American Airlines Center
Opposition: Defending Big D
Tonight's game in Dallas, in a way, marks a return to normalcy for the Flames. I can't really remember a recent situation where this team spent three weeks at home, and whatever benefits may have accrued from extra practice time didn' t appear to have been of much value in the last two games. After a couple of snippy practices, the team gets to put their claims of renewed focus under the microscope, starting against a team that made them look quite poor a few weeks back.
As has been noted elsewhere, the Jokinen-Iginla duo was joined by Eric Nystrom the last time these teams met, with the sort of outcome most of us have become sadly accustomed to. If yesterday's practice lines hold, they'll get another chance tonight. I don't like the mix, and if the big two can't get more going toward the net, Sutter might have to give a thought to putting Iginla with his two best players (Bourque and Langkow) as opposed to his next most expensive one.
The Langkow line remains as is, and based on performance and matchups, they're the number one line on this team until further notice. The last time these teams met, it was the start of a two game melt down for Langkow and Dawes, each putting up the first of consecutive -3 efforts. They look a lot better now, so I hope that it isn't just optimism that leads me to hope for continued good play. Bourque is the man right now, and given the struggles of the alleged stars, he has to be, which really is a sad indictment of those two.
Glencross-Boyd-Moss. I don't mind that at all. Dustin Boyd has earned more than fourth line duty, and he gets two good line mates to work with. I think Curtis Glencross is very good, but he's not a full time first liner, and I think everyone including the boss knows it. This line can do damage if they get middling matchups, IMO.
Conroy slides down to center Prust and Sjostrom. If Boyd produces, this is the sort of role that Conroy should excel at, and he and Sjostrom should get some extra minutes on the PK. Or he could centering Iginla by the middle of the second, so who knows?
The blue gets reportedly gets Pardy back with Giordano on the third pair. Unless something strange happens, it looks like the top two pairs are in for extended time together. Whoever is on D could use some help from the forwards, because the poor work from the men up front has been at the root of the problems this team has in defensive coverage and moving out of the zone.
McE gets the nod tonight, since Kipper apparently has fallen ill. Hamthrax? Emphysema? Just "a bit of a bug" according to Sutter, but because it's happened quite late, Kiprusoff will still dress as the back up. McE was getting a start this week anyway, so why not now? Maybe he'll be better without time to stew over things.
The Stars have integrated some nice young players into their mix, with James Neal and Jamie Benn becoming worthy contributors up front. Neal's a handful, with 8 goals in his pocket already. As I noted last night, Modano and Lehtinen are back, so Dallas' lines look pretty decent. They've had a good year at 5 V 5 play, as Brandon Bibb notes. Dallas has been slightly outshot 5 V 5, so it looks like they've had a bit of good fortune via SH% and Marty Turco has been better, but their numbers aren't outrageous. They're scratching a bit on special teams, so if the Flames want to look for an area to exploit, maybe it's the shaky PK.
Whatever else we can talk about, it still comes down to better work from the best players for the Flames. Iginla and Jokinen have to get going. The fact that this subject has come up for a month straight without cease isn't reassuring, and if it continues, how much patience should the GM of an older team expect to have?
Gametime is 6:30 MT, with coverage on TSN. Maybe Pierre McGuire can discuss Big Body Presence (TM) for us some more. On the other hand, maybe he should spend his time explaining it to a couple of guys on the Flames' roster, since they seem to be unclear on the concept.