Pick your Poison

Kent Wilson
March 17 2009 11:57AM

poison1

With 13 games left in the stretch drive, it's about time to start sizing up the Flames potentional first round opponents, yes? Some folks in town are anxiously eying the NW Div standings after the 3-4 road trip, but the truth of the matter is the Flames will likely finish first in the NW and are pretty much guaranteed to make the play-offs either way. So without further ado - the sizing up!

First of all, the standings. If the post season were to start today, the Flames would be facing CBJ in the first round. Might as well start with them.

Columbus

Strengths

Good coach, good goaltending, emerging superstar (Rick Nash), decent forward depth, strong at ES.

Weaknesses

Depthless blueline, relatively young line-up, poor special teams.

Columbus is amongst the clubs I'd prefer to avoid in the first round. They are, very quietly, one of the stronger bubble teams and are a decent bet to upset whoever they face in the first round. They added a strong goaltender after their first quarter struggles, have some emerging young talent, a smart, focused personality behind the bench and are capable of playing with anyone at ES. Does that sound familiar to anyone? '04 Flames?

That said, the BJs still have some warts. Their back-end is unspectacular, lacking a genuine star or power play quarterback. Their special teams are either mediocre (Pk - 15th) or terrible (PP - 30th) and they only have a handful of guys that have made the dance before.

Vancouver

If the Canucks fail in their bid to usurp Calgary, there's a small chance they could fall to 6th in the standings, setting up for first round rematch for the two rivals.

Strengths

Strong forward and defensive depth, good goaltending.

Weaknesses

Mediocre special teams, exploitable bottom 6

Vancouver is easily the strongest club beneath the Flames in the standings. They have two genuine scoring lines now that Sundin is back on his feet and Kesler and Burrows have emerged as threats. They have Roberto Luongo in net and a system designed to limit shots and chances against. Their back-end is no slouch either, boasting  the likes of Mitchell, Ohlund, Salo and Alex Edler.

The Canucks GD of +17 is currently superior to Calgary's (+15). They've also been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the trade deadline.

On the other hand, Vancouver isn't great at outshooting their opponents at ES and their special teams are barely average (16th and 20th for PP and PK). They also have a suspect group of bottom six forwards including Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, Taylor Pyatt, Darcy Hordichuk and Ryan Johnson. At first, those seem like decent names to be populating the bottom end of the roster, but they aren't - all these guys tend to get beat up at ES in terms of outshooting and they all score at average or below average rates (Bernier is the higest at 1.76 ESP/60 and he spent a generous amount of time with the Sedins to start the year).

Vancouver is still capale of making life miserable for whoever they play in the post-season. This is another team I'd prefer to avoid in the first round.

Nashville

I wrote them off around the trade deadline, but the Preds have put together a very strong couple of weeks and are still, incredibly, in the play-off picture. Once a nemesis of the Flames a few years back, that spell has mercifully been broken.

Strengths

Good goaltending, strong back-end, excellent PK.

Weaknesses

Poor forward depth, terrible PP, poor on offense in general.

Nashville is amazing at rotating starting goaltenders and producing quality outcomes. Two years ago, they dealt Tomas Vokoun after Chris Mason ended up leading the league in ES SV%. The next season, Mason fell before former ECHL goalie Dan Ellis, who also ended up a league leader in SV% at the end of the year. This season, Ellis has given way to rookie Pekka Rinne who only recently grabbed the starting reins for good. The freshman isn't quite leading the league in SV%, but he's up there with a .922 average through 40 games and is probably one of the main reasons the Predators have been able to stay in the play-off hunt. A lot of that has to do with his mind-boggling SH SV% of 0.94 which - Im sorry NSH fans -  is ridiculously high and probably unsustainable. That's likely also the reason their PK is third in the league currently.

Besides a stable of really strong, young players on the blueline (Weber, Suter, Hamhuis, Zanon), Nashville isn't very scary otherwise. None of their forwards are great at ES and the depth behind Sullivan, Arnott and Dumont is sorely lacking. NSH has scored the least amount of goals of any team in play-off position (175) and their GD is -13.

Dallas

While they still tend to trip up the Flames, Dallas isn't that great of a club anymore. They have especially struggled with goaltending and injury issues all year.

Strengths

Good coaching, don't surrender a lot of shots on net

Weaknesses

Poor goaltending, beset by injuries (Zubov, Richards, Morrow, Petersen), poor special teams

Dallas would probably be scarier if Zubov, Richards and Morrow weren't down for the count - but they are, so they aren't, if you catch my drift. Ony three players on the Stars score above a 2 ESP/60 rate, and two of them are Steve Ott (!) and Loui Eriksson (who is benefiting from a league high SH% of 21.5). Marty Turco has been abysmal this season (.889 SV%) and has only kept his starting job because Dallas dealt Mike Smith to Tampa Bay (and Tobias Stephen is also awful). Both their PP and PK are in the bottom 3rd of the league and their GD is -12.

Dallas would be a decent match-up for the Flames in the first round. In fact, I'm surprised they're in the running for a play-off spot at all.

Edmonton

Strengths

Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray and, Uhhhhhmmmm....MacTavish's pithy wit?

Weaknesses

Poor special teams, poor at ES, young line-up, poor forward depth.

I consider EDM to be the weakest of the bubble clubs and that's not just blind partisan bias talking. They routinely get outplayed at ES and only one of their regular skaters scores with any sort of frequency at 5on5 (Guess who?). Their PP is 23rd in the league and their PK is 29th. According to Hockey Numbers, they have the 25th ranked ES expected GD, based on the number and quality of shots they generate and give-up. Their actual GD is -18: worse than a number of clubs below them in the standings including the Blues (-10), Wild (+5) and Ducks (-11).

The Oilers would be the ideal match-up, not only because they suck but because a Battle of Alberta in the play-offs would be insanely entertaining. Sadly, there's not much chance of it happening - EDM would have to leap frog DAL, NSH and CBJ in order to grab the 6th seed and that brings to mind a certain snowballs chance in a certain firey afterlife. Were I to bet, I'd put my money on the Oil sliding further in the standings rather than moving up, in fact.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 peter king
March 17 2009, 01:36PM
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The Flames will need to define clutch down the stretch. Team chemistry, although difficult to define, is surging. But in order to gain the division title, a Pittsburghish effort will need to occur. Kiprusoff will need to be quasi-Lebronish, and one could make a semi-argument with Matthew Barnaby regarding the cancer claims on Olli Jokinen. But give me a Heinekin Light and sit back, this will be a wild ride!

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#2 Wanye Gretz
March 17 2009, 02:34PM
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"The Oilers would be the ideal match-up, not only because they suck but because a Battle of Alberta in the play-offs would be insanely entertaining"

You wish. The Oilers will somehow find a way to win 27 of the remaining 15 games and th-

ah screw it.

*fingers crossed a new team of players shows up at Rexall demanding ice time as Edmonton Oilers*

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#3 Brent G.
March 18 2009, 11:32AM
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Interesting article. I found it very weird you would prefer to avoid a Columbus match up. Thats ideal in my mind. I think a B of A playoff series would kill me with stress; some more people will get stabbed up in Edmonton too.

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#4 merzer131
March 18 2009, 11:37AM
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Who do you like tonight in the game against the Stars Kent?

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#5 Bob Cob
March 18 2009, 01:40PM
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"The Oilers would be the ideal match-up, not only because they suck"

The Flames are a 1 line team with a pretty good goalie, I smell another first round exit. Contenders my ass!

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#6 Brent G.
March 18 2009, 03:24PM
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@ Bob Cob: You know ive never taken the time to look it up seeing as how im pretty lazy but you know it wouldnt surprise me if this "one line team" has a second line that actually put up more points than the Oilers first line. Sure Bourque and Bert are injured but theyll be back. Theyll be there to ensure the Oilers dont make the playoffs again after handing them back to back losses to end the season.

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#7 Kent W.
March 18 2009, 03:55PM
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@ Bob Cob:

You're hilarious. The Flames have 5 players inside the 90th percentile in terms of even strength proficiency (Bourque, Glencross, Iginla, Conroy and Cammalleri), 8 guys with 40 or more points and the third most goals for in the entire NHL.

If anything, the Flames are like Detroit: great offense with lackluster goaltending.

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#8 Bob Cob
March 18 2009, 05:29PM
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Kent W. wrote:

If anything, the Flames are like Detroit: great offense with lackluster goaltending.

The Flames are not like Detroit, the Wings could win a game with a Shooter Tutor, they dont need a Kiprusoff, the Flames can't, just consider the fact that McElhinney hasn't got a win. If Kipper gets hurt, the Flames have not got a hope in hell.

@ Brent G.: The head to head games have been close, and if someone had picked up Lombardi in the fourth game the Oilers would be up 3-1 in the season series. A playoff series could go either way.

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#9 Brent G.
March 18 2009, 05:45PM
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@ Bob Cob: Eveything you just said wasnt even close to a reply to what I wrote. So I say "his “one line team” has a second line that actually put up more points than the Oilers first line" and you respond with talking about what might have been with the season series. We could sit here all day. If the Oilers had a real goalie they would win games. If they didnt have a terrible leader on and off the ice maybe they would play more consistently. If the Oilers could buy a goal they may win more.

That last ones not very likely because Roloson will screw it up in the last minute. Fact of the matter is the Flames badly outplayed them in that last game. The fact the Oilers even got a point out of it was likely a bit of luck on there part. It would never be close in a playoff series, Oiler fans would end up getting mad and stab more ppl to death. But you know IF they had a real star player, secondary scoring (is Gagner and Pisani gonna burn the Flames? Take off your rose colored glasses and think about that in an objective fashion), a goalie who isnt a career back up and NHL calibre defenseman ... yes they may be able to steal a series in game 7. Seeing as how they have none of that, its not so likely to happen.

And for the record you know the season series is reflective of timing of games not each teams calibre. Every year you can expect the Oilers to win a few games before plummeting and the Flames stumbling. They woulda had the same result playing anyone those first 4 games. Accept it, its just the timing. Plus Jokinen will make them look foolish.

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#10 Kent W
March 18 2009, 08:42PM
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Bob:

Kipper has a .903 SV% - good for 32nd in the league. The Flames are 3rd in the conference anyways, mainly because they score so many goals...kinda like Detroit.

This really isn't too difficult to comprehend.

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#11 Brent G.
March 18 2009, 09:42PM
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@ Kent W: its not too hard for Flames fans to understand, I'm pretty sure your average Oiler fan will never get that. They also make rediculous claims like we only have one line. Our third line is almost as effective as their first.

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