January 28 2013 09:35AM
The Flames convincing win over the Oilers on Saturday night seems to have washed the away any lingering sour notes from the club's 0-2-1 start. Calgary certainly looked like a different team on HNIC relative to the prior three games. Their transition play was much smoother and they managed to more or less put together a full 60-minute effort, whereas they spent long portions of the other evenings being completely dominated to one degree or another.
Of course, it's hard what to make of a single performance this early in the season. Especially against an opponent like the Oilers, whom, for all their young talent, still have very real issues throughout their roster. Certainly the insertion of Hudler and Cervenka as well as the sudden awakening of Bouwmeester seemed like things that should continue indefinitely, the truth is we really can't be certain until we see similar efforts throughout the season. And against better teams to boot.
- Saturday night was also a perfect example of why the goon is an anachronism in the modern NHL. First, Don Cherry in all his bluster claimed the Toronto Maple Leafs were clearly a different team wtith "more swagger" in their play thanks to the insertion of guys like Brown and Orr into their line-up. This was after the first period in which the Leafs were outshot 14-3 but nevertheless led 2-0.
The rest of the story is predictable. Toronto ended up losing the game 5-2 and were outshot handily by New York, 41-17. Colton Orr played less than 4 minutes and had one fight, naturally spending more time in the box than on the ice.
- Darcy Hodichuk's night was even more unproductive for the Oilers. He played three shifts (less than two minutes total), took a useless cross-checking penalty (a PP the Flames scored on) and was generally a liability. Calgary didn't dress an enforcer type at all, opting for a 4th line of Baertschi, Jones and Comeau and mostly ran away with the game.
So much for swagger.
- Related: back in 2008 I wrote my first rant against the role of the goon called Ditch the Enforcer (hilariously pilfered in full by this random blog). In it, I noted one of the easiest and best ways to neuter the opposition's tough guy is to simply not dress one of your own (since heavyweights only ever seem to fight other heavyweights). The counter-argument always seems to be that the bad guys will run rough shod over the home team physically if they don't dress their own nuclear deterrent.
The truth, however, is usually closer to what you saw in Calgary on Saturday: if the opposition is running a functional 4th line, it's difficult for the tough guy's coach to justify giving him any ice time at all since he's bound to struggle at the actual hockey portion of things.
- Although Calgary still doesn't have a true PvP line or Selke caliber player, there's no doubt they have greater offensive depth than the last few seasons as evidenced by the fact they can ice two relative good PP units. This of course depends on just how well Cervenka adapats to NHL hockey (he looked fine Satruday night) and if Lee Stempniak can continue to play like an all-star, but it's refreshing so far.
- I am surprised Bob Hartley decided to put Cervenka on the wing and stick with Tanguay at center. Everything obviously worked out fine versus the Oilers, but one wonders how well Alex is going to perform as a pivot in the long-term. My worries aren't really face-offs, but the on-going demands of the position, particularly in the defensve zone. Tanguay has had some problems in the previous games getting the job done anywhere but the offensive areas, so with another center (or two if you count Hudler) in the line-up, it makes sense to me to move Tanguay back to LW. This would also help get Mikael Backlund (who had the best possession rate on the team on Saturday by the way). Something like this:
- Cammalleri - Cervenka - Hudler
- Glencross - Stajan - Stempniak
- Jackman/Baertschi - Jones - Comeau
- As for Baertschi, he looked fine on a line with Jones and that trio generated more than one 10-bell chance. That said, if this persists and they can't get him on the ice for more than 5 or 6 minutes per night, Sven should probably go back to Abbotsford and play top-line minutes there.
- Also, with TJ Brodie usurping Chris Butler and guys like Babchuk and Carson waiting around as depth options, it might make sense for the Flames to start shopping the former Buffalo Sabre around. There seems to be a big appetite for depth defenders around the league so Calgary could get a nice return for a guy the coach doesn't seem to have much time for. This isn't something they have to do immediately, but should be seriously considered if Hartley sits Butler for another week or two.
- I know we've discussed this before, but if the Flames could get rid of Stajan and replace him with Ryan O'Reilly, their roster suddenly looks so much better. O' Reilly remains unsigned and I imagine the Avs would listen to trade offers at this point as well. Of course, if their demands are unreasonable, there's always the offer-sheet...
Either way, Calgary would obviously have to free up salary space to ink the kid. Moving Butler and Stajan (somehow) and demoting Baertschi would probably do the trick.