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Calgary Flames

Game 75 Recap – Fading to Black



The Flames lost in the shoot-out to the Minnesota Wild last night. Final score 3-2.

First the good news. The Stars also lost in regular time to the Canucks 2-1 and the Avs lost in regular time to the Coyotes 3-2. So technically the Flames gained a point on both these teams in the playoff race.

The bad news. The Sharks beat the Bruins 2-1 and the Kings beat the Blues 1-0 and hence the Flames lost a single point in ground on these two teams or better put these teams gained an additional point on the Flames with their wins.

The ugly news, the Flames only have a single game in hand on the Avs and three teams in front of them have a game in hand on them. The current odds for the Flames to make the playoffs are the lowest of all 6 in the Western crunch with Sportsclub Stats calculating out a 19.3% chance.

The Flames season will be fully sealed in the next three games. The play the Stars twice and the Kings once. They will either knock the Stars down and pull the Kings back or they will be done for the season. Of course even if they win all three games in a row, the rest of the schedule looks tough with two games lined up against the Canucks. Pretty clear at this point they need to win both of those as well.

Lets just say it isn’t looking good. Does it make anyone feel better that if the Flames were in the Eastern Conference they would be sitting comfortably in 8th and only a single point behind the Senators for 7th? No, I didn’t think so. Anyway onto the game review.

I thought the Flames came out with pretty good jump in the first and capitalized on a PP with a goal from Lee Stempniak, helpers from Chris Butler and Jay Bouwmeester.

The Wild got into some penalty trouble early in the second frame and the Flames ended up with a 5 on 3. The situation where you expect a goal and Anton Babchuk put in his first of the season, ouch to that, but in fairness he has only played 25 games but there is no way to make the case that Babchuk has not been a liability for the Flames all season.

Anyway the Flames pretty much controlled the game up until the Wild responded back with a Dany Heatley PPG and this is my marker for when the ice tilted for the Wild for the remainder of the game. The Flames lost their aggression on the forecheck and started, unbelievably, to look like a team that was trying to protect a one goal lead for half a hockey game.

They didn’t make it. Darroll Powe got in a reviewed goal that took forever. Matt Stajan got his stick to the puck behind Kipper and appeared to save it but the replay showed that the puck did indeed cross the line clearly. Half an inch perhaps but you could clearly see white ice between the line and the puck.

The Flames seemed to push back for very brief moments but still they seemed content to take it to OT which is bewildering given the Flames state of affairs. Mark Giordano ringed one off the pipe which had GWG written all over it but alas it went to the shoot-out.

Brent Sutter made a very controversial shoot-out line-up, having given his top shooters the nod against the Jackets and they came up empty, he decided to go with a whole new line-up. In the Jackets game Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross and Jarome Iginla all were stopped.

The Flames have been terrible in the shoot-out this season sporting a paltry 3 and 9 record – 25% success. Worst in the West and aside from the Canes who have gone 0 and 6 in the shoot-out, 2nd worst in the NHL. It might be another one of those little details at the end of the season that will sting on the Flames. An extra 3 or 4 points in the shoot-out and look where they would have been.

I personally am not as out raged as some on Sutter's move and that he threw out the history book on the shoot-out. If you see the game through the lens of advanced stats it is impossible to accept the thought process of what is behind Sutter's decision but for me it is simply him rolling the dice and going for some luck.

IF the Flames did NOT have the 2nd worst shoot-out record in the NHL this season there might be more to be said on the topic. IF the Flames were even average this season in the shoot-out he can probably be totally slagged but they have been awful. Again 2nd worst in the entire NHL.

The shooters for the most part have been the same all season long and they have not been getting it done. He decides to throw out the book, go with all new shooters and spin the roulette wheel of pure luck. He looks like a genius if they score and win, a complete idiot if they don't.

If the Flames score and win the shoot-out, all the advanced stats folks quietly sit at the exception to their analysis and point to luck and small sample size on Jones (he scored the goal, maybe he is a shoot-out wizard who has never had a chance, let us note this and gather more data for the future). The Flames crowd cheers around them while they quietly add these events to data files for future reference.

The shooters fail and the advanced stats crowd erupts with historical data as Ryan does below. Look at the percentages? Clearly Sutter was wrong in his choice, he is oblivious to all rational analysis and historical data.

Not really defending Sutter here just adding a view on where he was when he lined up the controversial shooters. Sutter wanted the point.

He went with the same shooters all year, same losing results, really is it that terrible if he decides to throw low experience guys into the shoot-out to see if a lucky one goes in? By the numbers it is the most horrific decision since the the launching of the Hindenburg, who would have thought a big balloon full of flammable gas would be a problem for transporting people.

For those of us who watch the game with the feel of a gambler and the eye of many a lucky goal bouncing in we shrug and say sure, why not try something different because after 75 games the numbers approach to the shoot-out certainly hasn't worked this year. Time to make some new numbers, if we always went to the numbers how would a guy ever get his first chance in an NHL shoot-out?

Whatever, my take, I am not getting too worked up over the skills competition in a game they should have won in regular time. You are really at the end of your season when the coin toss of the skills compeition and a decision made there is the big issue.

The real issue that is being neglected is that the Flames for a half a game were trying to protect a one goal lead and then playing for OT. No urgency and no drive for the win in regular time. That kind of tentaive effort is toxic for a team trying to make the playoffs.

All you have to do is change the channel and watch the Coyotes, Blues, Kings and so forth in their games to see hungry teams rolling.

In Sutter's post game after the Blue Jackets SO loss you could see his self-doubt with going with the best shooters. Should not have been too much of a surprise what he did last night. Shoot-out talk starts at about the 5:15 mark.

by M Smith