The Calgary Flames are winners of two of their past three games. I know it doesn't seem possible after a string of recent performances ranging from "blah" to "downright awful," but with a fairly convincing 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild at home tonight, things are looking up somewhat for the good guys.
The first period was a disappointment for those of us hoping that the Flames would get off to a better start than in recent opening frames, as the first twenty minutes was a dull affair for both sides. The Wild won the scoring chance battle 7-5, and came out ahead in shots by a 12-11 margin.
The Flames came ready to play in the second period, as a goal by Jay Bouwmeester off a sweet cross-crease pass from Jarome Iginla gave the home side a 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the middle frame. The Captain would add to his team's lead just eighteen seconds later with a goal of his own, his tenth of the season after going goalless in sixteen of his past eighteen games against Minnesota. The Flames would sit back somewhat in the last half of the second, but still managed to outshoot the Wild 10-7, and chances were even at five a piece.
The Flames sought to strike a balance between protecting the lead and continuing to pressure the Wild defence in the third, and for the most part, they accomplished that. We certainly saw "the shell" make an appearance in the final frame, but the Flames were patient, they didn't panic, and Kiprusoff made some excellent saves when called upon. Niklas Hagman wrapped up the scoring for the home side with his seventh of the season, a powerplay goal with just a minute and a half remaining, and Kiprusoff made 32 saves for his third shutout of the season. Shots were 13-10 in favour of the Wild in the final twenty minutes, while chances ended up even at 17 per side. As others have pointed out, that's a decent body of work considering the Flames were ahead by two for about thirty-seven minutes of play.
Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay proved to be a dominant tandem once again tonight, scoring two points each, finishing a combined +15 in scoring chance differential and +23 in Corsi, facing off mostly against Minnesota's second line of Brodziak-Havlat-Cullen. Stajan was mostly a passenger tonight, but generated at least one good scoring opportunity, and still finished +5 in chances and +11 in Corsi. The newly formed "Scandinavian Line" of Jokinen-Backlund-Hagman faced the Wild's top trio of O'Sullivan, Koivu, and Brunette tonight, and despite finishing marginally in the red in EV chances and -5 in Corsi, were a threat in the offensive zone, generating a combined eight shots on goal.
Backlund also did some nice work on the penalty kill alongside Alex Tanguay, leading to a nice shorthanded chance. Rene Bourque had a decent shift here and there and Moss and Glencross had their respective shorthanded chances (the Flames were excellent while a man down tonight), but the line as a whole was underwater and struggled to assert themselves again against weaker competition, going up against Eric Nystrom's line for most of the night.
Jay Bouwmeester is beginning to prove why so many Flames fans, including myself, were so excited to land him as a free agent last summer. With his goal tonight, he's already matched his total from a season ago. His three goals and nine points thus far put him on pace for 30 points this season, and his SH% has already risen from its dreadful 2.3% in 2009-10. Surprisingly, he's getting some pretty favourable ZoneStart numbers, as I suspect Brent Sutter is attempting to put him in a better position to succeed offensively, while Cory Sarich and Brendan Mikkelson are getting buried in the defensive zone, with ZS% under 50. Bouw is currently operating with a 6.57/60 Corsi rate and has the second best Corsi relative to his QualComp amongst Flames defencemen. Hopefully he keeps up the good work so we don't have to read articles like this for the next five months or so.
The Flames are off tomorrow before facing the Vancouver Canucks at home on Wednesday in what will be the first of six meetings between the divisional rivals this season. Should be a good one.