The Calgary Flames. It used to be a rivalry game to look forward to, before that rivalry was supplanted by other, better teams. Even when the recently traded stars were there, it was a game you always knew would be a hard fought one.
That hasn't changed much, though tonight's latest meeting only produced 24 total hits, with the home team holding a 13-11 edge. The animosity and edge was almost all gone from the Flame lineup, though young Blair Jones tried his best, and of course any team with Glencross and Jackman ( my public apology to McGrattan. I was badmouthing him for hurting Christopher Tanev recently, but evidently that was Jackman according to Shorty tonight ) is not totally devoid of edge.
That line up and style seemed to be, for tonight anyhow, supplanted by a fast skating and chance taking team full of young talent. Backlund had 6 shots and 8 attempts. Max Reinhart had 5 shots and one missed, and Roman Horak was all over the ice all night, with all 4 of his shots on goal good to great chances. Lee Stempniak also had 5 on net, and a team high 8 shot attempts.
But that mattered little for Roberto Luongo. Playing calmly and with a confident air between the pipes, he was a force all night. Though one of the 13 shots the Flames threw at him got through ( a deflection off of Kesler and possibly Garrison on a Glencross shot from the slot ), he would not be beaten the rest of the night.
2 to 1 - The Calgary Flames outshot the Canucks 18-9 in the decisive third period. Yet it was the visitors connecting on 33% of their shots . Well, one was a shot. A beautiful one on a power play that was at times breathtaking once again, even with only being 1 for 4 on 6:32 of PP time. That Daniel Sedin snipe was preceded by a goal that was first called off by the referee, before replays showed ( I think... ) that Dennis Wideman's stick hit it off of Burrows while laying in the crease late in the first to tie it up, and a couple of baseball s"shots" by Maxim Lapierre and Mason Raymond in the third that came from good old fashioned hard work around the net. The Canucks may have faced an opponent that was determined and full of youthful enthusiasm. But it was their bearing down and making the most of their chances that was the difference tonight.
#1 - It took a flu bug to drive Cory Schneider from the net, but Roberto Luongo probably did not care. After not playing for a fortnight and a half, he just wanted to feel the puck hit him. That it most certainly did tonight. Stopping 40 of 41 had to feel good for Luongo, but it was as much the way he stopped them as the number. He mentioned to Dan Murphy that the puck seemed to just be hitting him ( mostly, there was a stop on Stempniak that was followed up by a wild scramble on the rebound ), and I thought I noticed that "Schneider-ish" aspect to his game ( or maybe I should say Melanson-ish, it's his teachings they are utilizing to succeed ). Luongo seemed to be playing with the same economy of movement as his goaltending partner. His post gamer where he talked all about the team and how important it was for him to play well for his 'mates was purely sincere from the look of it. But then we expect nothing less of Luongo these days. An excellent teammate...Oh look, two excellent goalies to choose from again! ;-)
#30 - Another one of those nice stories occurred tonight. With Schneider back in the hotel downing Theraflu, a 5th year University of Calgary goaltender named Dustin Butler was the official back up tonight. In addition to the jersey, small cheque, and great story the 26 year old now has, he got to watch an NHL game from the bench. Awesome.
3 - It must be hard to be Ryan Kesler right now. With his coach trying to avoid things like penalty killing for the Canucks' best all around player, ( though he did get one PK shift when both Lapierre and Roy were off in the sin bin ), pucks just seem to find you when you play his kind of game. In addition to the 3 blocks Kesler had to lead his team, #17 had 2 assists, 2 shots on goal ( and 4 misses, one on a beautiful set up by Kassian that he promptly slammed into the glass behind the net instead of the into the net proper. That line had some burgeoning chemistry. ) 1 hit, 2 takeaways, and 1 giveaway. Oh yeah, he also went 14 for 21 on draws to lead his team to a 38-32 edge on draws for the night. All on a night where he looked like he could be better still. Nice to have you back Mr Kesler.
0 - Unfortunately for Dale Weise, that was the number that dominated his stats line tonight. Basically, according to the stats guy, Weezy had 2 hits in his 10:10 TOI (1:10 on the PK ). When asked today, he said "I'm not going to change my game", and that is probably the right attitude to take. There is no denying that he is an honest player and works hard. But it looked pretty plain that Derek Roy's initial chemistry with his original line mates may be the premier casualty of the latest list of...ummm... casualties. To make matters worse, Jannik Hansen did not play the last 9:21 of the third period. Silver lining though. When AV shortened the bench, it was the line of Roy, Ebbett, and Lapierre that looked noticeable when they were put together, and it was them that outworked the Flames in their own end and cashed in the game winning goal tonight.
3rd - That could be a numerical designation that means many things. For instance, even though the team is 12-4 since losing to the Wild on March 10th a full month ago, they are seemingly stuck in 3rd place in the West. It could refer to the "3rd" line just mentioned above. I am sure you can fill in your own if you try hard enough. For me, I thought that a special mention for the "3rd pairing" was appropriate tonight. Yes, we have fun sometimes, and make light of the depth defensemen on the team. It must be a Vancouver thing. But tonight the third pairing was Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts looked good to me. Sure, I know that leaves me open to being told how horrible they were Corsi wise or some such. ( on a night when the Flames had 65 shot attempts, and 41 got through, with 12 missed and 12 blocked, I am betting a few players have bad Corsi tonight ) But I watched Ballard on his wrong side in particular tonight, and he seemed to make the safe play, and only got out muscled on a puck a couple times, and Andrew Alberts looks more comfortable with the puck all the time, making a couple slick shifts with the puck to avoid danger and break pressure tonight.
Sometimes a team plays fast and loose when they have nothing to play for. That is what is happening with this Calgary team. Credit to them and the veterans in that room for bearing down and playing hard. After J.S Giguere chastised his team recently for not being professional, the Avalanche ( the Canucks' next opponent , Saturday at Noon our time) bore down and beat the Ducks 4-1 tonight, and from the highlights I saw, outplayed them pretty good as well. Remember that as the Canucks meander around the USA on the rest of this trip. Of their next few opponents, only the Blues are currently in a playoff spot. The way the team is playing right now, it's all about "the process", as AV calls it. Perhaps it will be put to the test on this trip, but when the process includes stellar goaltending and offensive execution, coupled with strong defensive play and strength along the boards that makes most shots and opponent opportunities ones where they are challenged and harried off their spots....
"The Process" rocks...