In a season of underwhelming performances, questionable decisions and just plain bad luck, last night was a bit of a departure from the 2009-10 script for the Flames. Calgary entered the evening one point back of the eighth place Detroit Red Wings for the final playoff position in the west. Unfortunately, the Flames were to face off against the number one ranked San Jose Sharks while the Detroit was in Edmonton, playing what is likely the worst team that city has ever seen. Running in place seemed to be the best possible outcome.
I feel sorry for any gamblers who bet the smart money last night. The Flames ended up taking the Sharks 4-3 while, even more improbably, the Oilers beat the Red Wings in a shoot-out. Inconceivable!
Calgary took advantage of a sloppy and somewhat disinterested Sharks club in the first period. Jarome Iginla opened the scoring just 3 minutes in thanks to a goal-mouth scramble and Matt Stajan feed. Daymond Langkow added to the lead about five minutes later, rifling a bullet over Nabakov’s shoulder from the slot. Dany Heatley would cut the lead in half at the start of the second, but then rookie MIkael Backlund decided to short circuit the Sharks comeback bid with a couple of nifty plays. The young center fired a Jamal Mayers feed from the high slot resulting in an easily convertible rebound for Nigel Dawes to put the Flames 3-1. His second assist was the more impressive however. Taking another Mayers pass in the neutral zone, Backlund raced into the Sharks end, driving wide around the San Jose defender and then slicing a hard, low backhand on the net. Nabakov stopped the shot, but the rebound defelcted directly to Eric Nystrom, who made no mistake. It was a veteran play and indicative of his maturation this year.
Thr Sharks clawed their way back in the third, thanks to a Backlund gaffe that led to a free shot at an open net (we’ll forgive him for that one) and a last minute Dan Boyke marker with Nabby pulled. The Flames sat back a bit in the final frame to protect the lead and, although the Sharks managed a couple, it was actually fairly decent work given they outshot the bad guys 10-6.
Overall, the Flames played a fairly strong game against a difficult opponent. The Sharks won the possession battle, but some of that had to do with Calgary protecting the lead all night (ie; playing to score effect). In addition, much of the San Jose’s shots were restricted to outside the scoring area, as evidenced by the scoring chance count. The Flames actually outchanced the Sharks to the tune of 14-12 (12-10 at ES). The primary difference was the 10 shots the Flames blocked to the Sharks 2 at 5-on-5. Like many things last night, that was a pleasant reversal of fortunes, given the fact that the Flames have been the team typically firing shots into shinpads this year.
Also ironic is the fact that Dawes and Backlund – two players who were munching popcorn 10 days ago – ended up being difference makers on the scoresheet. While Jarome et al struggled somewhat in containing Thornton, Heatley etc., bottom-enders like Dawes and Backlund picked up the slack by generally outplaying their opponents. Also of note is the fact that Langkow, Hagman and Kotalik were the best forward unit at driving possession last night, although much of that was Langkow and Hagman by my eye. Kotalik wasn’t bad enough to sink the unit but, and this has been true since he arrived, he wasn’t really good enough to be a notable contributor either. I’d prefer to see Higgins in the line-up once he recovers from his foot injury.
– Steve Staios was -2. That’s bad. He also played more on the PP (3:10) than Mark Giordano (2:33). That’s baffling. That seques nicely to…
– Giordano lead the back-end in terms of corsi (+2), ES scoring chances (+7) and plus/minus (+4). Sutter is playing him in relatively easy circumstances, but at least he continues to knock them out of the park.
– Jamal Mayers and Mikael Backklund recorded their first multi-point games as Flames. Also, Backlund led the team in terms of shots on goal with 4 in just under 8 minutes of ice time. Nigel Dawes was second with 3 shots in 10:12.
1.) Mikael Backlund – aside from the lone error, Backlund made the most of his ice time last night. He was frequently dangerous in the offensive end and was the primary architect of the game winning goal.
2.) Mark Giordano – He got beat one-on-one by Devin Setoguchi at one point, but was otherwise flawless.
3.) Eric Nystrom – I’ve never been terribly highon Nystrom, but he’s proven to be a fairly effective player the last few months. Last night’s goal was his 9th of the season, which is all you can ask of a 4th line/PK-type player I guess.
The Big Hit
Douglas Murray crushed Niklas Hagman along the boards in the Sharks zone in the first period. Hagman got the last laugh, however, as he would feed Langkow for the Flames second goal just a few moments later.
The Big Save
Evgeni Nabakov robbed Matt Stajan on an in-close shot in the first period, keeping the Flames from taking a 3 goal lead. The Russian netminder just barely managed to squeeze the puck between his arm and pad.
What it Means
The Flames are now tied with the Red Wings with 81 points. They would have lept over Detroit had the Oilers been able to hold onto their lead for one more second, but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Calgary’s chances of making the dance increased to 35.9% after last night, a more than 10% jump. Those aren’t the best odds, but they’re better than where they were at this time yesterday.
What’s up Next
The Flames face the faltering Wild for the second last time this season on Sunday.