In preparation for tonight's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames, I asked 5 questions of Ruhee Dewji (@ruhee_ on Twitter) who writes for Matchsticks & Gasoline (@MatchsticksCGY on Twitter).
1. A lot of Blackhawks fans may not be familiar with Matchsticks & Gasoline. Can you tell us a little about the site and any new developments?
There's been a lot of changes around here recently! At the start of the year Hayley Mutch, the site's longtime managing editor, turned her duties over to myself and Kevin, formerly of the Panthers blog Litter Box Cats. Hayley kept the site going for a long time, balancing all of that with her grad school duties, and finally decided it was a little too much to do all at once. She's still around writing for us, along with a few other people who have been here a while or have returned--Scott, Arik, and Ari.
We're only about a month into our rebuild (I guess it's fitting the blog is doing it at the same time as the team, right?) so we're expecting to do a lot of experimenting with post types and features and possibly some regular columns beginning soon. We're super excited that things are going well so far.
2. There has been a major shake up in the front office for the Flames. What kind of change do you expect to see as a result?
You know, earlier this year I honestly didn't think they would turf Feaster until the end of the season. The Flames are great at hanging on to things until it's too late (I mean, Feaster was calling the team a playoff team until this year, for heaven's sake) and even though he should have been fired immediately following the Ryan O'Reilly near-disaster, it didn't really seem like they'd do it when they did. Obviously I am thrilled that it happened.
What we're hoping for and what will happen may not be the same thing, though. I'm cautious here because Brian Burke is currently running the show, and I think we're all familiar with his M.O. by now--truculence, grit, that whole thing. It's concerning because he'll likely hire somebody who closely mirrors those values, and I really don't want to watch a team that plays guys like Kevin Westgarth all the time. Smaller skaters like Kris Russell and Sven Baertschi are really valuable, and I don't want to see their careers take off for other teams because Calgary couldn't figure out how to deal with them.
I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the team starts emphasizing more skilled, fast play over toughness and grit. There are a bunch of great young kids that could be a good core for this team in a few years if they play their cards right-hopefully they won't get dealt for enforcers instead.
3. Flames rookie Sean Monahan has been on the roster since the beginning of the season. What does he bring to the ice?
Flames fans were a little divided when the team decided to keep him up for the year. For the first nine games I was advocating for him to be sent back down, where he'd probably have been playing first line minutes and getting tough competition all the time, but when he played the tenth game and we knew he wasn't going anywhere, there was really nothing else to do but get excited, and he's been totally worth it. He started out crazy hot and the inevitable regression coupled with his injury were a little difficult to weather, but he's been getting good, tough opportunities and playing them all well. He's also been responsible for brightening up some of the worst stretches of the season, like when he scored a goal against the Flyers on New Years' Eve that broke up the Flames' 159:35 goalless streak.
Monahan's currently got 14 goals and 6 assists and is well on his way to a 20-goal rookie season, and I think he'll shape up to be a really solid offensive player. He also has been bestowed with one of the best parody twitter accounts I've seen in a while, Boring Monahan (@boringmonahan). I think everyone in Calgary loves both of them.
4. You're probably tired of talking about it, but NHL fans around the league closely followed the incident between the Flames and Canucks. Is there history between the two teams that can explain why Coach Bob Hartley started the game with his 4th line on the ice?
Ha ha. Well, the coaches themselves have a bit of a history. Back in 2005, when Torts was the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Hartley headed up the Atlanta Thrashers, one of Hartley's facepuncher defencemen took a shot at a Bolt late in the game which led to some, er, heated discussions afterwards. I think it went along the same lines-Hartley said he was sorry, but he'd played a facepuncher with no other purpose, and Tortorella was mad about it. That time it took place at the end of a blowout game, though.
At the time that game happened, January 18, the Flames were in the middle of a miserable slump-they'd won two games since the start of the month (out of 8, before the start of that game) and three of them had been shutouts. It's possible Hartley just wanted to do something different to kickstart the team into scoring. But this wasn't quite Claude Julien starting the Merlot Line here. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen, and it happened, and it was absolutely disastrous. Of course Brian Burke defended Hartley after the fine, saying he was "perplexed" and that he didn't do anything wrong-but like I said, truculence. This is the kind of thing I'm afraid of seeing more of if Burke gets his way all the time.
Weirdly, in the following game against the Sharks, Kevin Westgarth scored his only goal of the entire season assisted by fellow tough guy Brian McGrattan. Maybe something worked (ha ha ha).
5. The Flames are starting goaltender Reto Berra (who we affectionately nicknamed "Berracuda" after the Heart song) against the Blackhawks tonight but also have Karri Ramo. What are Berra's strengths and weakness? Which goalie do you prefer as the number 1 in Calgary?
Karri Ramo is definitely the better goalie of the two, and currently the only one with a SV% above .900, although just barely. You'll remember, though, that Reto Berra's very first game with the Flames was against the Blackhawks in November, when he made 42 saves and the Flames won 3-2 in overtime. Berra is a bit streaky, but he's been excellent in extra time-I believe he has zero regulation wins but has never lost in overtime or a shootout, which is incredibly strange. Either he allows six goals and the Flames get shut out or he stops eight shooters and the Flames win.
I guess the odds are stacked against you if the game is close or tied in the third period, so the key is to score early and often. I have a feeling the Blackhawks are okay at that.
Thanks to Ruhee for taking the time to fill us in on the Flames. She also asked some questions of me and you can find that discussion on the Matchsticks and Gasoline site.