FGD: Oh Captain, My Captain

Coming off their first win of the season on Thursday night, the Calgary Flames finish a three game road trip tonight in Toronto, taking on the Maple Leafs for one of two meetings this season (5 pm, CBC and Sportsnet 960).  The Flames and Leafs will be forever linked to their blockbuster trade from January 2010, a deal that saw Toronto get their new captain Dion Phaneuf.

The Flames put forth a solid effort Thursday in Montreal, topping the Canadiens 4-1 in a game where Calgary did more than enough to win the hockey game.  They did a good job generating scoring chances when they had offensive possession, and they played a strong game defensively as well.  Add on a solid Miikka Kiprusoff outing and it spelled a Flames win, after two largely unimpressive games to start the season.

The Lineup

Even though Calgary didn’t roll lines prior to Thursday’s game, they stuck with the same lines for the most part, with the top line having their best night so far.  Alex Tanguay was dangerous both on the powerplay and even strength while David Moss looked much more comfortable playing between Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.  I know Moss isn’t the 100% ideal choice with those two, mostly because he’s played wing most of his NHL career, but he did a good job against Montreal.

Overall, all 12 forwards had strong games against the Habs, as it was tough to pick out a performance that you really didn’t like.  If the Flames find a way to do this on a regular basis, they aren’t going to win every game, because some teams are better than they are regardless of how Calgary plays.  However, that even keel up and down the lineup is the hallmark of a successful Flames team.

Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman-Roman Horak-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-Anton Babchuk

I kept a close eye on the pairing of Bouwmeester and Butler on Thursday, and much like most players, I felt they had an improved game compared to the prior two.  I know Bo’s $6.7 million cap hit carries with it certain expectations, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that those may not be met.  However, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the highest paid player on the team to at the very least be steady, and I felt he and his partner were just that against Montreal.

Anton Babchuk returns to the lineup after missing two games as a healthy scratch.  It looks like Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net, searching for his 264th career victory, which would further a new Flames record.  He had a nice game last time out, making some key stops early in the first period and into the second frame.

The Opponent

While we may not love the Toronto Maple Leafs out west, you can’t deny that GM Brian Burke seems to have them heading in the right direction.  He’s built a deep blueline, which yes, is anchored by Phaneuf.  Whether you believe Dion is worth his large cap hit is one thing, but I certainly took notice of his second half last year, after he made his way back from a fairly serious skate-related injury.

Phaneuf played among the toughest competition for Toronto from January on, which isn’t necessarily new for him, as he did that during his time with the Flames as well.  However, doing that in Calgary wasn’t met with the most success, and it’s been a whole lot better as of late.  He has three points in the first two games for Toronto.

Clarke MacArthur-Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Matt Frattin-Matthew Lombardi-Colby Armstrong
Mike Brown-David Steckel-Phillipe Dupuis

Carl Gunnarson-Dion Phaneuf
John Michael Liles-Luke Schenn
Cody Franson-Mike Komisarek

I really like Toronto’s top line, as both Grabovski and Kulemin are quality hockey players.  The Belarussian Grabovski particularly intrigues me, because he seems to have finally gotten it.  Last year, he had strong possession numbers playing tough opposition and was almost an even split when it came to zone starts.  He took some real steps, and this is a player who can be a handful when on.

A couple lineup notes regarding the Leafs: MacArthur will be playing his first game of the season, after missing two games serving a suspension stemming from a preseason incident.  His career 21 goal and 62 point season came from strong play on his part and a very good mesh with his linemates.  It’s also the first game for Cody Franson, after sitting the first two games as a healthy scratch.

Oh yeah, there’s one other former Flames player suiting up in blue (or white, who knows) tonight.  Fan favorite Matthew Lombardi has played the first two games of the season, which is quite the feat knowing how serious a concussion he suffered early last year when playing with Nashville.  There was a time when the question was if, not when, he’d resume his NHL career, so seeing him return is really promising.  He came to Toronto along with Franson this offseason.

The Story

While many will be focusing on Dion and another rematch between these two trade partners, I’m more focused on what the Calgary Flames need to do tonight.  They’ve got a six game homestand following this, which starts Tuesday against Edmonton.  The Flames can be .500 at best to start that, so be .500 and put yourself on even footing to potentially make some headway at the ‘Dome.  Putting a similar effort on the ice to the one they had in Montreal is a start.

  • Haven’t seen this tidbit of news around here, but thought I’d share since it’s Flames related.

    According to Bob McKenzie’s Twitter, John Negrin has been demoted to the ECHL Utah team. Bad news for him and his development apparently.

    Hopefully tonight’s game isn’t another score-fest like the OTT/TOR game the other night. No Kessel hat tricks. And, hopefully, Phaneuf doesn’t do something stupid and wreckless like bash Iginla’s head in, just to “prove” that we shouldn’t have trade him. I can see him doing something like that.

    • This doesn’t surprise me at all(Negrin), A new GM moves in and doesn’t value the former GMs, picks/prospects as he will his own, and Feaster has brough in a bunch of Dmen to take spots in Abbotsford(Henry, Wilson, Martin from the kootney Ice), combine them with Piskula, Brodie and Breen and suddenly you have a full D squad. Moving Negrin to the ECHL is a little indicitive of where the organization views him, but alsio may give him playing time vs being the healthy scratch.

      ALSO GO FLAMES GO! I’m hoping for a Flames win, goals from Iginla, Stajan and Bouwmeester.

  • RKD

    Should be a great game tonight. Hopefully, there’s some extra motivation for Hagman, Stajan and Stempniak. Just like there will be for Phaneuf and Lombardi. Same for Gio who is from T.O.

    The Flames need to come out aggressive in the first period. The Leafs will be rusty and probably will not be skating that well after a week off.

    I would love to see Iginla fight Phaneuf, preferably at the end of the game with the Flames winning of course.

    Hopefully, Dion doesn’t catch any of the Flames with their head down. When Phaneuf goes east to west or vice versa for a hit, look out.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I was one of those not too happy with the Phaneuf deal at the time; too much upside. As it stands now for Calgary, that deal is as follows: Phaneuf, Aulie for Stajan, Hagman, Babchuk & Kostopolous.

    Stajan is a 3.5 mil 4th line center flirting with demotion – Feaster likely looking for a buyer at some point this year. Hagman – 3 mil 4th line winger will not be re-signed; more likely traded during the year, Babchuk – a 2.5 mil healthy scratch with some glaring weaknesses in his own end. Kosto – replacement level aging 4th liner.

    I was watching that Ottawa Toronto game the other night when Phaneuf levelled that young kid. That’s something I miss that this Calgary team no longer has (I guess Sarich to some degree). Someone to lower the boom & get the crowd going. Sure Dion frustrated when he missed the net a lot on with his shot, but he seems to have more piss, vinegar & want than Bouwmeester.

  • Pat I feel like you giving alot of respect to the Leafs and i’m not certain why. Saying Burke has the direction of the francise going right? Or that its a good top line? I think thats some rose coloured spectales that you are bearing my friend… You know way more about the game than I do but I really don’t see how either of these statements hold any water.

    I do think its a good physical game tonight. Dion will be fired up but I think our guys will meet the challenge. I expect it to be a fiesty game and I do expect the flames to come out on top. I never make predictions but here it goes… I’m saying its a 4-2 win, with the 4th goal being an empty netter!

    • Guy, they are going in the right direction. I don’t know how you can say the first line isn’t good. It’s young and talented. Grabovski killed possession last year and drove his line. Talking to some hooked in hockey people this year, they rave about he and Kulemin, so I’ll take their words.

      Deep blueline, and they’re a team that should compete for a playoff spot.

      That said, I still think Calgary can win this game if they play a similar game to Thursday.

      • RexLibris

        I don’t know if I would qualify their blue line as “Deep”, they have what I would call a Solid top 4, but those bottom two, Komisarek alone is enough to nuke a pairing, Franson is good, but he was the most sheltered Dman on the Preds last year, and that includes O’Brien I believe(can’t access the site through work computer), he got the best zone starts out of all the D pairings. Plus Gardiner was playing ahead of him, so I don’t know about him.

      • Emir

        that’s true without a doubt. I just don’t think that its enough to say its a good top line, promising for sure but I’m conservative on calling it good just yet.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Having let my feelings known on the Phaneuf trade, I do want to make it known that I agree with Emir & think Calgary will win tonight.

    Toronto will come out sluggish.

  • It was a terrible deal for Calgary but I’m past it, just like the infamous Gilmour deal. I have never forgiven Risebrough & Darryl has at least given me things to cheer about but that fateful month of Jan 2010 was the low of DS & beginning of his inevitable exit & spiral of the team. Just another deal we totally got hosed on. Thing is, Dion was playing the worst hockey of his junior & professional career and his value was dwindling fast. The decision to trade him isnt the issue, he needed to go on many levels. The return, well that’s where the fail miserably happened. I’m glad for Dion that he has elevated his play back up, good for him, the talent has always been there. We could of & should have gotten a very high end prospect & 1st rounder for Dion. 90% of the GMs in the league would have gotten that better return, I think, many of us know that, which is why we are terrified to see what returns we get from our new GM in future major trades coming to theater near you soon.

  • RexLibris

    Given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Flames thus far and Toronto’s play-to-date, I’d have to say that I’d be picking Toronto to win. And that is definitely not because they are Toronto.

    I’ll say this though, this game is probably given much closer odds than my Oilers get tonight against the Canucks.