“We have to find a way very quickly to get it back. We took our foot off the pedal in the third period and made some mental mistakes.”
That’s Brent Sutter with the press after last night’s contest. And I hate to disagree with the Flames coach (well…not really; I tend to be fairly disagreeable), but the Flames never really had their foot “on the pedal” so to speak last night. They were out-shot and out-chanced in every single period. The third just happened to be the worst of the bunch. Implicit in this quote is the assumption that the Flames played 40 minutes of good hockey and tripped over their own feet down the home stretch. They didn’t, but the relative quality between the first half and the last half skewed perceptions of the team’s efforts after the fact. See also: the anchoring effect.
In short, the Flames were about as poor in this game as they were in the last two losses. In fact, in many ways this was Calgary's worst contest in recent memory at ES. Two of of the Flames top 3 lines had their heads beat in by the opposition – par for the course when it comes to Iggy and Jokinen this year, but a rare poor evening out of Moss, Glencross and Conroy. Had the Langkow unit not shown up for the party, the Flames would have been blown out of the water.
A poor three game stretch isn't necessarily something to panic over. Teams lose three games in a row all the time. What's perhaps concerning is the manner in which the Flames are losing however – not only are they bowing to ostensibly inferior teams, they are getting legitimately out-classed all over the ice. In addition, issues that have plagued the club all year are finally beginning to show up in the teams results – that is the lack of shots on net and the relatively poor ES (and PP) performance of the "#1" scoring unit. Hidden by good goaltending a rash of favorable bounces to start the year, things have begun to regress to the mean and the Flames have looked decidedly worse than ordinary as a result.
What's perhaps most unnerving for Flames fans is that the decision-makers behind the bench don't seem to see the problems.
“To be honest, I think it’s something mentally right now,” said coach Brent Sutter, following the game. ‘There’s been so much talk, ‘oh, they’re not scoring goals, they’re not scoring goals’. All of sudden when that happens, then we’re doing some things we shouldn’t be doing.
“We’re pushing, forcing certain situations instead of staying with our game, sticking with our game. If we win games 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, whatever . . . so be it. It’s the bottom line. It’s a process you go through to get a victory at the end of the night. We’ve gotten off track on our process and we have to get it back.”
There’s a lot of garbled coach-speak in there, so it’s all very vague but none of it is comforting to me. Is it a mental thing plaguing the Flames right now? Really? Perhaps you can put the Conroy lines lackluster effort down to something transient like “lack of focus” (since they typically beat up the competition), but Iginla and Jokinen have been playing like this for most of the year. That suggests not an acute condition but a chronic one. And until the conditions change around their deployment, I can’t imagine things improving all that much: a team can only win for so long with the grinders and pluggers dragging the big guns along by the ears.
by Kent Wilson