Opposition: Habs Eyes on the Prize
TV: Sportsnet West (HD), RDS
I'm not exactly sure what to make of the first two games. Welcome victories, to be sure, although I doubt anyone, within the organization or otherwise, is entirely content with the manner in which they were achieved. Still, better this than what the Canucks are dealing with this morning, so I'll keep my complaints to a minimum.
Being outshot by Vancouver and Edmonton, and by the margin it occurred, certainly allows the coaching staff a teaching opportunity, I suppose. The system is pretty much the work in progress predicted coming out of camp, and Kent has dissected what's happening on the top line this morning thoroughly enough. On the plus side, Kiprusoff has kept the puck out at a very acceptable level, and Jay Bouwmeester has been as good as advertised, so they have that going for them.
I noted in comments yesterday that as tempting as it was for me to blame Phaneuf for the awkwardness of his tandem with Regher thus far, that wouldn't be entirely fair. I still don't think it's a good mix, and the return (soon, hopefully) of Sarich may shuffle the deck. At the very least, it will allow the Flames to not play Kronwall 9 minutes a night while running Bouwmeester out there for 29-plus. They could use another veteran penalty killer on the back end to soak up some time, since Kronwall spent zero time on the PK in the first two games. Gio, unfortunate break in E-town aside, has been good and Pardy has done about what was expected. The shots against are never exclusively a factor of personnel on D, of course, so I'm fairly sanguine at this point about the defence. Put Sarich back in there, let them play together, and things should be fine.
The forwards have been a bit mixed. The fourth line has been a welcome surprise, with Prust looking very good given expectations. I noted with interest Ray Ferraro's TSN blog this morning, this passage being particularly noteworthy, IMO:
I'm not anti-fighting - and although I never really won a fight (Steve Thomas sure pummeled me one Saturday night) I don't love the fight that has very little purpose in the context of the game. When the heavyweights go at it, who else does it affect? You cheer for your guy, he's your teammate, you don't want him to get hurt and these guys are generally as good a person as you will run into. The fight ends and the game resumes. What's changed? More room on the bench? The heavyweight doesn't play a lot (generally under five minutes) and unless he is a good skater who can throw his weight around, he has minimal impact on the other team's skill players.
I was always way more concerned with someone who finished every check with a purpose - think Cal Clutterbuck or Brendan Morrow - than with someone who I was never on the ice against. The big boys are popular with the fans and their team, but I believe, in time, we will see more lineups that have a middleweight like Shawn Thornton or Jarrett Boll, than heavyweights who are more limited in their game.
QFT, co-sign, etc. The longer Prust stays in the line-up, the better. His 8-9 minutes a night have a chance to be quality ones.
Beyond that, one of players who the Flames need to get solid work from is Dustin Boyd. Last season's team received real quality from David Moss in a third line role, and my sense is that production will be as big a challenge to replace as the shinier efforts of Cammalleri. Boyd has been given the first crack at it, so plays like the set-up for Glencross' goal in Edmonton have to continue to be a regular occurrence.
The top six still seems to ironing things out. Langkow and Dawes have struggled a bit at EV, but I'd be shocked if Langkow continued that way for long. Bourque seems to be rounding into shape as well. As I noted, Kent's looked at the first line. The one stat about them that I really don't like? Olli Jokinen - 2 SOG. He's a shooter, for better or worse. He has to try to get more pucks on net, EV and PP.
The PP has looked better, though. Practicing something in the hopes of improving it seems like a good plan, last year's approach aside. They've had better movement so far, and having Moss near the front of the net is working about as most of us would have liked. The PK, as I mentioned above, wouldn't be hurt by the addition of Sarich. It's early days for everything out there, though, so I'm still in the reserving judgement phase.
The reserving judgement phase includes the play thus far of Kiprusoff. He's been good enough, with only the Brule goal being one I'd fault him for. The 3.00 GAA means nothing when your team gives up 38 shots a night, so he gets a satisfactory grade through two. Sixty-five or so more like the first two would nice ;-)
The Canadiens make up the opposition tonight, with Les Glorieux suffering from the injury bug in a significant way. Andrei Markov isn't the flashiest name in the league amongst defencemen, but the Habs' rearguard put up 64 points last year, held the other teams' best to a saw-off at EV, and played almost 25 minutes a night. You can't lose that sort of player without taking a major hit, so long-term prospects for the Canadiens look a bit bleak. They also have lost Ryan O'Byrne, and Glen Metropolit is nicked. Not exactly the sort of start Bob Gainey would have wanted for his revamped squad
The Habs' first two games otherwise have resembled Calgary's opening efforts, with timely offence and solid netminding covering up the fact that they have been badly outshot. Carey Price has allowed 4 goals on 81 shots so far. Did he and Kipper both cut down on the smokes this off-season?
The forwards for Montreal include familiar face Mike Cammalleri, returning to Calgary with a gigantic pile of cash for his work here last season. No hard feelings on my part. He played well, the Flames had other ideas cap-wise, and Bob Gainey opened the vault. Good for him. He, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez are at the heart of the rebuild the Canadiens are attempting, which was as significant an overhaul as any playoff team is ever likely to see, cap era or not. It will be an interesting chemistry experiment. Travis Moen is another addition up front, and Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill have been added to help replace Mike Komisarek at the back. Behind the bench, Jacques Martin left his GM job in south Florida to step into the easy-going atmosphere that surrounds the head-coaching spot in Montreal. Like I said, it will be an interesting year, since Martin is well-known for wanting a tight game, and his best players on offence haven't always tried to play that style.
Tonight, I'd think both teams would like to clean up the shots against, and I'm sure the Flames would like to continue the trend of fast starts. 5 GF vs. 1 GA in the first periods so far certainly works for me. Tactically, I'll be interested to see if the Jokinen line goes head to head with Gomez' line. Physically, that should be a match-up that favours Calgary, and without facing Markov the Flames' top trio should, in theory, have an edge at EV. Theoretically.
As per the Sun, Calgary's roster:
David Moss- Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Nigel Dawes - Daymond Langkow - Rene Bourque
Curtis Glencross - Craig Conroy - Dustin Boyd
Brandon Prust - Eric Nystrom - Fredrik Sjostrom
Robyn Regehr - Dion Phaneuf
Jay Bouwmeester - Mark Giordano
Adam Pardy - Staffan Kronwall
So, no Sarich as of yet, but no rush if they aren't losing, I suppose.
Montreal's lines from yesterday's practice, via TSN:
Cammalleri - Gomez - Gionta
Pacioretty - Plekanec - A. Kostitsyn
Latendresse - Lapierre - Moen
Stewart - Chipchura - Laraque
Hamrlik - Spacek
Gill - Mara
Gorges - Weber
Game time is 7PM, with coverage on Sportsnet West.