The Flames pushed their winning streak to six straight tonight in what ended up being a fairly even game despite the two-goal spread. The 4-2 victory was their first in Atlanta since moving to Calgary 30 years ago, albeit in front of a pretty sparse crowd of 12,984.
The visiting team got one the board early with Mark Giordano's sixth of the season at 4:55 of the opening frame immediately after a double-minor to Evander Kane had expired. The Flames built up an early advantage in shots and chances thanks to the lengthy man advantage, and managed to carry it throughout the rest of the period, which would conclude with them leading 1-0.
Their lead was short-lived heading into the middle frame, however, as Bryan Little would score under a minute in to draw the Thrashers even. After the Flames failed to capitalize on a powerplay 8:25 in, the home side would score again on a pretty 2-on-1 play by Nik Antropov and Anthony Stewart, with the later finishing it up to give the Thrash a 2-1 lead. The Flames would tie it up under a minute later when Brendan Morrison accepted a slick pass from Giordano and put the puck into an empty net with Pavelec stranded at the other side of the cage. The first forty minutes would conclude in a 2-2 deadlock with the Thrashers holding the advantage in shots and chances in the middle frame.
Both sides played it pretty safe in the third period, with some back-and-forth play throughout. It looked like the Flames were headed to OT again before Mikael Backlund beat Pavelec through traffic when the puck bounced out to him in the slot with six minutes remaining. The Thrashers would push for the equalizer and would finish with a slight edge in shots and chances in the third period, but couldn't really translate their zone time towards the end of the game into offence. Curtis Glencross sealed the win for the Flames with an empty netter after stripping a Thrashers player of the puck behind the Atlanta cage.
This game was nearly dead even, with both teams recording 24 shots on net and 18 at EV, although the Flames owned the edge in the end, as they continued to capitalize on the bounces. This contest seemed to follow the script of most of Calgary's victories lately--cautious play, blocking up the neutral zone, and solid goaltending--not dominating, but playing just well enough to win with the help of some opportunistic play. Certainly not overly exciting hockey to watch, but it seems to be getting the job done.
Steve Staios played just 4:01 in his first game back on a line with Backlund and Kostopoulos, who were out with Iginla when Backlund score the winning goal in the latter half of the third period, and I honestly can't say I noticed him once. Some fans were keeping track of his ice time relative to Backlund's tonight, and Backs played about 5:12 more than the Steady One, all at EV. He finished in the black in both scoring chances and Corsi playing against Tim Stapleton and Patrice Cormier, and with Lance Bouma joining the team tomorrow, he shouldn't be fighting Staios for ice time on Satuday night against the Kings. Tim Jackman did most of the grunt work up front tonight, as he was on the ice for the most defensive zone draws of any Flames forward despite playing 2:26 on the powerplay. That's just 15 seconds less than Olli Jokinen and more than Bourque, Glencross, Stajan, and Bouwmeester. Yeah, I don't know either. Reward the guy somehow if you're going to bury him, I guess.
As for the defence, they had some iffy moments (i.e. the 2-on-1 that lead to Stewart's goal), but were mostly solid, holding the Thrashers to 12 chances at EV and none with the man advantage. Bouwmeester and Giordano both finished the game +2 in a multi-point game for the latter, who was effective at both ends of the ice despite finishing in the red in both chances and possession. Somehow, Bouwmeester managed to be on the ice for all three shorthanded chances against, but kept his head above water at even strength.
When it came to the last line of defence, Kipper can't be faulted for either of Atlanta's goals, which resulted from lapses in defensive coverage and players getting caught flat-footed. He wasn't especially tested, but made several key stops when the Thrashers began to control the play in the second period, keeping the game in reach for his club.
The Flames will travel home tonight where they will take on the Los Angeles Kings in what looks to be Bouma's NHL debut Saturday night at the 'Dome. This is an important contest for the home side, as the Kings are a team in direct competition with the Flames in the standings. They can't really afford to give up any ground to the opposition at this point, although I don't know how much I like their chances of pushing the streak to seven. For now, I'll remain hopeful.