Faceoffs still giving Flames fits
A lack of true centremen hurting Calgary on the dot
For the first five weeks of the season, it had been a laugh riot.
See centres put their mitts on the puck. See centres cuss their way to the penalty box.
“I’ve been watching guys do it all year,” said Michael Cammalleri, grinning, “and I’ve been, ‘Look at these idiots! It’s a rule. You can’t do that.’ I was actually one of the guys who first brought it up at the (NHL) competition committee. I thought that would be a great rule. So I was all for it. I was part of making the rule.”
“Sure enough I make myself the idiot.”
Stooped over for a neutral-zone draw Sunday, Cammalleri drops flat, then slaps his glove on the loose puck. Whistle. Groan. A new-fangled faceoff-violation minor for No. 13.
“It’s such a natural reaction,” explained the Calgary Flames forward. “You fall. The puck’s right there. Your whole life, you’ve played it with your hand. As soon as you do it, you know you did it. I look at the ref and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”
Faceoffs, most nights anyway, are a trial for the Flames.
Opting to go down to one natural centremen, Matt Stajan — after dispatching Roman Horak and Blair Jones (and, earlier, Ben Street) to the minors — it remains a work in progress.
Historically crummy, even when the position is fully staffed, the locals are muddling through their dot duties.
Winning percentages in the past four dates — 40 at Phoenix, 35 versus Los Angeles, 41 versus Minnesota, and 43 Sunday — tell the story.
“For someone like myself, it’s been 10 years since I’ve consistently played centre,” said Cammalleri. “We’re working on it. We’ll get better on it as time goes on. It’s a technique thing that takes practice more than anything else. It’s like hitting a golf ball or taking slapshots. The more you do it, the more book you get on the other guy . . . all contribute to you being more efficient at the faceoff dot.”
Overall, the Flames are tied for 26th. Last season, they were the NHL’s worst.
“We have Jiri Hudler, we have Steve Begin, we have Cammalleri — they’re going to do their best, but they’re wingers,” said coach Bob Hartley. “We do it by committee.”
Sometimes, that approach works. Sunday, Cammalleri — one of nine Calgary forwards taking faceoffs that night (Phoenix deployed four) — went a respectable 9-for-16.
Sometimes, it does not.
Saturday, Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Jarome Iginla, Begin and Hudler combined on a 1-for-18 showing.
“We do it by a block of five guys on the ice,” said Hartley. “We try to help our centremen win some draws. Right now that’s a part of our game.
“You go against Joe Thornton, you go against Ryan Getzlaf, and you’re not a natural centreman? It’s tough.”
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