Hockey was back in the C of red this evening, after long self induced hiatus. The wait was well worth it to start the game. The pregame production crew did a good job getting the introductions and game video done in such a short amount of time. It was nice to see Martin Gelinas back in the dome and he received one of the loudest ovations including the players and it was well deserved.
Once the puck dropped, it was clearly evident that Bob Hartley’s new system was in place. The forwards were collapsing in providing help for the usually beleaguered defensemen, they were cycling the puck effectively in the offensive zone and the passes were crisp. When the Sharks would take shots, someone would try to get in its path to block it. It was a complete miss match. Bouwmeester was jumping into the play effectively and created a couple of tough situations for the Sharks to stop. Breaking out of our zone, the forwards would not move too far from the defense allowing for smooth passes and good transitions. Players were showing skill, with all of Stempniak, Backlund and Baertschi, even newly signed Steve Begin showing some moves that kept the Sharks on the defensive. When the Flames did go on the penalty kill, they were cycling a bunch of different players to kill it including Jarome Iginla and they killed them efficiently.
The play was extremely one sided with Stempniak scoring the only goal of the period with Baertschi and Begin both hitting the post and several other players coming extremely close. They looked like a contender and it was a delight to watch.
However, that was the last point where there would be something positive to write about the Flames this evening. The Sharks as expected began to push back as any hockey team should. It’s right there where we would see if this edition of the Flames would be any different than the last three editions. Would they stand up to their opponents and push back, or would they collapse in on themselves. Unfortunately, the 2011-12 edition of the Calgary Flames returned to the ice for the second period. There was no coordination between any of the players. Even the most basic plays like passing to someone 10 feet away became extremely difficult and they began to have a hard time clearing the puck from the zone. Still though, the Flames continued to hold them off for the first ten minutes before the adventures of Butler-Wideman began. Dennis Wideman fought with the puck several times during the second, having a hard time with it any time it came near him, and then Chris Butler took an extremely dumb and unnecessary penalty after the whistle. That resulted in Patrick Marleau scoring 7 seconds later, fully opening the floodgates. Fast forward four minutes and the score was 3-1 heading into the second intermission.
From there on out both sides didn’t really push other than a shift here and there until Dan Boyle put it away with a minute to go.
There are some significant warning signs from this game, as well as some encouraging things. The entire veteran core with the exception of Steve Begin and Matt Stajan took their foot off the gas after one and stopped playing. This is the exact reason why the Flames missed the playoffs last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. When your supposed best players cash out after 20 minutes, you’re going to have a bad time and tonight was not surprising in any way. In the past, there was reasonable excuses as to why that might be, usually involving the coaching staff to varying degrees. However, tonight was the first game under a completely different management than what was there before. Unfortunately, we are seeing the exact same things as before, it becomes apparent exactly what the problem is. The leadership on this team needs to step up and actually play hockey for a change. Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Curtis Glencross and especially the Captain must look at what the players that are fighting for jobs are doing and copy that. The best 5 players tonight were Roman Horak, Steve Begin, Matt Stajan, Sven Baertschi, and most notably Mikael Backlund. All of them could reasonably be in the minors or overseas at this point. However, they want to continue to play in the best league on Earth, so they busted their tails and worked hard and contributed both on the scoreboard, but also heavily to the domination in the first period. The difference is they continued to play well in the 2nd and 3rd as well. Perhaps having a pair of players that have skill and drive in Baertschi and Backlund might push some of the elder statesmen on this team to actually play for a change, or it’ll be time for a change. Either way, this kind of game cannot continue to be played by this team for much longer.
Here’s hoping they play Hartley’s system for three periods against Selanne’s Anaheim Ducks tomorrow night at 7 PM Local Time.
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