The round-up returns after a much-needed week off. In this episode, the Flames step it up, Dion Phaneuf's health situation clears, and the World Juniors look to have a cracker jack of a final in store.
Calgary took advantage of some lesser opposition to right the ship, reeling off four straight wins to close an extended period in and around town. As Kent noted in the wrap-up to the Leaf game, the shot totals over this little stretch are more in line with what most of us would have expected to be the norm. With a couple of days off, the team paticipated in the Super Skills competition, with Staffan Kronwall showcasing his bid for regular PP time. OK, maybe not. The actual news of interest was the non-participation of Dion Phaneuf and Craig Conroy due to injury, but Phaneuf was practicing in his normal spot this morning. Conroy was absent, which likely means Dustin Boyd gets a move up in the interim.
The line juggling so many of us were agitating for finally occurred after the Canuck debacle, and after a quiet opening two contests, the Iginla-Langkow-Glencross trio were very good against the Oilers on New Year's Eve and put Toronto to the sword, collecting eight points for their night's work. The EV scoring chance numbers for the top six as a collective over the streak are more impressive to me than the actual point production:
Olli Jokinen really is overdue for a breakout if those ratios continue for any length of time, like an 8 goal in 6 game sort of break out.
Kipper 5 v 5: 1-17 vs. L.A., 1-20 vs. Toronto, season total 49-767, .936 SV%. He's right with Miller and Bryzgalov for the mid-season Vezina, and as Scott Reynolds pointed out yesterday, he's not taking the easy road to get there.
The farm team concluded another lengthy road swing with SO and OT triumphs against the San Antonio Rampage and Houston Aeros over the weekend. David Van Der Gulik dealt the winning blow both nights, and now Abbotsford finally sees the schedule turn in their favour. They have 12 of the next 15 at home, and if they ever learn to stay out of the box, their overall shot totals give me hope of a lengthy good spell.
Speaking of shot totals, one of the items those of us watching at the prospect level have had concerns over is the production of Mikael Backlund. 8G-8A, -5 sounds lousy, right? Well, it is, but I wonder if the young man isn't just suffering from some pretty dreadful puck luck at the moment. He currently sits sixth in shots on goal for the entire league with 117, one back of team mate Jason Jaffray. Backlund is shooting under 7%, and I've never had the impression he was merely an indiscriminate gunner, so if he keeps averaging three shots a night, I find it likely he'll get a correction in his favour. The AHL is a difficult league to score in, with an adjustment period always seeming to be in order for the Swede, but that shot number surprised and pleased me when I noticed it last night. By way of comparison, Dustin Boyd scored 27 goals on 146 SOG during his fine 06/07 AHL season.
The Winter Classic came and went. I didn't really watch very much of what was a sleeper for the first 57-ish minutes, to be honest, and ratings were off a touch. That noted, it still seems to be an event that captures American imaginations to a degree that regular games don't. What it didn't do, contrary to Glenn Healy's claims on the HNIC Hot Stove segment, was out-draw the Masters. Not even close, in fact.
The next opponent for the Flames are, as is so often the case, a team that only gets noticed when things get sticky off-ice. The Predators are no easy touch, as we saw first hand last month, and Nashville's top two defencemen got invitations to their respective Olympic teams. As an aside to the lease stuff, people shouldn't ever get the idea that a shaky franchise in the U.S. will move north. The BOG would rather bankrupt the league chasing the chimera of American TV dollars, IMO.
The Wild, after a brief period where they looked interested, have slid back to meh, and are in serious danger of missing the post-season again. Earlier in the year, Martin Havlat was the problem, but he's been OK of late, with 10 points in his last 12. The precarious state of their playoff position has the Star-Tribune's Michael Russo analyzing potential free agent decisions and salary dumps for Chuck Fletcher. The predominant thing that struck me as I looked at that list was, "those players aren't very good". Of course, they made the Flames look silly a few weeks back. Moving right along...
The BJ's are in a mess, and talk has started about the future of Ken Hitchcock in Columbus. Scott Howson brushed off any idea of following John Davidson's lead, which make one wonder what options they have left. Columbus has cap space, but they aren't really awash in cash at the moment, so unless the additions of Clark and Jurcina were preludes to bigger moves, their season is likely done. Steve Mason batting .895 has been at the root of what ails the Blue Jackets, and unless Hitchcock has done something to put him off, I don't see that a coaching change in-season gets them anywhere.
Going into the Winter Classic, there was talk of the revival of the Flyers. That got put on hold with two straight defeats, and yesterday's pantsing at the hands of Alex Kovalev and the Senators must have been galling. Claude Giroux, -6. Really? Yup, -6. He, Richards and Gagne were a smooth -15 for the afternoon. Back to the drawing board, Mr. Laviolette. The Flyers also may be without Ryan Parent, as the young D man could be surgery bound due to a herniated disc. There was talk that Holmgren told the club that no trades were in the offing, but that's not a organization that would suffer missing the playoffs lightly after acquiring Chris Pronger this summer.
The World Juniors are down to the short strokes, with a Canada-U.S. final on tap for tomorrow in Toon Town. Flames' prospect Greg Nemisz has stood out in the sort of way one wouldn't exactly want, going scoreless on a high powered team. Canada will have to do without Travis Hamonic, whose bum shoulder will keep him out of the highly anticipated rematch of the two squads' New Year's Eve epic. The U.S. has excellent team speed, and they ate up Canada's one-man-high PP alignment in the first go-round.
That's all for this week. Link 'em if you got 'em in comments.