The Flames' alleged top line hasn't looked worth a damn during this stretch, and based on yesterday's reports, the captain is in accord with that notion. Jarome Iginla might not be what he was, and we've certainly beaten that subject to death around here this week, but he has to be better than what he's shown in the last couple of weeks if the Flames are going to run the table, and there's a long gap in performance between "elite" or even "very good" and where Iginla's play has settled. Matt Stajan hasn't been remotely effective either as of late. They were badly trounced by Wolski-Stempniak-Lombardi Wednesday night in all areas of the game, only escaping because of Miikka Kiprusoff's fine night of work.
Rene Bourque didn't exactly burn it up himself, convenient PP goal aside. He'll roll with Backlund and Ales (scoring streeeeeeeeeeeak) Kotalik this evening, and his two line mates had themselves a nice game against the 'Yotes. Backlund made two absolutely terrible passes in the first period that lead to Phoenix taking possession in the Flames' end, but he settled after that, and his pass to Kotalik for the second goal was right in the wheelhouse. Given the way that the Iginla trio has suffered, Bourque and his mates need to be good at the moment.
Craig Conroy's line was OK, continuing a decent run over the last couple of weeks. He and Moss were acceptable two nights ago, and I know I've asked this a few times of late, but why was Nigel Dawes sitting, again? With the way that both teams like to set their match-ups, they might go against young Mr. O' Reilly, and that's a match-up that the Flames have to dominate tonight.
The fourth line was dreadful, full stop. That might have been the worst game Eric Nystrom and Jamal Mayers have played since they were paired up in early February, with that duo and Sutter Jr. offering up a o-fer scoring chance outing. They weren't mis-matched against top-sixers, either. Getting waxed by the Vandermeers of the world isn't the sort of night one might expect from those guys, so let's hope it was merely an aberration.
The D was more or less OK until the final panicky minutes, and in fairness anyone behind Iginla-Stajan-Hagman was going to be in the deep water the other night. Gio and Sarich spent most of the night behind the Conroy line, so their relatively good underlying numbers are sensible given that context.
Miikka Kiprusoff was terrific, and particularly so at the start and finish of the game Wednesday. Phoenix out-chanced the Flames badly, so the win was largely dependent on the play of 34, and he delivered a gem. Five more just like it, if you don't mind, sir.
The Avalanche appear to be losing a bit of their mojo, don't they? And by mojo, I mean that Craig Anderson, the key to so much of their success, is in a bit of a ditch at the moment. He's played 14 games since the Olympics, allowing 3 goals or more in all but two of those outings while sporting a .893 SV%. The 'Lanche are 5-8-1 with Anderson in the nets during that period, and since the Flames beat Colorado two weeks ago, he hasn't been above .900 in any of the following six games, with Colorado posting a 1-4-1 mark in those affairs. If Anderson can't regain his pre-Olympic form, it bodes ill for his team with their perpetual rope-a-dope approach.
Colorado isn't without useful players, of course, and they likely are a team that will be very good down the line, with Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene leading the way. Duchene has, relative to his team mates, had an OK year, particularly for a rookie. His underlying numbers are underwater like very other Avalanche player, but he's playing some pretty fair comp and not getting a bunch of cherry starting spots to goose things. Peter Mueller has been the beneficiary of some soft icetime, though, and has 17 points in 13 games to show for it. Those 17 points equal his 54 game total in the desert. Amazing what shooting 23% for a month will do for a guy's numbers, compared to that nifty 4.5% the Minnesotan managed in Phoenix. Even with Mueller's unexpected output, I have a hard time believing that the Avalanche are a better team with him in the lineup over Wojtek Wolski, and as we all saw the other night, that dude eats the Flames for breakfast. I'm glad Calgary won't play against him again this year, to be honest, and I'm glad that the Avalanche felt they had to move him at the deadline.
Gamewise, one thing that the Avalanche always seem to have going for them is an extra PP chance when in Denver. Their ratio of PP/PK at home is 153/135, and the Flames' road numbers are 130/152, so staying out of the box seems paramount. If the Avalanche are suffering at all from a crisis of confidence, getting something from the PP might ease the burden. Like the last time these teams met, the Flames likely need the early jump to ensure the sort of result we all would like. A win still leaves the Flames on the outside of a playoff spot, but at least there'd be some realistic hope for a good outcome. A loss, well...
Game time is 7:30 MT on Sportsnet West. FYI, I'll post the actual game thread at 7 PM.