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Flames Game Day: First Things First

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Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Pengrowth Saddledome

8 PM MT

Opposition: Mile High Hockey

TV: Sportsnet West

There isn't much that's more satisfying for a fan than watching their team beat a rival on the road, and do it in dominating fashion. Saturday was one of those nights where the score wasn't remotely indicative of the play, because that was a comprehensive ass-whipping by Calgary's top-six everywhere but the scoreboard, and both teams know it. 

Tonight, the Flames play a team that has been as much of a pain to play as Minnesota or Chicago, but for entirely different reasons. Minny has been markedly better than the Flames both times, and Chicago is very good and a terrible match-up to boot. The Avalanche, on the other hand, are bent on proving you can be a mediocre team everywhere but the scoresheet for an entire season, and they're about 36 games away from pulling it off. 

 

Whatever I may think of the long-term prognosis for Colorado, the Flames do have to face some facts about how they approach their encounters with the 'Lanche. The inability of the Flames to get pucks through the maze of bodies that they found in front of them not only reduced their effectiveness, but helped to create transition opportunities against.  This isn't unusual for Calgary this season, but a poor out-shooting team like Colorado normally only has a chance to be successful if they can counter-punch. 

Of course, the fact that the Flames have had no answers for Stastny and Wolski has been a significant factor in the results ending as they have. They've been responsible for at least one goal in all three games, and the Flames haven't really looked comfortable defending them in open ice or on the cycle. 

It sounds like the lines and overall roster are as is for tonight, so we can only hope that the same Jarome Iginla graces us with his presence. He was very good, and Olli Jokinen didn't drag him in to the sewer by any means, so I'd suspect that for all their warts, they'll resume their partnership. The top six was first rate in Vancouver across the board, really. I still think that the third line will be fixed by indirection at some point (adding a 1 or 2 LW) and by Conroy's eventual return rather than any addition to that particular spot, so we're going to have to simply hope that Moss, in particular, plays more to his level of last season. 8 shots in Vancouver wasn't a bad night, and he was certainly on the good side of the chances.

 

The defence is also intact for tonight, although I share the occasional misgivings people have begun to utter regarding Robyn Regehr. He's having a hard time with his lateral movement, and the Raymond goal, replete with other goats though it may have been, demonstrated a player who can't always move that well against the quickest players. He might have to be a bit more cautious in his approach, and playing against Stastny and Wolski will be a challenge due to their ability to change direction quickly on the cycle.

 

Miikka Kiprusoff is tougher than any frickin' laser, so he'll play tonight. That little episode in Vancouver was a disgrace, and to their credit, I haven't heard any dissent from the left coast on the matter. Kipper hasn't looked quite as good versus the Avalanche this year, but as I mentioned before, they've used transition to create some quality chances.

 

Colorado has started winning again, with a shoot-out marathon against the Sabres over the weekend being the latest win. Matt Duchene has begun to increase his offensive output, and has scored 13 goals to this point, even as his fellow rookie Ryan O'Reilly's production has dropped. The Avalanche certainly put O'Reilly in some tough spots, and he and fellow rookie and Calgary kid T.J. Galiardi  are Colorado's primary men on the PK. Craig Anderson is still having a good year, even with a slight drop in the SV%. 

 

Colorado, as mentioned, have troubled Calgary, in large part because the Flames don't really change the point of attack very well. The Avalanche's entire defensive zone coverage is based on collapsing en masse to the front of the net, then moving out in to the shooting lanes. If the Flames simply throw pucks toward the net with out making the defence move laterally, that approach will likely lead to another parade of blocked shots and another night of frustration at EV and on the PP. A bit of patience and better puck management, to use a Sutter-ism, would go a long way in aiding the Flames this evening.

 

Game time is 8 MT on Sportsnet West.