FGD: Go With What Works

After the Calgary Flames fell 5-4 in Phoenix last night, it seems pretty clear what the team needs to do heading into their second meeting with the San Jose Sharks tonight at the HP Pavilion (8 pm, CBC and The FAN 960).  After names like Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay let the team down in the desert, it’s time to ride the lines that are getting the job done, and on a very consistent basis.

It’s F’in Game Day, and it’s a game that I know many are nervous about.  It’s a Sharks team that was thoroughly dominated in their last meeting, falling 4-0 to the Flames in one of Calgary’s best efforts in recent memory (read: months/years).  That was as lopsided a win for the Flames as we’ve seen, but part of that was because San Jose was not strong…they’ll look to rectify that tonight, especially at home.  Aaaaaaaaand we all remember what happened the last time the Flames rolled into NoCal…(We want 10! We want 10!).

Captain Iginla finished -4 in the desert, and his line with Tanguay and Brendan Morrison was absolutely thrashed when on the ice…it lead to Calgary being in a 3-1 second period hole, and the Flames didn’t start to generate on a regular basis until after their responsibilities were scaled way back, and the line was split up.  I encourage you to go back and look at the scoring chances from last night, which show great efforts from names like Glencross, Jokinen, Hagman etc.  THOSE are the guys that need to be utilized regularly tonight.

The Lineup

Calgary Flames' Olli Jokinen celebrates his first goal of the season during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Calgary, Alberta October 28, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

As expected, an optional skate for the Flames this morning, with few players showing up following hefty travel from Arizona to Cali.  You’d think it’d be pretty simple, but that’s not the case with the ridiculous airport curfew in San Jose.  Because Calgary didn’t finish in Phoenix until late Friday evening, they had to fly to Oakland before bussing to San Jose.

Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start in net, after a not-so-great game against the Coyotes.  Judging his performance in that game is odd, because Phoenix probably could have scored two or three goals in the opening ten minutes of that game if not for #34…yet, a few of the goals scored last night didn’t look good on him.  Nonetheless, it was confirmed yesterday by Mike Rogers of The FAN 960 that he will indeed start this game as well.

No word on what lines will be, just because there was no morning skate.  You can expect the two strongest units to stay together though, with Olli Jokinen centering Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque along with Niklas Hagman and David Moss flanking Mikael Backlund.  Here were lines and pairings to start last night:

Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-David Moss
Stefan Meyer-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Robyn Regehr-Ian White
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Jay Bouwmeester-Steve Staios

A few things…first off, there’s no question the second line on the above depth chart needs to be utilized as the top unit tonight, until they show signs that they’re not capable of it.  Funny to think of all the heat Jokinen has taken in his time with the Flames, and for two straight games, we’re talking about him being on of the teams better forwards.  In fact, the "third unit" as it looks above should also be elevated, and used as the defacto second line…basically, until Jarome Iginla et al show you they are capable of logging top, tough minutes, you cannot treat them as a top scoring line.

Also…it wouldn’t bother me one bit to see Meyer come out of the lineup in favor of Craig Conroy.  He sat last night, but I’d be all for him returning to the lineup.

The Opponent

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Kent Huskins #40 of the San Jose Sharks in action during their game against the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion on November 25, 2009 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Sharks have had an up and down start to the season, sitting 7-5-2, which puts them fourth in the Pacific Division.  They’re coming off a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Thursday, which was their third straight game earning at least a point.  Overall on San Jose’s current five game homestand, they’ve won two of three games.

Defenceman Kent Huskins missed practice on Friday with a lower body injury, as he’s been battling foot issues.  He was listed as questionable for this game, but will play tonight, meaning the only significant lineup change for the home side comes in goal.  The Sharks will start Antii Niemi in net for the first time in four games, after Antero Niitymaki had handled most of the recent workload.  Niemi’s numbers aren’t flattering, sitting 1-4 with a 3.91 goals against.  Here are projected lines and pairings:

Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley
Ryane Clowe-Logan Couture-Joe Pavelski
John McCarthy-Torrey Mitchell-Devin Setoguchi
Frazer McClaren-Scott Nichol-Jamal Mayers

Doug Murray-Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Niclas Wallin
Jason Demers-Kent Huskins

The Story

To me, there’s no question what the story is tonight.  How Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter utilizes his players, especially how the earmarked top players will be deployed.  Again, as stated, you’ve got to go with the lines giving you the best chance for success, and right now, those are the lines centered by Olli Jokinen and Mikael Backlund.

Of course, we’ll also be watching to see how Jarome Iginla responds to one of his worst games as a member of the team.  Sometimes, a minus on a player can be misleading…last night was not in that category, as that -4 hung on him was very reflective of how the captain played.  It’s not like his linemates really picked up the slack though, as Tanguay and Morrison need to be stronger as well, if in fact they are put together to start this game.

Of Note

The most bizarre stat of the season for the Flames comes in the form of their record when scoring first.  The team has opened the scoring in 11 of their first 15 games, yet only has five wins to show for it.  Obviously, teams are less and less afraid when falling behind to Calgary.

After taking no penalties in Phoenix, you’d imagine the Flames will probably find themselves shorthanded at least one time tonight, which isn’t a good thing against an always deadly Sharks powerplay.  San Jose ranks fifth in the NHL clicking at 23.5% with the man advantage.

  • Off the top of my head I think the Flames are 1-5 in their last six contests, and all five losses are blown leads, with the one win being the come-from-behind in Colorado.

    What the hell is going on here? Wasn’t this team’s identity supposed to be that they were untouchable when playing with a lead? At least that’s the impression I got from watching all of last season. How does one go about increasing a team’s confidence level?

    The Sharks are in 10th place but nobody really cares about that apparently; the impression I get is that they’re still talked about as an elite-level team, which they probably are considering the talent they ice every night. That being said, is a convincing win tonight enough to give the Flames some confidence, which it seems to me they are sorely lacking?

    • What the hell is going on here? Wasn’t this team’s identity supposed to be that they were untouchable when playing with a lead? At least that’s the impression I got from watching all of last season. How does one go about increasing a team’s confidence level?

      That’s certainly one of the things I had started to associate them with as the season went along last year…then there were a few games down the stretch where that wasn’t the case.

      Now, Calgary is still 4-1 when leading after 40 minutes of play…but it begs the question…if this is supposed to be a playoff team, how come they’ve only carried leads into the third period five times in 15 games?

  • It is still early in the season but there seems to a trend win a couple lose a few and when things tighten up after Xmas the flames are in more trouble as they haven’t played too many top teams yet. I think Iggy needs a new address to boost his career. I think he and a few others have given up on the Sutters. I’m kind of glad I gave up my season tickets a few years back because the Flames are not good value . I know at the end of last season king commented why get rid of Sutter when 97% of the season ticket holders have renewed. Pretty arrogant.They need to bring back some exciting hockey. I’d like to be proven wrong but……..

    • It is still early in the season but there seems to a trend win a couple lose a few and when things tighten up after Xmas the flames are in more trouble as they haven’t played too many top teams yet

      Basically, it’s on the Flames to turn this thing around now…I don’t know if that’s GOING to happen or not, but right now, finishing November with a record of 5-8 or 6-7 probably isn’t going to cut it, especially when other teams are playing .500 hockey or better.

    • That’s actually not a terrible comparison when you look at some of the things being done on the ice…flying the zone, hanging by the offesnive blueline, etc.

      However, the difference to me would be the seeming effort level. I remember watching Ribiero in games for Montreal and you just could tell the guy didn’t really care at the time…that hasn’t been the case for Iginla. This whole thing is clearly frustrating the guy, and he certainly wants to rectify the situation quickly.