Two huge wins against two elite teams in games that no one expected the Flames to win. That definitely counts as gifts from Santa a little early this year. The Flames must have been off the naughty list.
The 1st star of the game and the man of the hour has to be Leland Irving. Rookies get a free pass from me when they make the jump. They get a year to get their time in and I usually try to hold back with too much praise or too much criticism. I'll make an exception.
In Irving's two games this year he has looked very strong. Sporting a 0.958 SV% and 1.44 GAA. He arguably should have had the win in the Florida game as well as he looked equally strong. The bad on him is that he does over commit on his post to post slide. That is pretty clear but ironically it was that very tendency to rapidly go east - west that allowed him to rob Daniel Sedin of the tieing goal in the final minutes.
Way too small a sample size here to get too excited but this 26th overall pick in the 2006 draft may actually blossom. The Flames are due for a gem.
Jarome delievered a perfect pass to Glencross for the first goal of the game.
Mikael Backlund potted another that proved to be the game winner, a soft one on Luongo.
The Canucks came at the Flames in a flurry after but the good guys held on, largely supplemented by outstanding goaltending. Hamhius beat Irving on a screened slap shot and there was that gut wrenching final 3 min when a tie would have hurt most after such a full game effort from the Flames.
But it was not to be. A very unselfish passing play from Glencross to Iginla to Jokinen for the empty net provided the dagger goal. An almost bizarro fact was mentioned in the Vanouver broadcast that Jokienen and Iginla are scoring at a pace recently that is at the top of the NHL bested only by Malkin and Giroux.
At some point the Olli bus has to get loaded up here. Despite the fancy stats against him the fact he is currently on pace for a 68 point season has to have some degree of redemption written across it. Especially when you look at this pay. His value for pay at this point has to be undeniable.
Lets keep things real on Jokinen. The man is not a #1 Centre, I don't think he even wants to be a #1 Centre. I think he was more than happy to play on the 2nd line with Glencross and Moss for the season. But he has been one of the most consistent and hardest working Flames game after game. He has taken almost historic internet meme abuse and been roundly mocked, can't tell me he and his family are oblivious to it.
The man has got game and it might be time to acknowledge it. If you are looking for a target this year there are better candidates. It might be time to sharpen the pen on Mikael Backlund. His rookie year was last year, he should not still be getting a pass. His goal in tonight's game actually reminded me he played for the Flames as he rarely seems to produce.
Backlund's base stat line is 3G and 1A and -7 . His PPG is 0.19 and that would project out on a 82 game season to 16 points. If you exclude the goal he scored last night the stat line drops even more dramatically. It wasn't really a skill goal either, it was a soft Luongo goal but regardless at some point this kid, who has already been benched for lack of jump should start to either get his head in the game or hit Feaster's list for possible movable pieces.
But all in all, great win for the Flames. By my simplistic calculations the Flames need about 4 more wins against elite teams to make up some of the gimmees they gave to bottom teams and we can start dreaming about playoffs. If it is any consolation to anyone 15 W - 16 L - 5 OT for 35 points was last year's stat on Game 36. This year improvement with 17 W - 15 L - 4 OT for 38 points.
That extra 3 points would have been enough to make the playoffs last year. But is it realistic to expect another incredible surge like last year? They must consistently beat the basement and bubble teams to pull it off as well as make up some ground with a few more surprise wins against the top ten NHL teams...