As the holiday season continues, and the calender draws to a close, the Flames meet the Minnesota Wild for the second time this season, and second time this month. As division leaders, the Flames have points in their last 6 games and hope this extended home stand bears even more fruit.
The Wild are looking to get back on track, after a fairly inconsistent start to this season, languishing in 3rd place in the division, and questions swirling around their star forward.
On The Line
On the line, a 6 game winning streak of by the Flames over Northwest Division rivals, as well as the continued dominance of the Wild at the Saddledome over the past years with a mere 2 wins by the Wild in the last 20 games. The Flames hope to put further distance on the second place Canucks in the division.
In classic Wild fashion, one would be hard pressed to use the adjective “flow” when describing the style of play that the Wild prefer to play. Unlike past versions of the Flames who attempt to push the pedal to the floor against the Wild in starting the game, only to come up empty and often behind, this year’s version of the Flames is a much more patient, calm bunch. Unspectacular play through this opening period, with the Flames dictating the pace for the most part. The penalty killing unit as a whole, also looking very comfortable in containing the Wild on a somewhat dubious boarding call on Mike Cammalleri. Without much fanfare or edge of the seat build up, one of the numerous sessions of Flames controlling the play in the Wild zone, resulted in a goal, a great bit of work down low by the second line, and Todd Bertuzzi whips a pass to the lip of the crease, and Daymond Langkow was able to deflect the puck past a helpless Josh Harding. The Flames directed 14 shots that period, and played solid fundamentals in leaving their own zone and gaining the Wild zone. Not one for the Hall of Fame, but the Flames looked to be very comfortable.
The second period was a little less sound, and quite a bit more scrambly. The Wild made proper adjustments and matched the Flames stride for stride. The Flames penalty kill again was active and effective. The Wild come on, hitting the post and seemingly find a way to have some of the bounces go their way while in the Flames zone. Late in the period, an aforementioned bounce ends up in the right place, and the Wild equalize through Stephane Veilleux. In an odd sequence, the puck hops out of the next quickly as it ended up hitting Marrk Giordano’s stick which was pressed on the other side of the mesh. About 15 seconds pass, and Giordano fires the puck over his own glass. The play is reviewed, and the goal stands….oddly, the delay of game penalty which technically should have been moot, gets put up on the board. The Wild end the 2nd period on the power play, with the game freshly tied up…probably a fair result as of this point.
The Flames begin the third with a solid penalty kill, followed by an ineffective powerplay, results wise. However, that powerplay gives the Flames back the see-sawing momentum and thus back into the driver’s seat of the game. Daymond Langkow robbed by Harding with a couple fantastic pad saves, soon after, Adam Pardy gets beaten at the blue line flat footed, and is forced to take a interference call to prevent a odd man rush against. The Flames penalty kill continues to excel, and when a clearing shot partially deflects off Brent Burns, it allows a streaking Eric Nystrom to fend off a retreating Burns, and masterfully executes a fake which freezes Harding, and enables Nystrom to slide the puck around the now-sprawling Minnesota netminder for the mid period lead. The Wild, never a team to lay down, begin to press the Flames and hem them in their own zone for shifts at a time. Sound positioning, active sticks, and repeated, quality saves by Flames goalie Miika Kiprusoff keep the home team up by a goal. The Flames withstand the barrage and come out on top of the 2-1 encounter.
- Miika Kipusoff: Taken for granted on this recent 12-3-3 spell, Kiprusoff is making the spectacular, as well as those tricky stops that don’t make the highlights. To say he’s back in form is an understatement, in a game like to tonight’s he was the difference maker in the end, making that one save that is the difference between a 2 point night, or a “1 or less” night.
- Eric Nystrom: Capped off solid Flames penalty killing with great speed, and fine execution for the game winning goal. Just another in the long line of meaningful contributors on this club, which is this team’s calling card over most versions of the hockey club in the past decade.
- Todd Bertuzzi: Tonight, all over the place and his puck often on his stick. Love him or hate him, he’s seemingly always involved in adding another dimension to the 2nd line, or the powerplay. With 12 points in the last 15 games, he appears to be a versatile catalyst to whoever his linemates are. Sure, all of his passes and ideas don’t work, but that sort of creativity, willingness to attempt the uncommon play, and ability to pull it off, is something this team has lacked consistently in the past. While some may look at his style and wish he could do more, one look his 18 minutes average of ice time, his tie for 3rd in team scoring, his ability to embrace and excel in his role, and his somewhat paltry salary, and feel pretty good at the value the organization is getting from him.
A series of Miika Kiprusoff stops in the third preserves a Flames win. With the puck bouncing around in the slot, Wild players bang away, but Kiprusoff keeps his right pad down and against the post, thwarting the Wild’s repeated attempts at the loose puck.
Later in the third, Wild pugilist Derek Booguard decides to line up a stationary Dion Phaneuf at the Wild bench. The Wild player, however, buckles like a big oak tree as Phaneuf stands tall and absorbs the hit, and Boogard has to pick himself off the ice.
Very tough to pick a goat on the Flames roster in this past 18 games stretch night in and night out. Relatively speaking though, the last two games have not looked sharp for Matthew Lombardi or David Moss. In Lombardi’s case, he’s still skating well, but just not paying close enough attention to detail with the puck and without it, and not properly executing fundamental plays that he should be making in the offensive zone and in his own zone. Moss has looked like the pressure and spotlight that go along with 11 goals is getting to him, and he genuinely looks to be trying too hard and getting too wrapped up in trying to duplicate his recent success, rather then just trying to let it happen. A giveaway against Ottawa leading to the 2nd goal, and tonight again, stumbling over himself and the puck and missing an vital clearing attempt by getting the puck taken off his stick, in his own faceoff dot as he turned up ice in the waning minutes of the game.
By no means necessarily a cause for concern, but something to monitor, as with all the Flames players on those bottom two lines, who are, so far, well exceeding preseason expectations.
Miika Kiprusoff and has 21 saves. This writer is hard pressed to recall when he’s let in a questionable goal or a goal that has turned the tide of the game in the opposition’s favor in the past couple months. As mentioned, he’s regained the incredibly solid, unspectacular style that sometimes has Flames fans take him for granted, but which he has built is reputation, and fan expectations, on.
Odds and Ends
Although the Flames full value for the win, the old adage “You start playing poorly before you lose your that next game” may come into effect here. One less solid or one less spectacular save by Kiprusoff, and the result tonight could’ve easily gone the other way. Numerous times late in the second and in the middle of the third, the Wild had the Flames pinned in their own zone. Tighter coverage and clearing the puck more effectively should solve that. Mind boggling how often the Flames have had the Wild’s number over the past 3 years in Calgary. Whatever happened to the green “Season’s Greetings” script behind the blue lines, of years past? The Wild as a team look like they’re in limbo, waiting for the Marian Gaborik saga to play out and put it behind them. Never a spectacular looking team to begin with, very little to scare opponents up front with the current lineup, and that’s not helped by the fact that as a team they don’t seem to be in unison offensively. The lack of a spark plug like Brian Rolston may also factor in, but it just looks like the team on the ice wants to have whatever assets from Gaborik’s potential trade settled, and the team can continue without distraction. The Flames enter the final game of 2008 with a 47-31-6 record for the calender year, including the 2008 playoffs. Take out April 2008, and the Flames have amassed 7 wins a month each month of the season in 2008, except October 2008 with 6, followed up by November 2008, where they have 8.
Calgary’s traditional New Years Eve matchup, this one against the despised, Oilers, rounds out the current home-stand and calender year for the Flames and their fans. A win would give the Flames points in all 5 games in the recent home stretch, and also have the Flames an incredible fortnight of action, with points in all 7 games played within the last two weeks. As mentioned, however, the Flames showed signs of being a little bit too lose on the backend tonight, and the ever opportunistic Oilers can’t be taken lightly.
Lines (To Start):
Iginla – Conroy – Cammalleri
Bertuzzi – Langkow – Bourque
Nystrom – Lombardi- Moss
Sutter – Boyd – Roy
Phaneuf – Pardy
Regher – Aucoin
Sarich – Giordano