This game is one where the Flames aren't playing the best forwards around, so I suspect that if Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan and Jarome Iginla don't sleep-walk through the affair, it should be one that they can control. Hagman was top-notch against the Ducks Tuesday evening, bossing matters in a fashion that we haven't seen since his arrival in Calgary. The coach chose to shift that line away from the Getzlaf line in order to spark some offense, and it certainly worked for the Finn.
That choice by Butter left Bourque, Conroy and Kotalik against the toughs, and they survived despite some less-than-stellar Corsi figures. Ales Kotalik isn't my choice for the role he's in, but ever he was going to get some traction, a game like this one might be his spot, because there's no line on the Islanders that can match Anaheim's top set.
That should leave Mikael Backlund, Nigel Dawes and David Moss intact. They broke even on the night, both by boxcar and underlying numbers, and given that the injured forwards aren't coming back any time this week, they'll need to be at least that good tonight and until further notice. Backlund can't afford another 0/-8 scoring chance night like he fashioned in St. Paul, and I do wonder if in his aim to please the boss he isn't a bit too passive with the puck. I have no idea if he's going to be any more than a decent player, but against this sort of team, he should be able to take more control of the play. He'll likely face players that are close in age tonight, so maybe this is a decent evaluation moment against his peer group.
The fourth line was very good against Anaheim. Brett Sutter fit right in with Eric Nystrom and Jamal Mayers, driving possession north by a substantial margin against the dregs of the Duck forwards. As an aside, in yesterday's Herald chat, John Down dropped these two, er , nuggets:
John Down: Northcrunk: I'd keep Nystrom. Like his gung-ho attitude, can score for a fourth-liner (might get you 20 on a second line), great for media.
John Down: GioFan: I'd give Nystrom long-term, at least three years right around that number, or perhaps a building deal that starts at say 1.2 and ends at 2mil.
That salary figure than Down was mentioning was per season. Good Lord.
Look, I like Eric Nystrom just fine as a guy who can fit a spot between the 10th and 14th position on a roster. The contract that Down would give out would be more than Glencross or Moss is getting, and there isn't any reason to make that sort of move. If he gets a nickel more than Dawes' 850K per year, that would be a very poor deal, IMO. I'm hoping that that number was just spit-balling by a reporter as opposed to any working knowledge of potential negotiations. Oh, and his media skills are worth exactly zero dollars and zero cents. My two cents, YMMV, all that stuff, but overpaying a career fourth liner is a loser move that the outfit up Highway 2 specializes in. It's nothing worth emulating.
Back to the matter at hand. Freed up by the decision to hard-match Conroy's line and the Reggie-White pairing against Getzlaf, Jay Bouwmeester and Steve Staios enjoyed a rare night in the Corsi black in support of Hagman-Iginla-Stajan. If Sutter manages his bench in the same manner this evening, they might well see a bit of Kyle Okposo. Miikka Kiprusoff will start in net.
The Islanders have been more or less competitive this year, thanks to acceptable goaltending by Dwayne Roloson, another good year from Mark Streit, and excellent work from Frans Nielsen. Kent's highlighted him today, and the Danish center is worthy of the attention. When a guy can play good comp, not have a lucky looking PDO, and be in the black both by traditional and underlying numbers, well, that's the sort of foot-soldier type that can help a team survive. The Islanders are paying him 525k for two more years, which is peanuts for his contribution. Seriously, he's a nice player, and his presence allows the Islanders to shelter a few of their younger types, John Tavares in particular. From the sounds of it, Tavares will be reunited for this one with another useful gent in Matt Moulson. Left Wing Lock has no goalie confirmed, but Roloson did play in last night's 5-0 loss to the Rangers, so Biron could get the nod.
Game wise, this is a game that the Flames have to win, and despite the fact that the Islanders haven't been openly awful this year, they still shouldn't beat a team that's in the hunt. They're also down to roughly two NHL defencemen at this point, so if the Flames can get a few pucks deep, the cycle game has a good chance to wear down the Islander back-end. If Phaneuf were still around, the Okposo hit would be a talking point, but that was dealt with when the Leafs played the Islanders a while back from all reports. I'd spend more time noting the fact that the Islander PK is not very good, but that would mean that penalties would have to be called, wouldn't it?
Game time is 5 MT on Sportsnet West.