September 24 2010 02:14PM
The exhibition season has arrived, so the round-up finally has actual news to review. This week, the Flames take two from the Canucks, but not without a toll, hope springs eternal at everyone else's camps, and Brooks Orpik adds another questionable hit to his resume.
The split squad games against the Canucks' lesser lights resulted in a pair of victories, with a 3-1 decision in Vancouver following the 3-2 'Dome triumph I suspect many of us watched. Other than Kent, of course ;-) The Calgary encounter was about what one might have expected for a pre-season opener, in that it was sloppy and largely emotion-free. Like everyone else, I did enjoy Alex Tanguay making a number of good passes, but the play he made to create the short-handed goal was one that caught my attention. The action starts at the :46 mark of the highlight package:
Mikael Backlund performed a good bit of business to clear the zone, but he wasn't going to beat Keith Ballard to the puck on the chase that ensued. Tanguay showed good anticipation and more importantly, some worthwhile acceleration in coming from the wide side to outrace both of them. He and Backlund then figured out the rest en route to the net, with Backlund converting a very nice pass. The speed that Tanguay exhibited was something I was happy to witness, since one of the criticisms that Tampa had about Tanguay was that his skating last season was below his previous standard.
Tanguay's over-all partnership with 12 and 21 still looks, well, iffy. As long as the team chooses to go that route, I'll keep watching who plays where in the defensive zone. If Jokinen is routinely below the hashmarks in D-zone coverage, well, that's not likely to work against anyone but the lower orders. The line might not work against better comp irrespective of who plays where, but that's another matter in and of itself.
In Vancouver, the Flames' victory was tempered by the loss of Matt Stajan due to a shoulder separation. I don't hate the guy, and I'm not happy to see him join Daymond Langkow in sick bay, but his skill set might be easier to replace in-house than 22's. It does still force the Flames to continue their experiment with David Moss in the middle. Maybe it'll work. Maybe.
It isn't all gloom, though, as Henrik Karlsson made a creditable debut against the Canucks, stopping everything he faced over two periods. He's a big dude, and as hard as it is to get clean shots into the top of the net, his style might work out. As always in pre-season, it's worthwhile to temper any grand thoughts until evidence against actual players accrues.
The other Flame that acquitted himself well on the coast was Mitch Wahl. Pressed into service with Bourque and Hagman after the Stajan injury, he looked like he belonged, and his play to set up Kronwall on the PP was the sort of smart, simple play that he seems to make as a matter of course. I'd have liked to see him face decent comp a couple of times this fall before he headed to Abby, but as Pat posted a little while ago, he was sent down this morning along with 13 others. The rest of the likely Heat will certainly go after the game in Saskatoon on Wednesday, since Abbotsford plays two exhibitions in the Winnipeg area next weekend. I will note that Langkow and Jokinen will be out of contract in two years, and Mitch Wahl gives me the impression he might be ready for a NHL job of some sort by then.
Tomorrow's opponent and the Oil:
The Lightning rested most of their top-sixers for last night's affair at Rexall, so one could reasonably surmise that Lecavalier, Stamkos, Gagne and St. Louis will dress in Calgary. They might want to rest the Twitter-averse Dan Ellis after last night's effort, as he gifted Taylor Hall with an open net tally in Tampa's 5-2 loss. No matter, if Gagne is heallthy and they get any goaltending, the Lightning have a chance for the post-season in the East if only because of what likely be a lethal PP. They are without Mike Smith at the moment, as their number one goalie was injured last week in practice.
Tampa's fringe players lost to the Oilers last night, as Magnus Paajarvi lit up Ellis for a hattie. If he ends up as the best player of the three heralded young Oilers this year, his seasons in the SEL will have been a major factor in his development. We routinely get excited by young players, but time spent playing against grown-ups is a necessary part of development for everyone that isn't at the Crosby level, and that's an area where Paajarvi is ahead of Hall and Eberle. It's also a matter Lowetide touches on in his discussion this morning on Nazem Kadri, and it's one that people wanting to hurry every last shiny kid into a line-up should consider.
There's also beginning to be some discussion in Edmonton about the fact that Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't suited up as of yet. He does give the appearance of a goalie that is as likely to play 40 NHL games this season as yours truly, but that may simply be my cynicism about a player that's never healthy and appealing a DUI showing through.
The Habs' fans have Carey Price on a short leash. Habs' fans, overreacting? Who knew? Chris Boyle has a look at the checkered history of goalies that don the CH and, shockingly, notes the short tenure for most men asked to perform the job. The shorter version of the article could have read "Montreal fans are mental, even by Canadian NHL fan standards", but I'm certain you already know that.
They faced the Bruins the other night, and the muddle about Marc Savard's health continues. The Boston center is reputedly still suffering the effects of a Matt Cooke hit, with no timetable for his return. Kinda glad the Flames didn't pull the trigger on a deal for him, although he'd have fit right in with the current crew of pivots on the club i.e. injured indefinitely.
Another brain injury victim is the Avalanche's Peter Mueller. He missed the post-season after compiling some nice counting stats after his trade to Colorado, and the new ding on his dome from the game against St. Louis is his second concussion since his move from the desert. His story is interesting in that he was about to switch helmets, with a plan in place to use the new Messier-designed salad container once he was properly fitted.
Some injuries are simply unfortunate accidents, obviously, but Johan Franzen's charleyhorse from the Red Wings pre-season tilt at the Pens' new arena doesn't fall into that category, IMO. This is at least the second time in three years that Brooks Orpik has made an openly stupid play that has endangered a player. His reckless hit on Erik Cole fractured vertebrae in the Carolina winger's neck, and Franzen was lucky to escape serious damage in the latest play. Like his teammate Matt Cooke, Orpik's quite a good player, but they do have a certain penchant for cheap hits.
Finally this week, if you haven't been reading Pat McLean and company's pieces on the '72 Canada-Soviet series, you've been missing out on some terrific stuff. The final game received a going-over this week. Again, straight quality from Pat and friends.
That's all for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and drop by tomorrow for FN's coverage of the pre-season tilt against the 'Ning at the Saddledome.