The Hawks might have Calgary's bête noire last season, but the splash of cold water provided by Friday's meh performance should alert everyone that the nice start the Flames have authored in the standings owes a bit more to good fortune than stellar play. I'm not advocating giving the points back, of course ;-)
There are some facts that must be confronted, however. Olli Jokinen has not scored a goal in his last 18 regular season games. 18. That's what you might expect from a 3rd/4th liner, is it not? Beyond the boxscore, of course, the first line is getting its head kicked in territorially. Eric Nystrom's good start to the season couldn't survive a promotion to the first line, with a single game Corsi of -10 against Dallas. Honesty compels me to admit that he isn't a first line player, but I've seen no recent evidence that his line mates from that game are front line material either. If Jarome Iginla's days of leaping tall buildings in a single bound really are done, the entire premise that the team is built around isn't sustainable. The Flames have run Jokinen-Iginla-someone as a PvP line for 5 straight games, so it's pretty clear what Brent Sutter wants to do, and the results have been ugly, with no production to speak of at EV and the worst Corsi of all the forwards. It would be one thing If the Big Two were out-chancing the opposition and simply a bit snakebit, but that just isn't the case. I have no idea how long Sutter is willing to tolerate things, but another loss or two might force a split.
That would necessitate splitting the second line of Dawes-Langkow-Bourque, but after the EV kicking they took on Friday, that might not be all bad. They were -2,-3,-3 respectively, which negated another decent night on the PP for the three of them. Bourque doesn't look out of place at all with the man advantage, which really makes one wonder why Sparklepants got so much time in that role last year. Oh, wait, I know why. Mike Keenan. Right.
The third line is still waiting for Dustin Boyd's hands to make an appearance. He had another frustrating night in front of goal, with Alex Auld making multiple good saves off him in one flurry. I still think once he pots one, he'll be OK. That line is getting chances, and they're on the good side of the EV ledger in spite of not scoring much.
The fourth line has undergone some shuffling due to injuries, and if David Moss can't go, Brian McGrattan may well get his first outing of the season. I'm on the record as not being a fan of his signing, so I'll simply wish him well and hope he plays to at least the level of Andre Roy last year.
When I took a spin at Behind The Net today, I noticed a stat I never expected to see any time soon. The two Flame defencemen who have played the weakest competition weren't, as one might normally suspect, Pardy and Kronwall. Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regher fill those slots. Early days and all that, but still. Potential anomalies aside, Bouwmeester and Giordano have, at least for now, become the Flames' top pair. There's no possible way I'll be as big a fan of Gio as some, but I am someone who liked his game even when the Flames didn't, and I would have never guessed he'd be part of any team's first pair short of the Islanders. Cory Sarich has traveled with the team on their mid-west trip, so his impending return may shake the rotation at some point.
With Curtis McElhinney's first game in the books, for better or worse, Miikka Kiprusoff is the probable starter. Last year, Kiprusoff's numbers in 5 games at Chicago were 20G/134SA, .851 SV%. Hmm.
The Blackhawks had one of those summers. I might miss something, but by my tally they had;
a messy split with a key member of the team's rebirth;
a RFA paperwork fiasco that might cause cap headaches down the line;
a change in the front office, with the team firing the GM for the RFA issue and other alleged offences;
and finally, a member of their team was able to adorn himself with an excellent new nickname.
Oh, and they signed Marian Hossa, who will be out for an extended period after shoulder surgery, as well as John Madden and Tomas Kopecky. They did let reputed Flame-killer Nik Khabibulin and Matt Walker leave via free agency. Quiet, otherwise.
The Hawks on-ice are 1-1 since returning from starting the season in Europe. They lost a 3-2 decision to Detroit in their first game in North America, and followed that with a 4-3 SO win over the Avalanche that took 9 rounds to settle. They've certainly been on the good side of things shot-wise, to the tune of about 37-22 a game. Must be nice.
Cristobal Huet should start for the Hawks, although back-up Antti Niemi did toss a shut-out at the Panthers in Helsinki. Strange concept that a back-up could do such a thing, but I'm always open to new ideas ;-) The main point of interest for me will be to see if the Hawks in general, and the pair of Keith and Seabrook in particular, continue to render Iginla ineffective. Duncan Keith usually plays directly opposite the Flames' captain, and is expert using his speed to take away space in the neutral zone. Iginla spent most games last season against the Hawks appearing as if he was stuck in mud. Given the Flames' problems at EV and the ability of the Hawks to drive possession, my thought is that the best hope for a win is likely Huet/Niemi faltering, combined with Kiprusoff standing on his head. If the Flames can out-shoot the Hawks at EV, that would be cause for optimism.
As always, line-ups in the comments if you see 'em. Game time is 6PM MT, and local TV coverage is via PPV, so Rob Kerr will get to do more this evening than call fights for Peter Maher.
Update: Sarich is a go, and the forwards, based on yesterday's info, might look like this: