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.
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.
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.
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.