April 3, 2012
Down year for Flames' big guns
By WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
CALGARY - A new follower of the Calgary Flames could be easily convinced the team nickname stems from their knack for turning every opposing puck-stopper into a suddenly hot goalie.
It’s not a bad guess, though.
The numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but the stats are certainly a good starting point in this situation.
Heading into Tuesday’s action around the NHL, the Flames’ offence ranked 25th in the 30-team loop, scoring an average of 2.39 goals per game.
That number has dwindled over the past three weeks. Between the time their playoff hopes started to unravel — or is it re-unravel? — in a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and were officially dashed in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime setback against the Vancouver Canucks, they tallied 14 times in nine outings. Considering that included a five-goal outburst against the Dallas Stars, it’s no real surprise they posted a 1-4-4 record during that span.
Offence? More like low-ffence.
“A few of those games there, we out-chanced the other team by almost double. It just seemed like we were fighting it or the puck was bouncing the other way,” said Flames speedster Curtis Glencross, who has a career-high 25 goals with two meaningless home contests left on Calgary’s slate.
“It just wasn’t going in for us, and that happens in hockey.”
It happened a lot for Brent Sutter’s squad this season.
With the Flames, who host the Vancouver Canucks (Thursday, 7 p.m.) and Anaheim Ducks (Saturday, 2 p.m.) before splitting for the summer, once again left off the invite list for the NHL’s annual post-season party, it’s what-if week at the Saddledome.
What if they had more success in the shootout?
What if the final blast of winter didn’t include a blizzard of injuries?
What if they provided enough offensive support that acrobatic netminder Miikka Kiprusoff didn’t have to be a one-man human highlight reel every night? What if their acrobatic netminder had the chance to steal them a playoff series?
Not gonna happen. And it’s not Kiprusoff’s fault.
The Flames managed two goals or less 45 (!) times this season. They actually won eight of those outings. Thirty were recorded as regulation losses. The tally also included three overtime ousters and four shootout setbacks.
The Flames were shut out six times.
“At times, we were a really explosive team and really dangerous on the powerplay and scored four, five or six goals,” said Flames winger Lee Stempniak. “For some reason, it was just really streaky this year. We’d score a bunch of goals in a couple of games and then just get one for a couple of games. We just didn’t have that consistency.”
If there was a constant, it’s that almost every guy struggled to produce. In fact, only seven Flames regulars are scoring at a better point-per-game clip than their career average with only two contests remaining in the 2011-12 season.
Olli Jokinen seemed to turn to his clock back about five years, then disappeared about the same time the clocks were turned ahead for daylight savings time and was mostly a non-factor in the stretch run. He’ll still eclipse his career scoring average.
Not surprisingly, Glencross and blueliner Mark Giordano — two of the main reasons for optimism at the Saddledome — continued to prove they can be counted on in the offensive zone.
Despite collecting just one goal and a pair of assists after arriving in a minor deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning, centre Blair Jones actually upped his all-time average.
And the others? Meet blueliners T.J. Brodie and Derek Smith and forwards Lance Bouma, who started the season with two NHL assists between them and couldn’t help but improve on their career totals.
The rest of the Flames — with the exception of even-keeled Chris Butler — couldn’t reach the bar they’d set for themselves in previous seasons.
Jarome Iginla’s career scoring average is sky-high thanks to a couple of 50-goal campaigns, and it’s not fair to expect the 35-year-old captain to continue to reach that level.
Iginla has a team-leading 32 goals and will be Calgary’s top point-producer for the 11th straight season. The captain always shoulders his fair share of the blame at the Saddledome, but the statistics show the supporting cast needed to pick up the slack.
When GM Jay Feaster traded for Stempniak in the off-season, he reminded reporters the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent had twice scored 20-plus goals in contract years. Not this time.
Like Stempniak, fellow forwards Mikael Backlund, David Moss and Matt Stajan were sidelined for significant chunks of time with injuries. When they were on the ice, though, they didn’t produce much offensively.
Nobody expected the fourth-liners to score like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, but Tim Jackman, Tom Kostopolous and the other grinders needed to chip in a bit more often, too.
“I think we have just as much talent as any team in this league,” Stajan insisted. “We have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who have scored in this league.”
Just not this season.
With two games to go, only a half-dozen Flames have hit double-digits in goals. The Edmonton Oilers have eight guys in that territory.
Stempniak, Giordano and Bouwmeester are tied for sixth on Calgary’s offensive charts with 26 points apiece. Heading into Tuesday’s tilt with the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby had collected that many in 19 outings.
Let the conspiracy theories fly. Maybe it’s tougher to score at high elevation? Perhaps the nets are a wee bit smaller at the Saddledome?
“You know what? I wish I could pinpoint it. I think we’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” said Flames winger Blake Comeau, the waiver-wire addition who’s staring at a career-low five goals.
“Hockey, it’s a mental game and I think when you’re struggling to score and struggling offensively, for myself, you maybe start to question some of the things you’ve been doing and some of the things that did give you success and you might get away from it.
“It’s not easy when you want be able to contribute offensively and things aren’t going in for you.”
Most of his teammates can empathize with that feeling.
On Twitter: @SUNWesGilbertson