Gameday Preview: Hey, there's a horseshoe on my door

Robert Cleave
December 23 2010 09:33AM

 

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 29: Brad Richards  and James Neal  of the Dallas Stars celebrate Neal's first period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on November 29, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Calgary's season of utter futility resumes in Dallas this evening and after a diet of Wild and Blue Jacket games fit to put the most dedicated fan into a deep slumber, it's nice to see a different opponent on the Flames' docket. What awaits them at American Airlines Center is an outfit who appear to be taking the mantle of the team getting the most out of their bounces from last year's Avalanche.

The similarities aren't exact, but those two clubs do have a few parallels since the lockout in that they've gone from being amongst the league's big spenders to clubs that are in the league's bottom half payroll wise. Dallas hasn't gone quite as far as the Avs in terms of cutting veterans and salary, but they've certainly given a number of younger players major roles and let fate work as it would.

The Stars haven't obtained players via series of high draft picks either, with the three most notable young forwards on the roster coming in rounds two, two, and five. I do understand that as Flames' fans, the premise of actually holding on to a second round draft pick might appear to be a foreign and potentially unsettling concept, of course.

On-ice, we're also seeing something similar to what occurred in Denver last season. The Stars are being pretty badly outshot 5v5 thus far, and it hasn't mattered a lick because everything is going in for them and not much is getting past their goalies. The team is shooting nearly 10% 5v5 through the first first 34 games, largely on the back of some very juicy numbers from Richards, Neal and Eriksson.

As a pending UFA on a team currently run by the banks, Brad Richards is the object of considerable attention from fans of other teams around the league, and he certainly has a very good pedigree, but he's getting the bounces in a manner that might lead one to think he's due for a correction at some point.

It's a slight case of buyer beware, in other words. He's obviously a talented guy, though, and his two wingers have a nice mix of speed and brute force. James Neal offers a bit of both those qualities, actually, and I think Dallas did well to get him signed to a two year bridge contract at less than 3M a year. 

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 6: TJ Galiardi  of the Colorado Avalanche tries to steal the puck from Mike Ribeiro  of the Dallas Stars during the second period of their game at the Pepsi Center on November 6, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

The softer competition that Marc Crawford delivers to his first line has to be paid for by other players, obviously, and he's spent the last two seasons using Mike Ribeiro as his hard-minutes center. That idea might seem odd to people that watched him as a younger man, but he's managed to saw off the league's better players for the last two seasons, allowing others to flourish along the way.

I get that people don't like him for any number of reasons, but he and Brendan Morrow have permitted Crow the luxury of better ice time for his top scorers. The two vets have taken Jamie Benn alongside for a good chunk of the year, and Mikael Backlund's former junior teammate doesn't look out of place in that role. I do note that Benn, like a few younger players that appear to face harder competition in general terms, doesn't get every last defensive zone draw tossed his way, since Crawford saves that crap for the Burishes and Steve Otts of the world.

Again, though, that's sensible. 

Dallas certainly has a very nice group of forwards to work with, but the defense corps is a string and baling wire collection. The Stars have less than 12M committed to their backline, which is a remarkably low number for a team spending just north of 50M on players.

Other than Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Nicklas Grossman, it's a pretty undistinguished lot as well, and if Dallas ever gets an owner with a few nickels in his pockets, that's the area of the club that could use an infusion of talent.

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 21: Goalie Kari Lehtonen  of the Dallas Stars in goal against the Montreal Canadiens at American Airlines Center on December 21, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Joe Nieuwendyk took a bit of a gamble last year when he acquired Kari Lehtonen from the Thrashers, even at the cheap price of a scrub player and a 4th rounder. Lehtonen's ability was never in question, but he was perpetually injured in Atlanta, only playing more than 50 games once in his 5 years as the main goalie.

He's kept more or less in one piece this year, posting quality numbers while at EV. Maybe he just needed to wash the Don Waddell stink off of himself? (Note: premise might not apply to Ilya Kovalchuk.)

What's even more shocking than Lehtonen staying healthy is Andrew Raycroft offering a competent stretch as a backup. He's working on a small sample size, but I would have bet on Olli Jokinen leading the league in scoring before I considered the possibility of Raycroft posting a .930 EVSV% for more than one game in a row. At any rate, the Stars' goalie tandem has allowed a team getting outshot by about 4 shots a night to prosper in a very good division.

The plan of attack against the Stars is pretty clear. Their D can be worked, and their forwards, skilled as they are, aren't always exemplary in their own end when it comes to limiting attempts at the net. 

Whether the Flames can do anything at all to exploit those flaws is, as always, the question of the day.

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#1 Kent Wilson
December 23 2010, 09:47AM
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It's like the hockey gods have a sense of humor. Last year, the Avs spend next to nothing on their blueline and come away with some of the best percentages in the league. This year, it's the Stars.

Maybe the Flames should just deal off Regehr, Bouwmeester and Sarich and fill in their spots with replacement level guys. Not to save money or anything, just as a sacrifice to the bounces since them seem to like irony so much.

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#2 funkyjaman
December 23 2010, 09:49AM
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Finally a team with some talent and a game that promises to be a little more exciting then the last few games; me blowing my brains out. Unfortunatley there is another team playing tonight, team Canada, that will get my attention first. I wish the flames well but don't plan my evenings around them anymore.

NJ fired John Mclean this morning starting some changes there. Lemaire replaces him as interm. I hope after the break we see some changes with this team and start building towards next season.

Happy Holidays!

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#3 Rain Dogs
December 23 2010, 09:58AM
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I still find it surprising that people feel the Lehtonen trade was a gamble, or that people are surprised at Lehtonen's performance.

He's a very, very good goalie. He just got a little fat at times.

I mean it as little criticism to Lehtonen, because it must be excruciating for a goalie to stay motivated in a black hole like Atlanta.

Sure, these athletes are paid incredibly, but that doesn't mean they are devoid of human tendencies, and I imagine going into every game thinking: "Oh great! Another night of facing 40 shots against on a crap team that almost no one in the city cares about, only to inevitably lose 3-1." That's got to get tough over five seasons in Atlanta.

He wasn't always in the best shape, and that's being kind with my words. Poorer conditioning and being a big goalie usually means more injuries and muscle pulls.

However, that doesn't mean his puck-stopping ability should have ever been doubted.

He came in the league with Ward, Miller and Bryz (05/06) and has still faced a good number of shots (even with all his injuries) 5560 and has posted a .926ev sv% over that time. (Equivalent to Kipper, however, almost 3000 shots fewer over the same 6 seasons as Kiprusoff saw 8392.) Kari is better than all of the aforementioned goalies he began with. He ranks in that 5th in the league with over 5000 ev sa right behind Kipper, but is playing better this year with a .932 evsv% vs Miikka's .923evsv%.

So, if we see him tonight, bet on being shutout given our play of late. Plus, other Finnish goalies love playing against Kiprusoff, as he's seen as the measuring stick. Right Backstrom?

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#4 That_Angela
December 23 2010, 10:05AM
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It really is time to start writing about the other teams, isn't it?

Every time I think about writing about the Flames, my mind wanders and I think about the better things I could be doing.

Like bashing my head into the wall.

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#5 Kent Wilson
December 23 2010, 10:11AM
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@Rain Dogs

I'm not surprised, personally. The only thing that surprises me is he's stayed relatively healthy.

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#6 Kent Wilson
December 23 2010, 10:11AM
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That_Angela wrote:

It really is time to start writing about the other teams, isn't it?

Every time I think about writing about the Flames, my mind wanders and I think about the better things I could be doing.

Like bashing my head into the wall.

I have a feeling we'll have some pretty interesting Flames related stuff to write about soon enough.

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#8 Rain Dogs
December 23 2010, 10:15AM
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@Kent Wilson

Yeah, it's true. He had some groin problems again! earlier this year, and then was battling back spasms about two weeks ago (Edit: and Robert/Millions beat me to it again ha!). He's always got lingering issues it seems.

However, word is his conditioning (and motivation??? if you believe that) is better this year. He's still got this crazy stance that loads his knees and back so much, I'm not surprised he's always injured. But hey, when he's healthy, he's super fast for a 6'4" goalie and that translates into being very good at stopping pucks.

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#9 That_Angela
December 23 2010, 10:20AM
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@Kent Wilson

We can hope.

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#10 Kent Wilson
December 23 2010, 10:20AM
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@Rain Dogs

Yeah, I've always liked Lehtonen. He's the guy I usually take at the end of hockey pools with the hope that THIS is the year he'll stay healthy.

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#11 Nuckfan
December 23 2010, 11:01AM
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Not sure I would be completely surprised by Raycroft - seemed to turn it around (at least as a backup) in Vancouver last year. That said, I'd be real nervous if Lehtonen went down.

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#12 propositionWes
December 23 2010, 11:07AM
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I still think the damn Heritage Classic is really going to delay the invetiable blood letting.

Anyone else hear anything about those scouts at the CBJ-Flames game?

On a good note I'll be in a suite for the New Years game with an open bar...

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#13 wattree
December 23 2010, 11:32AM
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propositionWes wrote:

I still think the damn Heritage Classic is really going to delay the invetiable blood letting.

Anyone else hear anything about those scouts at the CBJ-Flames game?

On a good note I'll be in a suite for the New Years game with an open bar...

I was thinking the same thing last night. If they deal Iginla, Regher and Kipper, who's gona pay $175 to sit in the nose bleeds at McMahon? That stupid game is going to delay the inevitable till right before the deadline.

If management has accepted their fate, that might explain Backlund being a healthy scratch. Allows them to play their prospective trade bait. But if that is the case, get him to the minors and play him 20 a night.

I hate to see him go again, but I think Tanguay brings a decent return at the deadline if he keeps playing the way he has. Hell, with Datysuk out for a while, Detroit may take a flyer on someone to dish to Zetterburg.

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#14 That_Angela
December 23 2010, 12:05PM
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wattree wrote:

I was thinking the same thing last night. If they deal Iginla, Regher and Kipper, who's gona pay $175 to sit in the nose bleeds at McMahon? That stupid game is going to delay the inevitable till right before the deadline.

If management has accepted their fate, that might explain Backlund being a healthy scratch. Allows them to play their prospective trade bait. But if that is the case, get him to the minors and play him 20 a night.

I hate to see him go again, but I think Tanguay brings a decent return at the deadline if he keeps playing the way he has. Hell, with Datysuk out for a while, Detroit may take a flyer on someone to dish to Zetterburg.

But we've already paid for the tickets. And no matter how much this team sucks, those tickets are still going on ebay for a couple of grand right now.

If I didn't figure this was a chance of a lifetime, I'd be tempted to sell my pair.

Of tickets. ;-)

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#15 Bob
December 23 2010, 12:31PM
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@ That_Angela

If something does happen between now and February, I doubt it will involve one of our higher profile guys (Iggy, Kipper, Reg, etc..)

It would not surprise me to see the likes of Glencross, Moss or Pardy (as examples) get moved out if Darryl likes what he can get back in return. And to be honest...as much as we want some changes, the tought of Darryl being the one making those decisions scares me!

Even if a bigger name was to be dealt, it would have minimal effect on Heritage Classic tickets. As you pointed out, most have been paid for and a good portion of the crowd will be rooting for the Habs.

Make no mistake, the Flames are hoping this event will generate some much needed revenue, as physical attendance is down at the Dome, meaning less people to purchase booze, snacks and merchandise. Major changes prior to the Heritage Classic would be as much a concern for the NHL as for the Flames. Despite this being in Calgary and the Flames as the "Host" it is an NHL event and they need our big names as well as Montreals on the marquee to help promote this Nationally. Anything can happen in the next 2 months...it will be interesting to see who on this team gets to hit the ice at McMahon! After that...it will be the trade deadline we'll be watching closely!

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#16 wattree
December 23 2010, 12:39PM
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@ That_Angela

I know a couple guys that are season ticket holders that turned down the right to buy their HC Tickets. I thought it was dumb that they didn't just turn and sell them but hey.

Of course even if the tickets are sold, if there is nobody worth watching on the ice and the weather is not good, I don't think they want empty seats shown on TV.

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#17 negrilcowboy
December 23 2010, 01:40PM
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@Bob

wouldn't booze sales at the dom be higher, reflecting the product on the ice. this team makes me want to crawl into a bottle.

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