An extended stay in Calgary is nearing its end for the Flames, with the last in a five game home stand on the docket for this evening. The score on Wednesday certainly felt less than reflective of the game play, but that happens, and the opposition tonight likely knows that sensation quite well, based on recent and historical events.
So, after two and a half weeks in Calgary, what's been accomplished? If you cast your thoughts back to the middle of the month, it was clear that the Flames' two primary areas of improvement needed to be 1) reducing shots against at EV and 2) better penalty killing. How's the home stand looked in that regard?
The EV shots against, from the Thanksgiving night fiasco in Chicago til now read as follows:
at Chicago - 31
at Columbus - 27
Vancouver - 21
Edmonton - 17
Colorado - 14
That's better, and more along the lines of what the Flames likely need to be a competitive team amongst the better teams in the conference. Kipper's not perfect by any means, but he's not often likely to give up 3 goals on 14 EV shots, as he did against the Avs. The trend is headed in the right direction.
The PK is still an area of concern, although the Flames did go 2 for 2 on Wednesday. Until then, they had given up 6 goals in their previous 20 PK situations on the home stand, so that's still an area of concern. There's that old saw about how your best penalty killer is your goalie, but I'm not sure goaltending has had that much to do with the team's ineptitude when down a man at home.
The first three lines appear to be status quo, with Iginla working with Conroy and Glencross. They had nice numbers in terms of Corsi and chances against some of Colorado's lesser lights and kids. I'm not sure they'll see opposition that poor at driving possession tonight, so a follow-up at that level would be good to see. It should be noted that Dawes-Langkow-Bourque got the tough match-ups Wednesday. That's becoming a trend, and until Iginla and/or Jokinen show better play on a consistent basis, that's probably as it should be.
Olli Jokinen was reputed to have played well. I didn't see great play, but I did notice that when he got good scoring chances, it came when he was following the action, including a good shot when he came down the right wing as a trailer. His goal was the least likely shot he took, in fact. Kent half-jokingly suggested he should be a winger earlier this year, but that's not the worst idea if Dustin Boyd keeps playing well. Giving him the puck in situations where his primary role is as a shooter is still likely the best hope for productivity. I don't see moving him to the wing being in the cards at this point, but Jokinen's over-all play at center is a serious concern for a team that has hopes of being more than first-round fodder.
Dustin Boyd returns from quarantine this evening, headed back to center Prust and Nystrom. He's been very good in his role this season, and his emergence may, as I touched on above, allow the team some flexibility down the road. For now, he's part of a line that's better than most fourth groups around the league.
The sixth spot is the only area of flux on the blue, with Staffan Kronwall getting a look tonight against his older brother's side. Adam Pardy struggled a bit on Wednesday, so Sutter is still in mix-and-match mode. Kronwall will go with Giordano, leaving the top two pairs intact.
Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start. 3 for 14 is not normally what you'd hope for, but there were enough mitigating circumstances to not get too upset over events, and frankly, Colorado's shooting luck just waited one game too many to run out. I'd guess we'll see McE in either Dallas or St. Louis, but not tonight against the Wings.
The gold standard has had a difficult off-season and early season to contend with. Cap issues lead to the departures of Hossa and Kopecky, Jiri Hudler went to the KHL, and injuries have claimed Franzen and Filppula. Boo-friggin'-hoo. They're still dangerous as hell, with an overwhelming third period in Vancouver leading to a 5-4 win on Tuesday, and an equally strong late game effort permitted them to come back from 5-1 down before losing in the skills competition to the Oilers Thursday.
Everyone's buddy Sparklepants makes his return to the Dome, and he'll skate with Datsyuk. Joking aside, Todd Bertuzzi has never said anything bad about the team or the organization, and I never got the sense that he was anything but a model teammate off-ice. As easy as it is to blame him for his lackluster play, Mike Keenan still is largely responsible for enabling Bertuzzi and others to freelance. That said, I'm still glad he's in Detroit. I don't see Bert as a major contributor to a good team anymore, and the fact that the Red Wings need him to be one for the next month or two is likely good for the other teams in the conference.
I watched the second part of the game Thursday night, and as good as they looked on the attack as the night progressed, the Wings seem vulnerable to fore check pressure in a way I haven't seen in recent years. Their main defencemen are still good, but aging, and the team's best young D, Jonny Ericsson, has been so-so against the lesser lights. His pairing with Lebda should be the primary target.
The Wings' goaltending has been lousy, and as Ray Ferraro noted on TSN during the broadcast Thursday, the thinning of Detroit's forward depth doesn't allow them the same margin for error past squads enjoyed. They're still an out-shooting team, however, and any team with Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom will be a threat. Calgary's recent good work at keeping EV shots down will get a pretty thorough exam this evening. The other area to watch will be to see which good PP takes advantage of which crappy PK.
Lineups, per the Herald:
Dawes Langkow Bourque
Glencross Conroy Iginla
Sjostrom Jokinen Moss
Prust Boyd Nystrom
Bertuzzi Datsyuk Holmstrom
Cleary Zetterberg Williams
Draper Helm Eaves
Leino Abdelkader Maltby
Game time is 8 PM MT, with the dulcet tones of Mark Lee and Kevin Weekes on the call. I would never refer to any game against Detroit as a likely win, but the current iteration of the Wings is probably as weakened as they're going to get this year. It would be very good to get one tonight.