FGD: Appoint This

In our fine country, senators are appointed by the Governor General and are able to serve until they turn 75.  The average age of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators is considerably less than three quarters of a century, but even with a young team, they’re off to a surprising start.  Tonight, the Calgary Flames welcome the Sens for the first of two meetings this season (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).

The Sens are 18 games into the season, which is a fairly decent sample size. A team many of us pegged to finish 30th in the NHL has won some hockey games, and have collected decent underlying numbers along the way. That said, the Flames have an opportunity to put back-to-back wins together for only the second time this season.  Calgary swept the season series last year and if they can do a lot of what they did for most of Friday’s loss in Chicago and parts of Saturday’s win in Denver, I think they’ll be all right in this one.

The Lineup

The Flames will be without David Moss tonight, as the capable forward misses his second game this season due to injury.  He went awkwardly into the boards Saturday against the Avalanche and didn’t return for the remainder of the game; it was deemed a lower body injury by the team.  Head Coach Brent Sutter hinted yesterday that it didn’t seem overly serious, which is good news for the team.  As a result, Matt Stajan returns to the lineup for Calgary after missing the prior two games as a healthy scratch.

Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-T.J. Brodie

I spoke to Mikael Backlund yesterday following his first two games of the season.  To this point, Backlund has looked extremely good, especially considering he missed the first 14 games of the season with a broken finger.  He spent a lot of time up in the press box watching the team play and gave an interesting quote when I asked him about how different it is watching from my vantage point as opposed to his, which is maybe a little closer to the action.

"If I would have been upstairs…against Colorado I wouldn’t have passed to Iggy, I would have shot the puck.  When you’re going and it’s tight games and there’s players all over you know, it’s tight.  But when you see it up there, you get a better view, you see everything is much slower and yeah it’s way easier.  You’re the best player in the world up there."

I sure have llked Brodie in his first two games this season, mostly because I haven’t noticed him.  Yes, he’s being used on the third pairing and not playing huge minutes, but when he’s out there 5-on-5, he’s been solid.  I think as he plays more and more, you’ll see him start jumping up into the play a little more but as it stands right now, he’s done the job in his own end and hasn’t made any glaring mistakes that stick out.

I had a hunch Henrik Karlsson might get the start in net for the Flames tonight, but it’ll be Miikka Kiprusoff once again, coming off a really strong outing against the Avalanche on Saturday.  Kipper had to make some spectacular saves in the final period of that game, and he’s been generally very good for the team so far this season.

The Opponent

As mentioned above, Ottawa is certainly playing a little better than a lot of us had thought they might early on this year.  A lot of credit seems to go to new Head Coach Paul MacLean who broughty with him some solid experience as an assistant, tutoring under that Babcock guy who coaches the Red Wings.  They’ve got the NHL’s third ranked powerplay and have put up some decent numbers offensively.

Jason Spezza leads the way in terms of scoring, with 17 points through Ottawa’s first 18 games, and I remain a large fan of the 28 year old centre.  Over the last number of seasons he’s started playing the tough matchup minutes while also seeing more and more time in his own end, and put together a really nice season one year ago.  This year, he’s been given some high ground and has done a good job taking advantage as a result.

The Sens are without a couple of regular forwards, as Peter Regin went down late in October with an injury to his surgically repaired shoulder.  It was a pretty serious bump, as he’s not expected back until late December, leaving Ottawa with a void down the middle.  Chris Neil is also on the shelf, gone for at least another week with an ankle injury suffered last week.

Colin Greening-Jason Spezza-Milan Michalek
Nick Foligno-Stephane Da Costa-Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins-Zack Smith-Erik Condra
Zenon Konopka-Jesse Winchester-Bobby Butler

Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen-Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips-David Runblad

It looks like Craig Anderson gets the start in net with subpar numbers all across the board.  His .896 save percentage is not what the Sens need if they’re going to stay competitive, but he is the guy who the team will roll with for the majority of the season.

The Story

Even with the decent start, the 8-9-1 Senators are still a beatable team and the Flames need do nothing more than stick to the same blueprint that has lead them to succses the past few weeks.  When it’s followed for the majority of a hockey game, Calgary can be a pretty competitive test.  When it isn’t, they can be a very beatable group themselves.  Sitting a game below .500, option is one is much more desirable at this point.

  • Senators are a very odd case. Their possession numbers are superficially good, but that’s because they have spent a lot of time trailing (and somehow coming back from deficits) so far. Their corsi tied number is actually just .488 and any player who spends any time in their top-6 is currently under water, including Spezza (.482) and Alfredsson (.488).

    The thing that has really floated them to their better than expected start is their 3rd rated PP (25%). Unfortunately for Sens fans, that’s all smoke and mirrors. They only average 43.9 shots/60 on the PP (22nd overall) and it’s a SH% of 21.3 (!!) at 5on4 that is elevating them. That’s not going to continue.

    That said, the Sens still aren’t bottom of the league terrible in any metric which is surprising. No Yakupov for them!

    • RexLibris

      No Yakupov indeed, although we can never discout the lottery (it worked for Chicago when they got Kane). While I still think they’ll be picking in the top 10, how funny is it that the Sens, who are already stacked full of defensive prospects, are going into year two of a rebuild with a draft that is knee deep in…defensive prospects. They might have to send away some serious defensive talent in a trade to recoup their deficit in offensive players (I’m using a Brent Burns-style trade as a positive example) and balance their team down the road.

      While I’d like to see Calgary get back into playoff contention here, I don’t know if you guys can handle that ‘stache of MacLean’s. It looks like it means business.

  • Derzie

    I’m happy the Flames are giving the kids a good look. I do however disagree that Brodie has been invisible. He scored a goal on Kipper and he’s made some cringe-worthy decisions. He generally is on the ice when the opposition keeps the puck and applies pressure. I still want to see him play as this stuff is expected but he’s visible to me for sure.