The Flames play the Auld Enemy tonight at Literally. Crush. Place for the second time in less than a week. BOA, woooo!, right? Honestly, though, playing the Oilers so often in the first month takes a bit of the heat away, at least for me. I'd rather let the dislike ferment for a bit, but the schedule won't be altered for my taste any time soon, so here we are.
The Flames have had a bit of a strange start to the season, by my eye. The EV juggernaut from most of last year has been missing, with the exception of Tuesday's second period. Given the crapulence that Montreal displayed on the coast last night, I'm not sure that was as much of an achievement as we might like, but at least there were signs. The third period, of course, saw the team revert to the same passive tactics that have been on offer regularly since about late February of last season. Rope-a-dope, to the best of my knowledge, has only really worked once. That was in Kinshasa, Zaire about 35 years ago, and anyone observing the winner of that bout in the last 15 years or so might argue that it wasn't such a good deal for him, either. That's a very long way of saying, "keep your foot on the gas".
The first line, as has been discussed ad infinitum, has struggled at EV so far. As a note to the voluble Mr. Conroy, I'm involved in exactly zero fantasy hockey leagues, and I really couldn't give a shit if Iginla and Jokinen score any particular number of points. Outscoring the opposition, on the other hand? That, I'm down with. The Captain and Mr. Wildcard are likely to see the other team's best as long as they're a tandem, so being in the red re: Corsi as they were against the Habs didn't make it feel like they were breaking out.
The second and third lines are doing more or less what might have been expected, although Langkow has been a bit on the quiet side. The fourth line, aka Prustrom, has been quality, so the newly healthy Brian McGrattan may have to wait for his debut.
The defence has also been the subject of some discussion, which has been largely driven by the poor Shots Against total. I'm not sure that's entirely fair, since there's enough information out there that suggests that forwards are as, or more, responsible for shot prevention and shot differential. With that acknowledged, the play of Robyn Regher has come under scrutiny, with the Flames' nominal shut-down defender admitting he's not been at his best. It appears the coach will allow his partnership with Phaneuf time to work itself out, for better or worse.
Bouwmeester and Giordano have looked by eye to be solid, although their Corsi numbers would tell you otherwise. I'd like to see faceoff numbers and how often they've played behind Jokinen/Iginla/Moss to see if there's some correlation. Given the poor ratings of those three forwards, that would be part of my guess. Staffan Kronwall scored his first NHL goal Tuesday, and with good timing, because the Flames acquired a potential replacement for him last night with the Johnson move. Cory Sarich is clearly hurt more than the team suspected initially, which makes me wonder if this amounts to backfilling after the Stralman trade. Johnson is in Edmonton, although not expected to play.
I'd suspect Miikka Kiprusoff will go again tonight, but if Sutter is good to his word, a Curtis McElhinney sighting isn't far off. With 2 back to backs between now and Tuesday, his time is looming. Hopefully when ever he starts, the team looks a bit better in front of him than they did last year. I've included a picture of last year's normal Flames' defensive zone play in McElhinney's games as a reminder:
The Oilers enter tonight's affair 1-1, with a shoot-out victory over the Stars on Tuesday. Dustin Penner and Sam Gagner have scored in both games for the Oil, and, I'll state again for the record that I wouldn't be shocked if Penner has a very good year. Nikolai Khabibulin won last time out despite allowing four goals once again and is the possessor of a sporty .855 SV%. The Oiler PK is still a matter for concern, with a 55.6 kill percentage through two games. Early days, small sample size, yadda, yadda, although I do recall a wag at Lowetide's last year describing the Oilers as using the "I formation" on the PK. That's not good, right? With the Flames off to a good start on the PP, that should be an area to watch. For more on the Oil, Scott has his regular biblical twist on matters over at Copper and Blue.
I haven't seen lineups yet, but I gather from the Oiler twitter feed that Steve Staios could be out. The Flames will likely run status quo, although Dawes and Moss were held out of practice yesterday. Maintenance, according to the coach. Post 'em if you got 'em in comments, and I'll update when I get a chance. Game time is 7:30 PM, and the Oiler Sportsnet crew will have coverage.
Update: Randy Sportak suggests status quo on the lines as well.