Hagman Leads the Charge

Kent Wilson
March 24 2010 08:14AM

Well, the Flames aren't going to go gently into that good night. Still alive after the 3-1 win over the Ducks yesterday, the post-season chances increased to about 20% - though at this point quoting the percentages is a bit like C-3P0 noting the odds of successfully flying through an asteroid field I think.

The Flames were full value for the win last night. They outshot and outplayed the Sharks, mostly on the back of Niklas Hagman's "best game as a Flame". The tenacious Fin was all over the ice, generating quality chances almost every shift and finally being rewarded with the third tally (his second since he arrived). He finished the evening with 5 shots on net in about 18 minutes of ice.

Guys like Backlund and Brett Sutter managed to fill in admirably with Daymond Langkow on the shelf. The Ducks are a perilously thin club up front, so the job was a manageable one, but it doesn't lessen the fact that the two rookies kept their heads above water. The two kids centered the third and fourth lines respectively and each saw about 10 minutes of ice. Backlund again displayed some of the offensive skills he's known for, although his best play came in the defensive zone when he denied Teemu Selanne a shot at an empty net in the first period.

Of special note is the fact that the lines and match-ups were shuffled last night and this, I'm afraid, is where I have to get negative again.

Half way through the first period, Brent Sutter dropped Rene Bourque "down" to skate with Craig Conroy and Ales Kotalik. Hagman moved up to his spot on the Stajan and Iginla line. What's more important, however, is the fact that Brent Sutter then stuck the Conroy unit like glue to Getzlaf and Perry. This is significant because Sutter has been fairly wishy-washy in his line matching this season, often going with a "as long as one of my top two units is out" versus power approach (aside from the first couple of months of the ill-fated Iginla/Jokinen experiment). So, with the final change at home in a must-win game, Butter rated Bourque and Conroy as the best option to face the Ducks one (and probably only) offensive threat.

Why is that significant? Because he chose them over Jarome Iginla. I've been struggling with Jarome's apparent decline this season, wondering to what degree his apparent struggles were due to circumstances or aging, wrestling with my memories of his previous dominance. I think Butter's been doing the same. But last night, with the season on the line, the decision was made - shelter the captain. The implications of that revelation and what it means for this club going forward is a much larger issue and one we'll tackle in the off-season I think.

For now - woo! We're alive!

Three Stars

1.) Nik Hagman - Best Flames forward on the ice last night, Hagman took the ball and ran with it when he was elevated to the first line.

2.) Jarome Iginla - Two assists including the defensive zone poke-check that led to Bourque's break-away and GWG

3.) Jay Bouwmeester - He, like Iginla, was gifted the easier circumstances last night (for once) and he took advantage. JayBow was well in the black in terms of possession and added a couple of assists and a +1 rating.

The Big Hit

None that I can recall

The Big Fight

Brett Sutter dropped the gloves with the Ducks Festerling inside his first shift. He quickly dumped his adversary to the ice, scoring the victory.

The Big Save

About five minutes into the third period, Miikka Kiprusoff stopped Corey Perry on a break-away, preserving the two goal lead.

What it Means

The Flames are now just two back of the Detroit Red Wings. With NYI and BOS ahead in the schedule, this is the Flames best opportunity to get back on even footing with Detroit in the race.

What's Next

The already out-of-it Islanders in New York on Thursday night.

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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 R O
March 24 2010, 08:27AM
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Unfortunately Kent I still think Brent's as wishy and washy as ever.

He's decided to use Conroy as a temp Lank replacement (which I am fine with, I think Conroy has a lot of game left) but damn, he's stuck him with Kotalik who has a historical ability to not perform well against tough players. If he's not going to line up Bourque/Conroy/Iginla or Hagman/Conroy/Iginla (and of course replace Conroy with Lanks when he's healthy) then there's just no hope, we're going to get the same disointed lines and results as ever.

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#3 R O
March 24 2010, 08:57AM
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However, I still think the pertinent choice was the rating of Bourque over Igina - it was also the rational one to my mind.

It's a defensible choice but the problem is that Iginla and Bourque play on different sides and Sutter knows this as he's had no problem playing them together, clearly.

But I think, he's trying to outthink himself. Build a "checking" line and an "scoring" line, so to speak. That's a very junior-hockey-esque thing to do with your best players. Generally speaking you see that sort of thing in the NHL only if your best scoring forward is the incomplete "Eastern Conference star" type, think Jagr or Selanne or Jokinen.

Maybe that argument can be made against Iginla, personally I think he's still got two way ability, but he needs really good players at centre and left wing now.

Instead he's getting a softer centre to work with, which would be just fine if Sutter can pull off the Iggy-on-soft-minutes thing forever, but he can't. Iggy will be targeted, some coaches will go for that matchup. And even if they don't, the "checking" lines he has built feature some pretty weak players at times (Dawes, Kotalik) so it's not like they can do that well at sawing off.

If Lanks were healthy then Sutter could line up the Bourque-Langkow-Iginla line and STILL have enough good offensive forwards to build his coveted scoring line. And that first line can score, book it, giving the Flames a couple good lines to work with.

And now that Langkow isn't healthy, the Bourque-Conroy-Iginla line isn't as good but it's still the best option for tough min, don't you think? And Hagman-Stajan, that duo is capable.

Basically, the offensive drop-off from not having Iginla in a soft-minutes role is more than offset by the fact that Iginla playing with really good players in tough minutes would just give the team better performance against the opponent's best. Which just means more soft minutes for Hagman and Stajan which means they could produce more. The ripple effect would be significant here, but Sutter's outsmarting himself.

It's hard as a coach to be smarter than everyone else. They preach "keep it simple" and they ought to take their own advice.

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#5 R O
March 24 2010, 09:24AM
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To me, it's an indication of how the perception and expectations around Jarome have changed in just 2 seasons.

Yeah, that's fair, although you could argue that Keenan did a bit of the same last season.

I dunno, Iginla did this to himself really. He didn't get injured (apparently), he hasn't had an injury history that would imply early decline, he's not really in that age range (yet) where decline is inevitable. It just... happened, he became a worse player between 07/08 and 08/09 for no good goddamn reason.

And the really galling thing is that he was so freakin' good in 07/08, possibly the best forward in the West, that the next season's performance could not do anything but stand out.

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#7 RossCreekNation
March 24 2010, 10:03AM
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@Kent Wilson

I'd like to see a comparison among other 'power forwards'. For instance, Owen Nolan is still a capable player, and he's dealt with his share of injuries (particularly the knee in Toronto), but I'd be interested to see how Jarome stacks up against him & others of that ilk. When was Keith Tkachuk no longer the player he once was. Even a less physical guy like John LeClair.

The way I see it is Jarome is still a star player thats capable of 35+, but he's not the 'get-on-my-back-and-I'll-lead-the-charge-type-superstar' anymore. For years, he was the ONLY guy... now, more than ever, he needs a solid supporting cast. He should have a couple more decent seasons, I would think, but his days chasing the Rocket Richard Trophy appear to be over, unfortunately.

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#8 maimster
March 24 2010, 10:07AM
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Bourque did get the most minutes against Getzlaf last night, but Iggy got nearly 10 as well. I'm not sure Butter was actively, desperatly trying to keep Iggy away from the top line so much. I think those guys played so many minutes for Anaheim that both Iggy and Bourque saw their share of them.

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#9 R O
March 24 2010, 10:13AM
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Frankly I don't care if Iggy never breaks 30 again.

If he puts up 25-35-60 and a moderate plus (let's say +10 at EV and in the black in scoring chances and territorial advantage) playing the kind of minutes he did two years ago, or tougher even... well that's probably a bigger contribution to this mythical idea of "winning games" than now.

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#10 R O
March 24 2010, 10:15AM
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Scratch that, +10 at EV playing tough min is actually really hard to do. Let's say +5 then to be more realistic. It would still be worth it, I would be happy with that even with salary in mind.

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#12 R O
March 24 2010, 10:27AM
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My concern with Jarome isn't really the counting numbers. It's driving possession against a decent level of comp, which is an area he's really seemed to fall off the last 2 seasons. The numbers will eventually follow him down the elevator shaft (albeit belatedly), but they're just a symptom. To put it another way, if Iginla had the exact same totals, but was leading the club in corsi and SC differential to the same degree that Langkow/Bourque have been, my concerns would be muted.

No doubts man, no doubts.

I think there was a time that he could both play tough minutes and put up gaudy numbers, and as he declines one of the two will disappear. That's just the way it happens with all players.

Unfortunately he seems to be going the route of "put up numbers without helping the team win" and I'd really rather have him go the route of "still help the team win, numbers be damned".

If he's going to drop off from previous performances then it has to be in such a way that he's still helping this team win, and in a big way. In my hypo where Iggy has, say, 50 points right now (prorated to 60) but is doing all the things you say. Then he'd take a sh!t-kicking in the media, Steinberg and Kerr would probably call him out hourly, but he'd be helping this team win and would be earning his money.

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#13 R O
March 24 2010, 10:30AM
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My concern with Jarome isn't really the counting numbers. It's driving possession against a decent level of comp, which is an area he's really seemed to fall off the last 2 seasons. The numbers will eventually follow him down the elevator shaft (albeit belatedly), but they're just a symptom. To put it another way, if Iginla had the exact same totals, but was leading the club in corsi and SC differential to the same degree that Langkow/Bourque have been, my concerns would be muted.

I wrote a repsonse but it was lost to the ether.

Long and short: - Iggy was a player who could help this team win and put up big numbers. As players decline one or the other has to go. - Iggy's going the wrong way, putting up big numbers without the quality of play. - If Iggy had 50 points right now but was doing all the things we wanted him to, then Steinberg and friends would probably beat on him hourly but he'd be earning his money and this team would probably have a bigger goal differential and more wins.

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#15 RossCreekNation
March 24 2010, 10:46AM
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@R O

Ether's not THAT powerful ;-) your welc's (it was thrust into moderation; remember - there's no 'i' in 'team' or in 'sh!t')

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#16 walkinvisible
March 24 2010, 11:27AM
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hagman was looking sharp from the get-go, so i have to wonder if he was "promoted" more than bourque was "demoted." food for thought, anyways.

as for kotalik, you KNOW i'm not a huge fan but he seems to do some nice things off the puck (at least he did last night). for the same reasons i disliked bertuzzi, i think ales might be potentially useful somehow. i also think it's a credit to him that his play hasn't really crippled that second line... but it sure would be tempting to reunite dawes with bourque, hey ?

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#17 Rob in Toronto
March 24 2010, 11:32AM
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There are certainly valid points raised here about Iggy's game. That being said, you can't lose sight of the fact that he has nine consecutive 30+ goal seasons. How many times this season (or even in previous seasons, for that matter) have we complained that the Flames get quality scoring chances but have a hard time capitalizing on them? Jarome is a guy who can still capitalize, albeit not at the same rate that he did when he was younger.

I'll also be interested to see what kind of a season he has next year, without the added distraction (both on and off the ice) of the Olympics. I have to think that it makes a difference, especially for a guy who is approaching the later stages of his career.

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#18 R O
March 24 2010, 12:16PM
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How many times this season (or even in previous seasons, for that matter) have we complained that the Flames get quality scoring chances but have a hard time capitalizing on them?

None.

I rail against Luck because ultimately the players can't control it, so we end up losing for no good reason. But I don't complain about inability to finish, most of our guys have nistorically shown they have at least average finishing ability.

Goal totals are great but they ignore practically everything about context of icetime. They are practically worthless when you're trying to put together a team for outscoring.

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#19 R O
March 24 2010, 12:18PM
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I'll also be interested to see what kind of a season he has next year, without the added distraction (both on and off the ice) of the Olympics. I have to think that it makes a difference, especially for a guy who is approaching the later stages of his career.

Yeah, you can think that, but it flat out doesn't matter when you go on the ice.

Distraction this, locker room that. It's all a steaming load of crap. Can we stop acting like Avs fans and start actually looking at our own team with keen eyes?

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#20 R O
March 24 2010, 12:20PM
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WI:

It's funny, I think the same thing about Kotalik. He appears for all the world like he's hard on the puck but damn, the puck seems to escape him a lot and his results end up being middling despite soft icetime.

He's a conundrum, he should be a much better player but it deosn't work out that way.

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#21 R O
March 24 2010, 12:26PM
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Ah, thanks RossCreek. So there is a rhyme and reason to this:

Comments are moderated. Pretend your mom is reading over your shoulder.

:-)

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#23 rod blogojevich
March 24 2010, 01:01PM
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Well looks like I was banned from Matchsticks and Gasoline. Thanks for the memories folks, that's gonna do it for my blog commenting days. Adios

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#24 RossCreekNation
March 24 2010, 01:02PM
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rod blogojevich wrote:

Well looks like I was banned from Matchsticks and Gasoline. Thanks for the memories folks, that's gonna do it for my blog commenting days. Adios

why?

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#25 M F
March 24 2010, 01:17PM
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You will be missed Rod

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#26 walkinvisible
March 24 2010, 01:19PM
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RoBlo: NOOOOOOO !!!!!! :(

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#27 rod blogojevich
March 24 2010, 03:00PM
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Yeah it's disappointing. I wasn't trying to offend anyone or anything, but I guess I did. I doubt Cleave, RO or Maimster gave me the boot, so I guess it must have been the new girl. Oh well, it was a good run.

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#28 walkinvisible
March 24 2010, 03:45PM
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RoBlo:

there's GOT to be some kindof mistake.... seriously. i know justin azevedo got the boot once and i think it was an automatic thing ---some keyword trips a switch or whatnot (although, in saying that, his "brother" used J.A's account to say both the C-word and the N-word and i'm pretty sure he didn't get re-banned).

i'm not giving you up without a fight. i'm going to petition M&G to re-instate you, and (since i don't have your email addy) i'll just keep you posted over at mine.

:)

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#29 walkinvisible
March 24 2010, 04:25PM
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hey, RoBlo:

email me at walkinvisible@gmail.com

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#30 MF
March 24 2010, 08:01PM
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Make sure you live blog again next game!

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