Although the team is busy having closed door meetings, there isn’t too much to complain about in Flames country currently. I mean, there’s the road record, but Im not too worried about it.
Otherwise, the Flames are golden. They are ensconced in 3rd in the Conference, with long views between the teams ahead and behind them. Injuries are few and Kiprusoff has actually looked like a starting goalie the last month or so. We’re a month away from the trade deadline and two months away from the post-season. Manufacturing concern is going to be difficult for awhile here. When “guarding against complacency” is your primary concern, you’re in a good place.
The Blackhawks are in town and they’re in a similar situation as Calgary: well positioned in the standings, without much chance of being caught or moving up. They have an outstanding +40 goal differential which is somewhat misleading because I think they’re a club that’s riding the percentages a bit. Not to say they aren’t a good team – one that will even improve down the road – but the truth of the matter is they probably aren’t yet in the same league as the San Jose Sharks of the world.
That said, Chicago is chalked full of interesting players; a lot of them young up-and-comers. Im really impressed with the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook form the back-bone of a defense corps that may well turn into the envy of the league in short order.
Martin Havlat is the guy Im going to watch tonight, though. Not only has he managed to stay healthy for the first time ever, he’s quietly made the leap into the realm of legitimate difference-makers this year.
I say “quietly” because his point totals are merely “good” at first glance: 16-24-40 in 49 games, meaning he’s not getting a lot of press. What makes Havlat an excellent player, however, is the fact that Quenneville is giving him what I call the “Tanguay treatment” – which comes from the manner in which Keenan employed Tanguay as a Flame last year. For those unaware, Tanguay was played with lesser linemates and deployed against the other teams better players on most nights. His counting numbers took a hit as a result, but his underlying stats remained stellar, despite the tough circumstances.
That’s Havlat’s story this season. His regular linemates are Andrew Ladd and Dave Bolland – hardly world beaters. In every game versus the Flames this season, Havlat has played against the Iginla line and often come out ahead, which is indicative of his responsibilities and results. His underlying numbers are top-shelf (+12.2 CORSI, 2.38 ESP/60, +12) considering his assignment, meaning Havlat is likely one of the under-appreciated reasons for the Blackhawks success this year. He’s certainly a player of interest if Chicago loses him to free agency this summer and a guy who might be under-valued given his “just okay” counting stats and injury history.