Now that all the nonsense regarding whales has faded, the Flames can get down to the business of actually winning games. Wednesday was an acceptable start, even noting the quality of the competition, but there are still a few matters that this iteration need to work through before they get into the more difficult portion of the schedule that awaits after the Olympics. With that in mind, it isn't a bad time for the team to get out on the road, where hockey is the only concern. Tonight, that road trip begins in South Florida, where they'll face a team that rides their goaltender like few others in the league.
Wednesday wasn't really the sort of affair that would tell us much about the potential of the Flames' new line combos. Playing a game against a poor team and one dominated by special teams for two periods didn't permit much of a look at how this team will fare at EV. Jarome Iginla was one player whose ice time was limited, although he and Stajan did manage to create one very nice play, with the former Leaf making a slick skate-to-stick move for the winner. That duo and Hagman will likely see Weiss' line this evening, which should be a good match.
One duo that certainly appeared ensemble was the pair of Langkow and Higgins. They didn't get the easy starting spots and still managed to boss proceedings quite thoroughly. Higgins also looked like a good fit on the PK, so all that's left is to see if that ugly 4.3 SH% keeps following him around. He's due, in other words. Ales Kotalik wasn't quite up to the level of his linemates, but he certainly wasn't bad. He'll have to make his bones on the PP, but his effort was the sort that his coaches would be happy with if it were the norm. His contract still looks like a gamble because those sorts of consistent nights haven't exactly been his M.O., and the Flames are on the hook for two more years.
The Boyd-Backlund-Bourque trio took advantage of a gentle set of circumstances to put together a nice night. Mikael Backlund is playing at just about the level of competition his experience would rate, and when he has those match-ups, he doesn't look out of place. One benefit of the recent roster moves is that the Flames have been able to push a few guys down in the batting order, and Backlund and Boyd should have a chance to contribute against that sort of comp.
The other player who clearly benefited from moving down in the order was ol' Scoreface. Curtis Glencross is too good for fourth liners, and while I wouldn't expect him to fill his hat every night, he, Nystrom and Mayers should give most teams' last three forwards a difficult time.
The Flame D was OK, doing a good job on the PK in particular. Ian White was the only one with a poor night by Corsi, although I might suggest that a guy who spent 8 minutes in the box likely didn't have a very good outing either. Cory Sarich is in a funk, full stop. That interference penalty would have been a good play in 2004, but post-lockout it's been a penalty without fail. Sarich's struggles are unfortunate, because if he were to play well, the pairings would likely fall in to place with White moving down in the order to everyone's benefit. As it was, the pair of Giordano and Pardy had their way with Carolina's lesser lights, as one would have suspected going in. I'm still of the opinion that these current duos don't last the rest of the year.
Left Wing Lock shows Kipper and Vokoun as the starters, which suggests to me that Curtis McElhinney plays tomorrow, or not at all until March. I might be inclined to go with Door Number Two, because it's clear that he can't really be trusted, and the Flames are in a pretty dicey spot right now.
The Panthers aren't a very good team, to be honest. They don't generate many shots, have the second worse shot differential in the league, and are the worst at shot prevention. They're a Tomas Vokoun injury from being down there with the Hurricanes and Oilers, IMO.
The Czech netminder really is Florida's difference-maker. He's currently sporting a .931 SV%, and there isn't any evidence to suggest that Florida has some magic formula that limits shot quality, so it's all to his credit. Guys like Jay Feaster really have no clue, because this guy's been good for 7 or 8 years running. Florida's other top player is Stephen Weiss, who would be a terrific second center on an elite team, and who's a stone bargain at 3.1 Million a season. The Panthers also welcomed back David Booth on Sunday, with the winger playing against the Islanders in his first match since suffering a serious concussion. That's good timing, because the Panthers' other top winger, Nathan Horton is on the shelf for several more weeks. On the blue, former Flame Jordan Leopold is part of Florida's shut down pair, which maybe tells you what you need to know about the state of the Panthers' defence.
Game-wise, the Flames are a bit deeper than Florida, so playing more of the game at EV likely works in Calgary's favour, although the Flames could use some time to smooth out the new players on the PP. Florida does their share of shot-blocking, so as always, an emphasis should be on getting pucks through the traffic. With Kiprusoff and Vokoun in net, a low-scoring affair does seem in the cards.
Game time is 5:30 MT on Sportsnet West.