October 17 2011 01:00PM
So Flames have one win in four games and the "first line" has been notably behind the play much of the time. Jarome Iginla has a single point so far and it's a power play goal. They've been greatly outplayed in all but a handful of shifts.
This has all been fairly obvious to most Flames fans so far. The resultant focus and theoretical remedy seems to be replacing David Moss as the "number one" center. While there are superficial reasons why this seems like a the needed fix (not a natural center, low career point total, struggling at faceoffs) the truth is the real culprit for the first lines struggles is standing behind the bench.
Regular readers of this space and my previous site know that Jarome Iginla has struggled in a power vs. power role for several years. When Brent Sutter arrived he played Jokinen and Iginla in a tough minutes role, hard matching them against other top lines and starting them in their own end a lot. They got their heads beat in. As in, worst corsi and scoring chance differentials on the team for the first two months of play.
Last year, Iginla and Tanguay split power duties with Jokinen and Bourque, with the Iginla line getting more offensive zone draws. Even then, the captain put up only pedestrian possession rates and scoring chance differentials.
In short, Jarome has been drifting in the direction of "one-dimnesional offensive player" for many seasons and every time he's been deployed like a Selke candidate, he struggles to keep his head above water. This has been shown over and over again.
Obviously having David Moss as the Flames top-line center isn't an ideal solution insofar as every Flames fan would prefer to see Ryan Getzlaf or Pavel Datsyuk there instead. And absent an addition of that magnitude, there isn't a centerman on the Flames of that caliber currently - meaning, if Brent Sutter continues to stick Iginla and Tanguy with the low ground, swapping Moss for Morrison or Stajan or Jokinen will be little more than shuffling deck chairs.
I's possible Sutter will shift his use of the lines once Moss re-joins Jokinen and Glencross. I'd be extremely surprised to see those three guys get the cushiest minutes going forward the same way Brent has priviliged Glencross, Jokinen and Stempniak for instance. If so, things might improve for the top line as a function of the burden shifting back to Jokinen et al. Ironically, that wouldn't be Moss' fault but if it happens many fans will point to David as the obvious weak link in the chain.
As we established in this space during the summer, the Flames should be seeking to shelter Iginla as much as possible. This was one of the reasons the Langkow trade was viewed with some skepticism 'round these parts: he was the only pivot on the club who has proven he can be buried without having the the crap kicked out of him. It was assumed Jokinen would be the guy to draw the short straw (for good reason) heading into the season, but for whatever reason Brent has gone in exactly the opposite direction in the first four games.