8 PM MT
Opposition: Blueshirt Banter
Good luck's a nice thing to have, you know. Puts a spring in your step, makes you feel like you can do anything, like you haven't a care. When it turns, your food doesn't even taste right. I play enough golf to be all too familiar with both sides of the coin.
The trick, of course, is not to confuse luck with merit, and I'm having a pretty hard time shaking the sense that the Calgary Flames have been riding their luck a bit this year. Tonight, they return home for one night only, full of good feeling, to play a Rangers squad with a few of those characteristics as well, although not quite as pronounced as the locals.
The Flames won both games on their jaunt south, with goaltending, particularly against Dallas, featuring to a large degree. For all the nice talk about Iginla's better play, if McE and Kiprusoff aren't very good on consecutive nights, it would have been a fruitless journey. Now, in the interests of fairness, Maimster has pointed out in comments, correctly, that the Flames were better in the third against St. Louis, and they did out-shoot the Blues 16-9 in the third and OT. Still, they spent more time in their own zone than one might like, and the kid line for the Blues gave them fits.
I suppose what's driving this feeling of unease is that the numbers suggest the Flames are a team prospering via good fortune. The number that's most illustrative of this is the Flames' 5 v 5 SH%. After the game on Thursday, the Flames were shooting 12% 5 v 5. As a frame of reference, the Penguins have led the league the last two years, at around 10% each season. Now, I don't want to over-sell this, but I'm having a hard time believing that the Flames are likely to continue being 20% better than the NHL's recent best.
Some of the individual numbers are striking. Of the Flames' regulars, only Dawes, Conroy, Regehr and Moss have on-ice 5 v 5 shooting numbers below 10%. Last year's team had 4 players finish at 10% or higher, and the Flames have really only exchanged Joker for Cammalleri up front, which doesn't exactly seem like it would be helping.
Speaking of the Finn, it's been noted that he's a bit of a target around these parts, and from my end, that's true, but only in part because he's not scoring. Players occasionally go through down periods in their SH%, so I mostly look to see if the attempts are still there. Jokinen is averaging 2 SOG and has a pretty dreadful Corsi to boot. Combined with so-so defensive play, well, his +/- at EV would be dead without some pretty fair goaltending backing him up. I suspect as long as the team is winning, they'll wait for him to mesh with Iginla, which I hope against hope isn't misplaced patience. As I said, a lack of scoring is only part of my issue with his play so far, but it has to be pointed out that he has 2 goals in his last 27 regular season games and both were based more on good bounces than shooting skill. For an alleged elite scorer, "slump" doesn't seem to do it justice.
The lines and pairings look to be unchanged for the Flames, and Miikka Kiprusoff gets the nod in net. He was very good in St. Louis. More, please. Hey, if Andrew Raycroft can look like an NHL goalie again, I suppose Kipper could get at least part of the way back to where he was. Honestly, if he's just a good goalie again, that would do. He's pretty close to being there 5 v 5.
The Rangers, as mentioned, have been winning without out-shooting, although they aren't in the ditch at anywhere near Calgary's level. Like the Flames, they aren't the Corsi-happy crew of last season, but adding Marian Gaborik has put a bit of sting in their tail. He's been mostly healthy so far, and already has a dozen goals. They also feature a couple of young men on the back end, with Del Zotto and Gilroy soaking up some decent minutes. Del Zotto is also a major part of a good power play, which is 6th by percentage to this point. One thing that was of interest is that John Tortorella advised the morning scrum that he was inclined to rest Henrik Lundqvist, which seems odd given that Valiquette played in Shelbyville on Thursday. I haven't heard anything regarding an injury.
Game-wise, I'm looking for the same things as every night, Pinky. A win, more shots than the other team, and a likely-to-be ungranted wish that the Flames' purported number one center starts playing like one. Or leaves. I'm OK either way at this point. Keeping a lid on Gaborik and continuing the successful PK of the last few games wouldn't be bad things while they're at it.
Game time is 8 MT, and actually appears on television (fancy that) via the CBC.