Flames vs. Blackhawks Game Thread

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United Center

1 PM MT

Opposition: Second City Hockey

TV: Sportsnet West


With the Avalanche and their fans left muttering about goalies and luck, one might almost think that the Flames accomplished a great feat on Friday. Would that it were so. I'm not quite as dour as the former manager of this joint regarding recent events, mindful as I am that the Flames are missing three forwards that would be regular, and very helpful, fixtures in the lineup. That noted, I have a hard time imagining the Flames beating a top-end club with the sort of shaky effort that characterized about half of the affair in Denver, Kipper or no.

This afternoon, the quality of the opposition takes a bit of a step up, as the Flames play the team that has, IMO, the best overall collection of forwards in the game. They are also, without question, Calgary's bête noire. The last couple of seasons have seen them beat the Flames in any number of novel fashions, and none was more cruel than the last time the two clubs met on West Madison Street.

 

I suppose the matter that gives me the most pause after Friday is that the Flames' theoretical best line still appears completely at sea. Matt Stajan wasn't all that bad, and actually seemed to be involved in a number of good things during the middle portion of the game. Niklas Hagman's illness only slightly diminished his effort, so that leaves one unfortunate culprit for the general ineffectiveness of that trio. Jarome Iginla had a very poor game, and there's simply no way to sugar coat it. If he were creating shots and chances, not scoring would fairly be described as a bit of poor luck. He's not unlucky at the moment. His lack of awareness on the Galiardi goal wasn't ideal, but he's always been the sort of player that made up for an occasional defensive lapse with dominance at the other end. Friday, however, the play died with him entirely too often, irrespective of who he was facing. If this team does sneak into the playoffs with a more or less healthy roster, I can only hope that Brent Sutter bows to the inevitable and shelters any line with number 12 on it rigourously.  Right now, he needs it.

Craig Conroy's line, on the other hand, seemed to manage things without too much fuss. He, Nigel Dawes and David Moss have been very effective in their role since being grouped a few weeks ago. Dawes should have never sat, but as I've mentioned before, sometime the boss appears a bit hidebound about what players fit what roles. He's been damned useful in the interim, though, and I hope that if the Flames ever return to health this season, he won't get the short straw again.

The Backlund line was also productive, with Rene Bourque's powerhouse shift early in the third period creating the ultimate winner. They'll likely get themselves a tougher series of match-ups than in recent games, facing either John Madden's or David Bolland's line. Hmm.  I can't really say that I want the fourth line to step up in class either, since they seemed to be off the pace the last couple of outings. They weren't as openly bad as against the Coyotes, but still weren't the advantageous trio that we'd seen in prior games. 

 

We've certainly seen a pattern emerging this season for any Flames' D pairing, and that is; playing behind number 12's line is a good way to be on the bad end of possession. Friday wasn't any different, as White and Regehr spent a good portion of the evening trying clean up the mess. That M.O. clearly helps Giordano and Sarich in terms of Corsi and chances, since they can ride behind Conroy's line against the bottom of the order. Whether that's an approach that will help or hurt the Flames over the next week is still a matter of conjecture, but I guess as long as Calgary's goaltending holds out, they might just get by.

 

Oh, yeah, goaltending:

 

 

 

Miikka Kiprusoff was terrific, and particularly so at the start and finish of the game Wednesday Friday. Phoenix Colorado out-chanced the Flames badly, so the win was largely dependent on the play of 34, and he delivered a gem. Five Four more just like it, if you don't mind, sir.

Works for me ;-) 

 

The Blackhawks return home after beating the Devils in a shoot-out on Friday evening, and could officially end Detroit's reign atop the Central Division if they manage a point this afternoon. As I mentioned at the start, I consider the Hawks' forward depth the league's gold standard, and Friday they rolled the first three lines thusly:

 

Toews-Sharp-Hossa

Bolland-Kane-Brouwer

Madden-Versteeg-Ladd

 

That's a right handful, that is. One name you might notice missing is Dustin Byfuglien, but he's not out of the line-up or demoted, and where he's playing is the one thing that might give teams in the West a bit more hope come the second season. As most of you would know, Brian Campbell is done after being freight-trained by Washington's employee number 8, and Kim Johnsson is also shelved at the moment. The Hawks not only decided to move Byfuglien back to defence, but chose to split the Keith-Seabrook duo in attempt to make the pairings work. Friday, Keith and Byfuglien matched against Kovalchuk-Elias, while Seabrook and the useful Niklas Hjalmarsson took on Parise and Zajac. That leaves Jordan Hendry and Brent Sopel as the third pair, and as I said, if there's a place to exploit the Blackhawks, it's from the blue line down.

Goaltending also seems to be a hot topic in the Second City, but if they don't go with Antti Niemi to start the playoffs, I'd be surprised. Cristobal Huet has struggled this year, and the fact that he's batting .896 at EV suggests that he's not just having one of those strange years where the PK stats skew things. Left Wing Lock currently shows the young Finn getting the nod for this afternoon's tilt. 

 

Game wise, not folding up like a cheap suitcase when the inevitable push from Chicago occurs would be nice. Working a few pucks behind guys like Sopel, Hendry and Byfuglien also seems like a plan, and really is the best hope for a win. That, and Kipper being out of his head. 

 

Game time is 1 MT on Sportsnet West. I have no idea if they're ever going to slay the dragon, but they simply have to do just that this afternoon. 

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