**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog
Reginald Tiangha – Let’s not delude ourselves with “what if” and “if only”. Despite our winning two games and somehow managing to take game 6 into double overtime, the Detroit Red Wings were consistently the stronger team throughout the entire series.
Even in game six with everything on the line, the Calgary Flames continued to play their defensively-weak game play. I consistently saw forwards standing around waiting for stretch passes (that were continuously intercepted) and not helping out the defense when they were pressured in their own zone. This was most prevalent in the shots on goal totals for game six (55 for the Red Wings, 21 for the Flames). Despite the fans cheering their hearts out in order to motivate the team (of which, I was one of them), we just couldn’t motivate the team to sacrifice and aggressively win puck battles. Bluntly put, they deserved to lose the game and the series, and if you looked into the faces of those in the stands who attended game six after the game, there was neither anger nor sadness (well, not much after the initial shock anyways). I think it’s safe to say that no one was surprised at the outcome. The only bright spot in the entire game (and the entire series) was the play of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and this was reflected in the standing ovation that the fans gave him and the team afterwards with chants of “Kipper! Kipper!” ringing throughout the building.
The season may be over, but the saga continues. Some tough questions will be asked and tough decisions will need to be made during the off-season. Who is responsible for the inconsistent play of the Calgary Flames throughout the season? The players, or the coaching staff? Were the players battling through something behind the scenes? With unrestricted free agency looming over the entire team for the next two years, who will stay and who will go? Will we be able to afford to keep both Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla? Time will tell.
That said, Flames fans shouldn’t despair. When we made it to the final round of the playoffs in 1986 and lost, it took us three years to bounce back and win it all. I believe that something similar is in store for us.
In 2003-04, we made it to the Stanley Cup finals but lost in the final game. Many attributed this to a lack of depth.
In 2005-06, we addressed those depth issues with some defensively minded players and our system and team identity reflected that. The system of that time was of a defense-first mentality, and it was consistent throughout the season. Unfortunately, we were defeated in the first round and many attributed it to our inability to score.
For the 2006-07 season, we addressed our offensive deficiencies by adding some skilled players, most notably with the addition of Alex Tanguay. There was even a coaching change with Darryl Sutter stepping down and acknowledging that his system may not have been what was needed to go all the way in the so-called “new NHL”. No one can deny that we became a more skilled team overall, scoring 40 more goals in the regular season over last season. Unfortunately, the increase in offense came at the expense of defense, letting in 26 more goals than we did last season and allowing more shots on goal as well.
If you look at the general trend, we went from an extremely defensive team to an extremely offensive team and were unable to find that happy medium. There were times where we played as dominantly as we looked on paper, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to consistently play like that for the entire season. Bottom line, we lost the team identity that defined us between 2004-2006 and were unable to find it again. Everyone should take this as a learning experience and keep in mind that this entire season acted as a moment of transition from one system to another.
I believe that we’ll take the lessons we learned from this season, fix whatever internal problems that kept us from achieving the potential that everyone saw on paper, and will ultimately come out of this as a much stronger team. If we can find that happy medium between responsible defensive play and creative offensive play, and, most importantly, find a new identity that defines and reflects the new makeup of this team (instead of trying to re-capture the old identity from a team long past), then the Calgary Flames will finally become the team that all the critics and all the fans were expecting them to be this season. If all that were to happen, next year could very well be our year, of that I have no doubt.
In the meantime, I may be taking down my Flames shrine at work, but this off-season should prove to be just as interesting to watch as the regular season (well, almost).
So until next time, Go Flames Go!