A little time has passed since the Flames' disappointing first-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and fans, players, coaches, and management all have to shake off the sting of watching other teams compete for the Stanley Cup. Over the next few, long, off-season months, there will be plenty of time to dwell on the ending, but looking at the season as a whole; there are a great deal of positives to draw from going into 2009/10.
The last campaign was one of high expectations that were born out of great promise of a deep, tough, talented, and veteran group. Over the summer General manager Daryl Sutter had assembled a number of new faces, players intended to accentuate the core Flames.
Gone were Kristian Huselius, Alex Tanguay
, Owen Nolan, Stephane Yelle, Marcus Nilson and Curtis Joseph. As well, Rhett Warrener was placed on long-term injured reserve for what amounted to the whole season. The loss of skill and veteran leadership from the departed players was more than offset though by newcomers Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Cammalleri
, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross
, Adam Pardy, and Mark Giordano
. As well, full time back-up goaltending duties were handed to upcoming prospect Curtis McElhinney.
In addition to the youth brought in, the Flames managed to incorporate a number of their own young players, including David Moss
, Erik Nystrom and Dustin Boyd, into playing significant roles for the team. Of course as the season wore on, the toll of injuries gave the future of the franchise, from young skaters with lesser minutes, to top players at the farm, an opportunity to contribute. The invigoration of youth to the Flames paid dividends at a series of different points throughout the 82 games.
The season saw the Flames eventually succumb to injuries an inconsistency, but for an extended period of time during the campaign, the Flames were playing phenomenal hockey, discarding foes like old shoes, and striking fear into the rest of the league.
The frustration that comes from the teams' fourth straight first-round loss unfortunately tends to negate the accomplishments of the season. But if winning championships is a process, perhaps the heartbreak that will plague the Flames over the next few months, in addition to the memories of their run of excellence, will serve as a stepping stone towards greatness.
With that in mind, let's take a look back at the 2008/09 season, month by month. Today, in Part I, we’ll look at the 2008 portion. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II, where we’ll review 2009.October 2008 (6-3-1)
The campaign did not begin well for the Flames, as they lost their first two games to the Vancouver Canucks. The team had trouble finding a groove for the first part of the season. The new additions brought a number of benefits, but incorporating them with the established veterans, and vice versa, proved to be a challenge.
“We were definitely disappointed in how the season started,” said Wayne Primeau after the Flames win over the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately Primeau went down for the season in early December.
“We had a great preseason, and then we didn't get off on the right foot. But we've really paid attention to the details in practice with our fore checking and down-low coverage. I think the guys are starting to buy into it. And when you've get everybody on the same page, it's a lot easier out there.”
Five games into the season the Flames had only one win, but the team quickly turned their fortunes around and rattled off six wins in a row to finish October strong. Highlights:Oct. 21-
Alexander Ovechkin's only trip to the 'Dome is spoiled, as the Flames win 2-1.Oct. 28-
Kipper gets his first shutout of the season with a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
November 2008 (8-6-0)
Inconsistency was a problem for the Flames in November, as they began the month losing the first two of their now infamous back to back games. By the midway point of the month the Flames looked like they were in serious trouble, culminating with their 6-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
"That was a barrage," said head coach Mike Keenan after the debacle, "You get a good sense of reality when you end up not even close to the same level, especially in the first period. We played a little better after that."
The embarrassing defeat by last year's playoff ouster amounted to the watershed moment of the team's season, as they returned home with four days between contests. During that time the Flames re-adjusted both their system and their psyche, and they came out firing, winning both ends of a home and home with the Avalanche. The Flames hit their stride and finished the month on the right course, winning three in a row.
"It's kind of been a tale of two seasons... We've played extremely well and extremely bad and we're starting to limit those bad games now," said Todd Bertuzzi.
"They know their subtleties and nuances in the group itself and it takes awhile to develop those instincts that players have for each other. Our team had to work through some difficult situations to learn more about themselves and about each other and about team play."Highlights:Nov. 13-
The Flames are blown out 6-1 by the San Jose Sharks, the loss provides the wake-up call the team need as they play improves immediately.
Nov. 27- Mike Cammalleri
scores his first career hat-trick in a 4-3 win in Vancouver. The early season losses to the Canucks are avenged by the Flames, who won both home and away.December (8-2-3)
The Flames made their charge in December, firing at a full clip and displaying the full promise that was anticipated from the break of camp. The team began to excel as the players became fully acclimated with each other and comfortable with their roles.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable now," said Curtis Glencross
. "It takes a while to settle in and get to know all the guys. We've been together for a few months now. I'm finding that chemistry with Connie and whoever is on the other side - (Dustin) Boyd, (David) Moss, or Rene.”
While the new blood was making significant additions to the team, it was the usual suspects who raised the bar. Captain Jarome Iginla
led the Flames' surge, claiming the NHL First Star honours with 10 goals and 16 assists through the month.
"I'm just trying to go to the net, try to get shots and try to make sure I'm moving my feet and competing hard so good things will happen," said Iginla.
There was a brief slip just over a week in as the team lost three in a row, including two overtime losses, but the Flames rebounded to win seven of their next eight. Their surge resulted in a move from last in the Northwest Division to first. By the end of the month, the Flames had developed their swagger, and were eager to move into the upper-echelon teams in the league.
"Right now we are trying to put some separation between us and the other teams in the Northwest Division," said Robyn Regehr.Highlights:Dec. 27-
Rene Bourque scores his first career hat trick in a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.Dec. 31-
The Flames finish off '08 with a bang with a 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
The New Year brought more great play, new faces, injuries, and ultimately heartbreak, but what a journey it was. Click here for Part II
, the recap of the 2009 portion of the campaign…