Sticking with the theme playing the same teams over and over again in a short period of time, Flames meet the Blue Jackets in Columbus tonight just eight days after beating them 3-2 in OT. The Flames capitalized on a shaky Steve Mason to build an early lead in that one and then let the Blue Jackets (read: Rick Nash) claw back into things before finishing them off in overtime.
The picture was marginally rosier at that point: the Flames were looking at a schedule featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs, two games against the Wild and then the same Blue Jackets they had just defeated. A four-and-oh record seemed distinctly possible and would have catapulted the Flames over some of their contemporaries in the Western Conference basement. Alas.
With events unfolding as they have, tonight’s contest is far more important to the Blue Jackets than it is to the Flames. Columbus sits four points out of a playoff spot with a game or two in hand on the guys they’re chasing. A win this evening will not only further distance them from the bottom tier clubs like Calgary, but tie them with the likes of Phoenix and Los Angeles for 9th in the WC.
Back in the fold for Columbus is former Flame Kristian Huselius. A guy claimed off the scrap heap in Florida (discarded needlessly by Mike Keenan), Huselius quickly became one of Darryl Sutter’s most successful reclamation projects. He managed 39 points in 54 games with Calgary his first (half) season and then scored a career high 77 points the following year, finishing behind Jarome Iginla (94) and Alex Tanguay (81) for the team lead. Juice would manage 25 goals and 66 points under Keenan during his final year as a Flame, despite floundering in the final quarter of the year and subsequently being benched by Iron Mike. The writing was on the wall at that point with Huselius bolting for free agency, eventually signing with the Blue Jackets. He has finished second and third in scoring on that club since arriving.
Huselius is an interesting player in many ways. A lanky, somewhat awkward skater, he is nevertheless a wizard with the puck and a master at controlling play with the man advantage. Huselius has excellent vision and an ability to thread both passes and shots through traffic as well as dangle around individual defensemen. During his time in Calgary, no other player was more efficient at producing points on the power play.
Reputed to be a liability at even strength because of his soft play, Huselius arrived in town as a described one-dimensional forward. That stigma stuck with him despite the fact he was never under water as a Flame in terms of possession: for instance, his corsi rate in 07-08 was +14.78/60 – second on the team to Daymond Langkow that year (+15.12). Huselius was always one of the club’s top point getters at ES as well and never finished under water in terms of plus/minus in Calgary. There was a time during his final season in town that he, Langkow and Iginla formed one of the most potent trios in the league, exploding during a six-game road trip in December that was seen as a season saving winning streak at the time.
Because he doesn’t fit the profile of the prototypical hockey player, Juice became known as much for his flaws as his strengths by the end of his tenure here. His perceived inconsistency and less than rough-and-tumble style of play irked Mike Keenan and it punched his ticket out of town. When the Blue Jackets landed him for $4.75 million per year, it was roundly declared to be a gross overpay.
In retrospect, however, Juice is a guy I wish the team had found a way to keep, even at that price point. He’s not a perfect player by any means, but he brings a lot of the qualities to the game the current team sorely lacks.