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Flames Game Day: There's a vulture perching right off screen...


Pengrowth Saddledome

7:30 PM MT

Opposition: Mile High Hockey


There are games throughout a schedule where a team can measure itself against the elite, just to see where they stack up. I hope you'll forgive me when I say that there was no point in the off-season where I thought that a game against the Avalanche would constitute that sort of event. At season's end, that may still end up being the case, but as of this morning the Denver outfit has the best record going, so tonight's match gives us a chance to assess the potential for long-term sustain by both sides.


The post-10 round table has covered the macro issues for Calgary, so today's preview will be a bit briefer than normal. The main issue for Calgary is, and has been, the lack of production from their top forwards through 10 games:


Jarome Iginla : 28 SOG

Daymond Langkow: 17 SOG

Olli Jokinen:    17 SOG


Those numbers really look off from an historical POV. Iginla has averaged between 3.5 and 4 shots a game continuously since 01/02. Langkow has always been at 2 shots a game or better since his days in Philly. Jokinen, as I noted the other day, has been a volume shooter for several years running. I'll grant the possibility all three have hit the wall and will stay where they are. That stipulated, I'm still not quite convinced they'll all be unable to create offence for ever, so there's some hope that the Flames' shot totals will continue their creep upwards. 


The stellar team shooting percentage has done a nice job of covering some holes, and I think we've beaten to death the fact that those percentages are historically unsustainable. The shot differential turned in Calgary's favor on Saturday, albeit versus a flu-ridden Oiler squad. That has to be the way forward, and holding the opposition below 20 shots at EV should be one of the two major points of emphasis.


The other one still has to be the PK, particularly on home ice. The Flames have killed penalties at a rate of 69.2% at the Dome. For historical reference, the only team since 97/98 to have a full season home PK % under 70 was last year's Maple Leafs squad. That's not exactly the sort of comparison that a team should relish.


The first three lines are likely as is, but Dustin Boyd is iffy, having been held out the last couple of days due to the flu. Brandon Prust returned to work yesterday, with a suspected shoulder injury having been the reason for his absence. From all reports, the D will also stay as-is, so Aaron Johnson gets another turn with Giordano, and Miikka Kiprusoff is the likely starter in net.


Colorado has been the toast of the league so far, riding good shooting, young legs and terrific goaltending to the best record in the game. They handled the Oilers with minimal fuss last night, out-shooting a team for the second time all season. I'd submit that the Oilers were dreadful, but Colorado played a smart, aggressive game. It was one night where Craig Anderson didn't need to carry them. 


There are a few things I've noticed in limited watching of the "Lanche. First, they really are leaning on Ryan O' Reilly to a greater degree than one would expect for an 18 year old second rounder. His PK TOI is 3:14, first among Avalanche centers. His O/D faceoff ratio is second only to Paul Stastny, at 39.1%. Now, I'm not quite convinced that a guy who was a PPG scorer in the OHL last year will sustain a .83 PPG pace in the bigs, but the young man has very nice numbers through the first dozen games. Like most Avalanche, his Corsi number is in the ditch, but they've benefited from some quality help between the pipes.


That leads to discussion of the obvious leader in Colorado's upward march. Craig Anderson has been excellent, playing in every game. His SV% is .940, and .946 5 V 5. That's kinda good. Normally a back to back affair like tonight might prompt a coach to use his number two goalie, but with Peter Budaj on the shelf with H1N1 (aka Hamthrax), Anderson will almost certainly get the nod tonight. I think Kiprusoff has been better this year, but out-doing the former Flame draft pick will take some quality work on the part of the Finn.


The key for the Flames will be, as it likely will be for any team playing the Avalanche, to get traffic in front of Anderson. He's in one of those runs where he'll stop everything he sees. He'll likely stop most of what he doesn't as well, but the odds are still better if distractions are added. The other area to watch will be special teams. Colorado's PP hasn't been quite as good since Liles hurt his shoulder, but their PK has been good. The Flame PP is still the league's top unit, so Anderson and the quick skating Colorado PK will give them a good test. Overall, the Flames play best when they initiate the physical side of things, especially against the other team's D, and that would certainly be a good plan tonight. 


Game time is 7:30 MT, with coverage via PPV. Both of these teams have ridden the percentages to get to the top of the conference. We'll see if something gives a bit tonight.