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Flames Game Day: Invasion

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Pengrowth Saddledome

5 PM MT

Opposition: Pension Plan Puppets

TV: CBC

As many of you know, I was a Jets fan and semi-regular patron at the Winnipeg Arena before they buggered off to the desert in 1996. Throughout my time as an attendee, there were two specific fan bases that chose to view their teams' sporadic forays west as an opportunity to reveal themselves in their full glory, if you will. The Habs fans were likely the most obnoxious, and with the sizable French community in Winnipeg they were difficult to escape. The other group, of course, were the fans of the team that styles itself as Canada's franchise. 

Leaf fans weren't quite as smug as the supporters of Les Glorieux, in large part due to the dreadful teams that the Blue and White iced in the 1980's. That noted, what they lacked in snot back in those days they made up for in numbers, with Leaf jerseys that likely dated back to the Teeder Kennedy era getting pulled from the closet once or twice a year for a trek to the old dump on Maroons Road. 

I don't have the pleasure of in-person attendance these days, but those of you with that privilege in Calgary likely well know that the plague of the nation is about to descend on the Saddledome this evening.  Heaven help us if that team ever gets good again, because their fan base could easily rival the Red Wings on-line component, and I don't mean that as a compliment. Thankfully, Leaf greatness isn't upon us as of yet, so tonight is more about the opportunity for the Flames to get another win versus an opponent that doesn't look like it could kill a penalty if its life depended on it. 

 

The Flames handled that sad crew from Edmonton pretty easily on New Year's Eve, with the 2-1 score flattering the visitors. The move by Sutter to split the big two has been successful, I suppose, although it seems Olli Jokinen has been the primary beneficiary to this point. He, Rene Bourque and Nigel Dawes have had a nice stretch since being joined, with the trio doing everything but score in Thursday. 14 SOG and big positives on the Corsi for those three are the kind of totals one might like to see quite often, especially if they end up getting second-line matchups. Their two games against Penner-Gagner were likely versus the toughest line the Oilers could run at them, and Joker et al were the better line by a fair measure. Bourque was particularly good, and the Oilers had no answer for him. 

Jarome Iginla's renewed partnership with Daymond Langkow hasn't seemed as fruitful thus far. They don't seem to be generating quite the number of chances hoped for, with the caveat that they don't look to be giving up much either, of course. I still get the sense that Langkow is forcing things a bit, so he and Iggy have seemed in hesitation mode, at least to me. The third of the trio, Curtis Glencross, did make a very nice tip on the game winner. I like him better on the third line, of course, but that's not really related to any failings on his part.

Craig Conroy, sniper. A careful observer would have noted that he scored his goal off of a line change that had him on-ice with Bourque and Dawes, and Bourque has been in on both his goals this week. Moss and Nystrom were in the hole in terms of Corsi, and considering how badly the Flames out-classed the Oil by that measure, that's a sign that things aren't quite there for those three. They need much more of what we saw from Moss against L.A. Maybe the sight of his cousin will act as inspiration to that end.

 

The defence was quite good, even factoring in the opponent, and the Bouwmeester-Giordano pair bossed proceedings with style. It has me wondering what they'll do with Sarich if/when he comes back. The Flames are at the point where using Sarich with Pardy seems like a pile of dough for a position that should be filled for peanuts, and Giordano appears to be playing well enough that he doesn't rate a demotion. People outside our little world are starting to notice his quality, which makes me very glad he has one more year on his contract, and not simply because I'm cheap ;-)

 

Kiprusoff had an evening to relax, taking the opportunity to watch his understudy come within a minute and a half of a shut-out on Thursday. I'd suspect he might play tonight, no? He was very good the last time these two teams met, making one million 38 saves in leading Calgary to a 5-2 win, with his 19 saves in the second period the difference.

 

The Leafs have, to their credit, gotten themselves back within hailing distance of respectability. In all honesty, if they get competent goaltending from Gustavsson they might even have a chance to get themselves fully into that turtle race for 8th in the East. Phil Kessel has slowed from his earlier pace, which isn't a total surprise for a player that missed camp and is coming off surgery, but even with their horrible start the Leafs are 12th in goal scoring. They do, for all their failings, get shots on goal. The Leafs have also benefited from a nice offensive year by Ian White, which has started some loose talk of moving Tomas Kaberle to open salary space for the impending free agent. 

It's in their own end where Toronto has struggled, and the PK has been absolutely atrocious, working at a 70.6% clip. Last year's Leaf team was DFL, killing penalties at a 74.7% rate, which was the worst full season figure I could find dating back to at least 97-98. Part of this stems from the ineptitude of Vesa Toskala, of course, but whatever is at the root of it, a roughly competent 5 v 5 team is being taken down the rabbit hole because of historically bad PK work. 

 

Tonight, I'd like to think we might see the Flames continue with the approach that was so successful on Thursday. For all the inadequacies that Edmonton showed in that game, they handled the Leafs the night before, building a 3-0 lead before Toronto mounted a push back. I know how disappointing a Flame win would be for the once-a-year types that will infest the Dome, but as Leaf fans, they should be well-equipped to handle their team's failings. Here's hoping.

 

Game time is 5 MT, with coverage via the CBC.