With a couple of days to mull things over, I can't say that I was all that disappointed with the results in Florida. It's easy enough to say that the Flames should have put the pedal down on Saturday, and I don't disagree with the sentiment, but it's a long season. Nights like that happen, and losing two of your top three right wingers by the 17 minute mark of the first period during the second game of a B2B was always going to put Calgary up against it. The only way that sort of tight game might have been avoided was if one of their top players had a blinder. It didn't happen, but the single point, unsatisfying as it may have seemed at the time, was, and is, still very useful. The Flames were pretty stingy with the chances over the weekend, and no matter who the personnel have been this year, that's always been the team's primary aim.
Tonight, the Flames have an appointment with a team that has spent the last month separating themselves from the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, and their current place is one that their underlying numbers merit.
There's been plenty of talk over the course of the season about the state of Jarome Iginla's play, and other than his unsustainable shooting % month in November, most of the talk has been aimed at his inability to produce. As Kent noted after the Tampa game, it wasn't like he was facing the best the Lightning had to offer, and there still wasn't anything happening. If he's facing those types of players, Stajan and Hagman should be completely sufficient line mates to have the run of things. They didn't dominate, and that has to be the primary concern for the team as the season progresses.
The second line was in some disarray after Ales Kotalik's ejection for violating the dress code. Stupid, really. I don't doubt for a minute that he wasn't trying to be sneaky in any way, and in a normal world where people accept good hits and move on, he never has a fight with Veilleux at all. That noted, it's been a long-standing rule, and as he himself pointed out afterward, he won't make that mistake again.
That's a good plan, because the other short-timer on Saturday isn't likely to be part of the line-up for a few weeks. As mentioned yesterday , Rene Bourque is out with the shoulder injury he sustained after being freight-trained by Kurtis Foster Saturday. The break is coming a very fortunate time for the Flames, since Bourque's injury will likely only cost him three games. Despite the return of Nigel Dawes to practice, it appears that Jamie Lundmark will move to the right side of the Glencross-Backlund line.
The defence finds itself in a period of stability, with everyone's favourite Rowan Atkinson look-alike on the receiving end of some considerable praise from one of the game's legends. He's well worthy of it. Mark Giordano has made the leap from undrafted player to legitimate top 4 defenceman, and he forced Darryl Sutter to take a step back in the process. In the summer of '07, Sutter wouldn't give him a one-way deal after a good half-season in Calgary. Two and half years later, Giordano's emergence was a key factor in sending one of Sutter's guys packing. That's a nice bit of career progression.
Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start again, and despite the slightly shaky winner he allowed in Tampa, his play is still likely to be the backbone of whatever good occurs in our nation's sumphole for tax dollars this evening. This may make me a terrible person lacking the proper Olympic SpiritTM, but if he sustains a mild hangnail that keeps him out of Vancouver, I'm good with it.
(BTW, I don't know if the phrase "Olympic Spirit" is actually trademarked, but we are talking about the IOC, and those charmers have always given me the impression they'd shutter a homeless shelter if it had the five rings improperly displayed.)
The Senators had a lengthy winning streak halted by their provincial rivals on Saturday, losing 5-nil to the Maple Leafs. Despite that indignity, they've done a decent job of moving away from the scuffling pack in the middle of the conference, riding generally good goaltending and some good shooting from Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson to sit 5th in the East. Their season-long numbers 5 v 5 are very good, with the second fewest SA/60 in the league. It's their goaltending that has kept them down at around break-even in terms of goal differential, but they have benefited from some recent good play by Brian Elliott, and he'll get the nod this evening.
Match-up wise, the Sens look like they play it pretty straight, with Spezza's line getting a bit tougher comp and slightly easier Zone Start numbers than Mike Fisher's line. That's actually a fairly standard arrangement throughout the league. It's really only poor bastards like Ryan Getzlaf that have to do it all every night. Deeper teams don't often go that route, and Ottawa doesn't appear to be any exception. This evening, the Flames likely need to survive the first 10, and if they manage that, fatigue should be no excuse after a couple of days off. The Flames have certainly done a very good job of shot suppression since the trades, so continuing that sort of work would be optimal. Oh, and Ottawa's PP isn't good. If they're still the 30th ranked unit after tonight, that would be nice as well.
Game time is 5:30 MT on Sportsnet West.