

It's hard to know if Playfair has really had a free reign over the team or if Sutter has been really calling the shots over his shoulder, but to Playfair's credit, if you look at the season as a whole, as up and down as it has been, the team is in a pretty good place. Last year, the eighth seed Edmonton Oilers mowed teams down en route to the Stanley Cup final; Anaheim and Calgary were unlikely finishers in 2003 and 2004. Who's to say the Flames won't repeat their success with a better lineup of players? In reality, however, getting past Detroit will be even more of a daunting task -- unlikely, but...possible. But down 2-0 in the series to which one of those games the Wings outshot the Flames 51-15, probably unlikely. Sigh. The Alberta trips to the Final were fun while they lasted.


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