Adrian Aucoin, Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla have helped the Calgary Flames take a stranglehold on the Northwest Division. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
It goes without saying there are some tight races in the NHL right now. For teams on the border of the playoffs, one loss usually results in a plunge of several positions in the standings, but that can be recouped just a day later with a win.
With that in mind, this is not the season for excuses. Man-games lost may be the favorite statistic of the loser, but every team goes through injuries and the credo going forth must be the following: Suck. It. Up.
Buffalo is the annual example of a team that gets killed on the injury front. This year, the Sabres will have to prove their mettle without star goaltender Ryan Miller and sniper Thomas Vanek, though Vanek will be back in a week or two. But before you cry poverty for the Sabres, who are life and death to make the post-season once again, ask yourself this: At what point do they jettison talented yet madly inconsistent or unhealthy players such as Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov? At the end of the year, total points are a lot more important to a team’s win column than points-per-game average.
Connolly hasn’t come anywhere near playing a full season of hockey since before the lockout due to a variety of ailments and the less said about Afinogenov’s descent in Buffalo the better. It’s rough that Miller went down, but good teams are built to rise above adversity.
As Calgary has proven lately, a dent in a suit of strong armor can indeed be weathered. The Flames, who have emerged as the team to beat in the Northwest Division, have recently lost surprise-of-the-year Rene Bourque (40 points in 58 games, third on the team with 21 goals) as well as Daymond Langkow (tied for third on the team with 42 points) and speedy defenseman Mark Giordano (19 points, third among Calgary blueliners).
The response? A convincing 4-1 victory against upstart Columbus, a team that doesn’t take nights off. Calgary has won six of its past eight games and earned a point in the other two. The best players on the team – Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Miikka Kiprusoff – were at their best against Columbus and that’s how you win games when depth becomes an issue. Iggy had four points, Cammo had three and Kipper stopped 28 of 29, including several good opportunities by Kristian Huselius, the former Flame with offensive revenge on his mind all night.
Not only that, but Calgary didn’t shrink against a tough Jackets team. The Flames went hit-for-hit with Columbus, proving they could beat ’em on the scoreboard and in the alley. The Flames essentially played a playoff-style game Tuesday night against a team fighting for its first-ever playoff berth. It was commendable.
The next team that will be asked to answer the bell is Dallas. Technically the Stars have been answering this bell all season, courtesy the losses of Brenden Morrow and Sergei Zubov, but the more recent loss of Brad Richards, one of the team’s leading scorers, will be the last acid test.
So far, the results are mixed. The Stars won their first game without Richards (over Edmonton) before dropping the next two. Now, granted, Chicago and San Jose aren’t exactly creampuff teams, but for a squad making a valiant post-Sean Avery charge up the Western Conference standings, the margin of error is slim.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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