To begin, the SA totals are headed the right way. After surrendering 43, 34 and 30 shots in the first three matches, Calgary held Edmonton to 28, 21 of them in regulation. Last night was the first time where the Flames looked like they could consistently get the puck headed north. Caveats about Souray's injury and the general EV shakiness that the northern neighbours exhibit are noted, but it was a better effort.
It should be also be pointed out that the Flames are riding some good shooting numbers right now. 16% thus far is nice. Not remotely sustainable, but nice. The fact that they've gotten nothing much from the big guns and Dustin Boyd currently looks like he's chopping celery with a hatchet when he gets a scoring chance gives me a bit of hope that when the general trend goes down, it will be smoothed out by those guys getting some offence going.
That first group still isn't there, though. The vortex of suck around the Iginla-Jokinen duo appears to have had an effect on David Moss, although I want to be careful in analyzing his play, because this is the first year he's had to work against the other team's top players. He was good against the also-rans last year when he faced the ninth-hardest competition among Flame forwards. Through four games this year, he's number one, team-wide. Sutter's PvP approach that he displayed in New Jersey has held thus far as Flames' coach, with the first line being 1-2-3 in QComp. Beyond the issues his line mates have had, Moss still likely needs some time to adjust to who he's playing against.
The second line broke out last night, with Rene Bourque in the middle of things. He looks healed to my eye, and given the struggles of Iginla et al, it's good that he is. The third group seems quiet, but as I noted, when Boyd finds his shooting hands, they'll produce. The fourth line got worked a bit last night, for the first time. Gagner, Huggy Bear and Moreau aren't terrible, though, so maybe it shouldn't be a total shock. The Flames fourth group aren't a screaming liability out there, which is all anyone should ever hope for, IMO. I'm still at the "any production is good" stage.
On D, that first goal for the Oilers was a capsule example of the angst so often caused by Dion Phaneuf. He stayed out for an entire 2 minutes on the PP, which I'll grant was likely a coaching choice, and then coasted to the bench on a change, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the slow change was allowing Ethan Moreau an uncontested breakaway. In my business, we often use the phrase "situational awareness" to describe the approach one should exhibit in an operational setting. I wonder what, if anything, was said about the matter. Given what we've heard about the new respect for detail, I'd hope that it didn't escape notice. I still think the biggest test for Sutter is how he handles Phaneuf as he tries to correct the bad habits the young man has acquired.
It has to be said that in general terms, Dion isn't getting much help from his partner. Regher looks dreadful so far, and one can only hope, as Kent and others suggested in comments last night, that he's still nicked, rather than beginning a slow descent into Warrener-Staios land. On the good side, Pardy looks like he's shaken off the pre-season funk he was in, with improved play every night so far.
Kipper seems to have found his GA equilibrium, I guess. 3,3,3,3 is not exactly what I had in mind, but if he doesn't allow the shoulder-slumping crap goals that were creeping into his play the last two years, it's still a cause for hope. He really wasn't the guilty party on the goals last night, with a slightly fat rebound on the Hemsky goal the only possible knock, and he had an excellent OT, with his save on Hemsky a particular highlight.
So tonight, the Flames have an opportunity to extend a franchise-best start to the year with a fifth consecutive win. The opposition in the past has been a team that the Flames have struggled with, but the current iteration of the Stars isn't quite the same cold-eyed bunch. They do have a nice young core, supplemented by guys like Morrow, Ribeiro, and Richards, and Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley anchor a decent defence. Where the Stars have begun to suffer is in net. Marty Turco has fallen off a cliff in the last couple of years, batting .898 last season. Ouch. Dallas lost 5-4 via the skills competition in Edmonton Tuesday, with Morrow scoring twice and James Neal adding his third in two games, despite out-shooting Edmonton 34-24.
Tonight, it's possible than Curtis McElhinney gets a start in the Flames net. Brent Sutter was playing coy regarding the matter in his post-game remarks, so who knows? The remainder of the line-up should be status quo. For Dallas, have a look at Mikael Backlund's junior teammate Jamie Benn. The fifth round pick from 2007 has made the team, and he might be a low-round gem.
Game time is 7 PM MT, with TV coverage on Sportsnet West. Add any line-up info in the comments, as per usual.