April 20 2009 10:42AM
There's no question Calgary has missed Robyn Regehr through the first two contests of this seris. And Cory Sarich. And, arguably, the speed of Matthew Lombardi.
But one guy who's not being talked about very much is Mark Giordano. Felled by a wonky shoulder, the club sure could use his blend of speed, passing and tenacity against the Hawks. Chicago's uptempo forecheck and team quickness has been forcing the Flames remaing rear-guards to make sub-optimal decisions and passes, especially in and around the neutral zone. A lot of rushes and break-outs have been stuffed by bouncing pucks and long, waist-high coss-ice lobs that are easily picked off.
These are the areas in which Gio excels. For my money, no Flame defender was better at making a pin-point break-out pass than Giordano this year. He was also good at avoiding pressure in the neutral ice, gaining the offensive zone and keeping pucks in at the blueline as well. And his stats reflect it.
While Gio's counting numbers are unspectacular, it's the underlying figures that really tell the story. He had the best ESP/60 rate of any defensemen on the Flames (1.03), even though he was kinda jobbed by the bounces this year (PDO 98.9). His cumulative corsi number was 3rd best on the team (+272), despite only playing in 57 games. Course, some of that had to do with the way he was played - Keenan sheltered Giordano and gave him a lot of O-zone draws, but clearly none of the guys played in roughly similar circumstances (Vandermeer, Pardy, Sarich) put up similar outshooting results.
In addition, Giordano's zone shift speaks to his ability to get the puck moving in the right direction. If you aren't familiar, "zone shift" refers to how often the play ends in the offensive/defensive zone with a given player on the ice. Obviously, ending the shift in the offensive zone is preferable.
Flames leaders by this metric this season were Moss (+79), Langkow (+80), Glencross (+83), Iginla (+85), Phaneuf (+93) and...Mark Giordano (+118 !!). Meaning, the play ended in the offensive zone 118 more times than the defensive zone with Gio on the ice this year. The entire club was stellar in terms of zone shift this season (no one was a minus) and Giordano benefited from soft minutes and favorable circumstances, but it's pretty clear he was a contributing factor in driving the puck forward (rather than riding coat tails).
I'm not saying the current Flames+Giordano could have swept the Hawks or anything that extreme. One player is rarely that much of a difference maker. But he's certainly a missing puzzle piece, especially in a hotly contested series in which the first two games have been decided by a single goal.