I managed to catch most of the game at a bar last night. The lure of the new additions was enough to drag me out of the house and away from the radio/blurry internet feed.
I'm glad I made the effort. After stinking up the joint on Monday night, the Flames played what was their best game in weeks (months?). In fact, one could argue that it was a fundamentally different game than the team has been playing through it's recent struggles. which makes sense, I suppose - it' a fundamentally different team.
In direct contrast to their effort versus Philly, the Flames managed to move the puck with speed and precision: break-outs were normally rapid and clean. They made both long and short passes through the neutral zone and were frequently dangerous off of the rush. Their forecheck was a little more forceful, often sending two men into the zone and causing turn-overs around the offensive blueline. As a result, despite spending almost half the evening on the penalty kill, the Flames out-shot the 'Canes 39-28 (29-22 at even-strength). In fact, Calgary managed to get more shots short-handed (7) than Carolina garnered during their various power plays (6). That's a hell of a night.
The effect of pushing guys like Nystrom, Glencross and Boyd down the depth chart last night was obvious. Instead of struggling with ice time and opponents they couldn't handle they were fed the easy minutes and they dominated as a result. Bourque, Boyd and Backlund didn't see a single defensive zone draw. They also mainly played against third liners (although there were a couple of shifts versus Staal in the third). The highly functional fourth line of Glencross, Nystrom and Mayers also had it easy and they they ate their competition for breakfast. Glencross went from looking like a stooge to a superstar in the space of two nights. As we've been saying around here - dude is a great mid-level to bottom-level guy.
Perhaps most impressive, although they didn't register a point, was the duo of Langkow and Higgins. They spent most of the night together, took a bunch of defensive zone face-offs, saw some of both Hurricanes top two lines and finished with a combined corsi of +17. That's means they started in their own zone a bunch, usually against a decent level of competition and still spent most of the evening in the offensive zone. Hard to ask for more than that. Langkow in particular looked like a new man. He made the smart defensive zone plays we've grown to expect and was carrying the puck with conviction through the neutral zone. Higgins did his part too, especially along the boards. Kotalik was the RW on that line and somehow he ended only +2 in terms of possession. Probably an "end of the PK" effect, since Langkow and Higgins played together short-handed. Kotalik didn't impress me as much, but he didn't disappoint me either, which was a pleasant surprise. He kept his game simple, got shots on net when he had the chance and wasn't noticeably bad. I still don't like him being on the second unit, but more performances like that would go a long way to changing my mind.
Iginla and the Leafs also had a good night. They went head-to-head with Staal, were positive in terms of possession and generated a number of quality chances (including Stajans GWG). Iginla looked more like Jarome than Jarmoe, moving the puck through the center of the ice and actually trying to take it to scoring areas (rather than being limited to the periphery).
The only thing to dislike about this game was probably the play of Cory Sarich. I almost think he's trying to force Darryl to trade him. He took a mind-boggling 8 minutes of penalties, all of them deserved. It's been an absolutely miserable season for Sarich all around. I can't imagine him being a Flame come July.
Overall, I as very encouraged by the results. It's one game against a decidedly medicore opponent, but the manner in which the Flames played was pointedly and refreshingly different (ie; better). The Flames acquired no superstars, but it looks like fairly solid group from top to bottom now. One wonders what will happen once Moss and Dawes return.
PS - for a first hand take of the contest. Check out canadiancolts fanshot.