The Flames will, from the sounds of things, dress a much more competitive line-up this evening. The defencemen that nominally hold the first five spots on the depth chart will suit up, with Jay Bouwmeester making his long-awaited debut wearing the Flaming C. I didn't think the group that dressed on Tuesday were overly awful, but this set of D (other than Aulie) are going to be in the middle of whatever success Calgary enjoys this season. I'll be intrigued to see the pairings, and I'm curious to find out if the team sees Bouwmeester and Regher as the obvious first pair or if they have something else in mind. If nothing else, tonight should see Regher, Phaneuf and Giordano make healthy returns to the team, which will be a welcome sight after the painful exit the three of them had to last season.
The Flames first pre-season game was, in retrospect, about what anyone might have expected, given the line-up the Flames iced. Tonight's game against the New York Islanders holds the promise of something more, for a number of reasons.
Bouwmeester's debut would be the thing that Flames' fans anticipate most for this evening under normal circumstances. The circumstances aren't normal, of course, but I still think that how he fits in will play a major role in the success of the team. Bouwmeester's not known as a high-maintenance type at all, but it still takes time for players to build familiarity and trust.
Up front, the Flames will give three of Tuesday's combatants a second look. Colin Stuart, Jason Jaffray and Nigel Dawes will play again, with Dawes being given a second line role on the wing with Daymond Langkow. Dawes didn't feature much in his first game, and although I don't think he's in any danger of being sent down, he's getting a good chance to grab a top-six job. He'll need to show more than he did Tuesday to cinch it.
A number of the Flames' best forwards will also get their first go-round of the fall. Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla are slated to work together on a line with Mikael Backlund. I've made my case as to why I think Backlund should be elsewhere this fall, but if he's going to stick, this sort of role is the one he's got to have. The Flames have enough, or more than enough, bottom six types in the organization, and Darryl Sutter has made it clear that if Backlund can't win a job on the top two lines, he's headed to Abbotsford.
Daymond Langkow, as mentioned earlier, gets his first spin of the pre-season. As well, Craig Conroy will open his year, tentatively centering Brett Sutter and new addition Fredrik Sjostrom. Sjostrom took a puck in the face at yesterday's practice, but I haven't seen anything that suggests he won't be ready to go. David Van Der Gulik also draws in to the line-up. He's a player of some interest to me, since he looked in his call-up last spring to be the sort of solid role player every team wants in their organization. He'll be a useful player, whether it's in Calgary or Abbotsford.
Mikka Kiprusoff and David Shantz will be the goalies, and I don't think anymore needs to said about how important it is for the Flames' number-one goalie to get off on the right foot this season. David Shantz has already won one victory by being signed to an AHL contract, and a good camp might get him to B.C. instead of Matt Keetley. Keetley wasn't at his best Tuesday, so if he wants to avoid spending his winter in Salt Lake City, goals like the one he gave up to Patrick O'Sullivan have to be prevented.
The Flames' opposition for this evening played up the road last night, losing 3-2 to the Oilers. John Tavares made his pre-season debut, playing 22:50. That included a hefty 17:44 at EV, with a -1 result. The Islanders dressed a thin forward group last night beyond Tavares, Weight and Bergenheim, so I guess the ice-time is no surprise. Then again, these are the Islanders, so he might play that much every night with a full roster. They're not good, and it'll take more than his addition to make them competitive. The Isles did dress their young goalies last night, so Roloson and/or Biron should play tonight, but I haven't seen a roster at this point. Feel free to post one in the comments when it appears.
I don't want to be a friggin' sideshow.
That was the phrase uttered by Theoren Fleury at the end of his presser yesterday afternoon. I've been loathe to write much about Theo, since he has a hell of a mountain to climb even to make the AHL roster. The reports of his good fitness levels are encouraging, but it's time to see if he can play against people that aren't going to care about hitting him. I know the media in Calgary has been somewhat frenetic in the coverage of his return, so I hope people look at his comeback in a rational fashion. I wish him well, and if he can still play at the big-league level, I won't have the slightest objection to his signing. If nothing else, this exchange at the end of his interview with George Johnson shows he still has his wits about him:
"Sobriety,'' he says, ever the entertaining imp, "is like listening to one of those hurtin' country songs in reverse.
"You get back your girl.
"You get back your dog.
"You get back your truck.
"Best of all . . . you get back your life.''
As I mentioned earlier, under any other scenario, this would be a night for Flames' fans to concentrate on the arrival of a highly touted free agent defenceman, but tonight will be the opposite of normal, at least to begin with. After the rapturous welcome that Theoren Fleury will receive from the patrons tonight fades and the game begins, we'll see what he has left, and if there's any point to his continuing. Whether he succeeds on the ice or not is somewhat trivial to me at this point, but it certainly doesn't appear to be trivial to him, and with that in mind, I hope he does well. If nothing else, it will spice up what would normally be just another practice game for a team who's roster is likely set. The game will once again be streamed on the Flames' website if you live in the normal TV footprint, starting at 7 PM MT.
Update: As shep_ noted in comments, Sjostrom is out due to his run-in with the puck yesterday. Randy Sportak reports David Moss will play in his stead.