The captain of the Flames had himself a nice couple of weeks. Played some with Crosby, won a gold medal, not a bad way to spend a fortnight on the west coast, was it? Reality, of course, resumes for Jarome Iginla tonight, where he looks to continue his efforts to meld with Niklas Hagman and the newly wealthy Matt Stajan. If the pre-Olympic pattern holds, he and his mates may well avoid Mikko Koivu in exchange for a set-to versus Havlat and Latendresse. With the change in personnel, Sutter has tried to ease off on the hard matches for number 12, so hopefully the Flames reap the reward of some extra offence.
That will likely leave Daymond Langkow, Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik to do some heavy lifting, and they might well be up to the task. For all the Sturm und Drang around the team over the last month, the one genuinely pleasant surprise has been the play of Higgins in a tough minutes role. I hope he sticks around past this spring, because he seems like a hard man to play against, and that's a commodity that any team needs.
Mikael Backlund has returned to the bigs, and he'll get some fairly sweet line mates in David Moss and Rene Bourque. If the Flames try to work the match-ups, he might see some time against Minny's bottom six. Now that Dustin Boyd is headed to the Music CIty, the team has handed him the ball to be the soft-minutes scoring center. We'll see.
Even with a team as deep as the Flames are up front, decisions about who will fill your bottom line shouldn't be that tough, and yet here we have a completely questionable choice for that spot. I have no objection to Glencross, of course, but why would Nigel Dawes sit for any reason? If the Flames only want him in a top-nine role, he should have been moved. As Kent noted in comments before the Boyd trade, if GlenX-Nystrom-Mayers lined up against Boyd-Conroy-Dawes, which line would be more likely to be productive? This fetish of having to have "toughness" at the expense of skill seems very odd to me, since the top nine forwards other than Backlund and maybe Stajan aren't overly soft.
The D, at least for tonight, will go as is, with Sarich moving down to the bottom pair alongside Adam Pardy at yesterday's practice. As I've mentioned before, I'm not at all comfortable with Ian White facing top comp. That may not hold once Steve Staios arrives to shuffle the rest of the deck, but for now, that's the choice.
Miikka Kiprusoff will start, and hopefully Matt Keetley enjoys his night in the bigs, because he'll be headed back to Abby by tomorrow. Like the boss, I would have preferred that Kipper got Saturday night off, but he's nothing if not a gamer, and I can't imagine that Friday's outing against the U.S. left him very happy. Good on him for wanting right back on the horse.
The Wild were pretty quiet this afternoon, adding no one and moving Eric Belanger for a second-rounder to the Capitals. That status-quo day means that they will be largely the same group that have handled Calgary on two occasions this season with minimal fuss. Mikko Koivu is still the main man for Minnesota, and while I wish no franchises other than the Habs, Oil and Wings any ill, I hope he's available as a UFA in the summer of '11. Not that the Flames will have any cap space at their current pace, but a guy can dream, right? Behind him is the Havlat-Latendresse duo that have given Calgary fits this season, and Kyle Brodziak played well when these clubs hooked up in St. Paul back in early January.
On the back end, the Wild added Cam Barker from the Hawks before the break, shipping out UFA to be Kim Johnsson. That's likely a net loss for this year, because Barker has a lot of learning to do before he can be counted on for a top-four role. Miikka Kiprusoff's Olympic back-up Niklas Backstrom will start in net for the Wild, with the Finn still searching for better form.
Game wise, I suspect that the players won't have been too disturbed by the team's effort this afternoon. No one from the obvious core was moved, so focus should be no issue. Even if they were a bit flustered by the normal deadline shenanigans, that stuff is done, and paying heed to the whippings they received from the Wild in the first two affairs would be wise. The Flames were out-classed in both games, with only Kipper's excellence getting them a point in the first match at the Dome. The new forward groups should be deep enough to do a better job of controlling possession, and Minny's D isn't that great. Whether that can turn into goals, is, as always, the question of the night. Game time is 8 MT on Sportsnet West. As I mentioned in the trade thread, with Kent elsewhere, combining the pre-game and game thread will likely be the new mode for the remainder of the year.