The stage was set. The Dome was packed and as the season opening video hit the jumbotron, it was enough to rile fans into a steady buzz. Armed with as many light-sticks as you could hold, when the music hit, the frenzy was too much to contain, and the fans were alive, and it felt like home again.
Needless to say, the events of the last four months were long forgotten, and all was forgiven.
As I sat in my seat, the fans all around were already beginning the season’s first pool. Who would score the Calgary’s first goal of the season? With names flying around, one fan made mention that Glencross was the odds on favorite since he had done it twice before andnow he was playing with Iggy and Tanguay. That seemed enough to convice the undecided in the area.
With a grin on my face, I turned to the gentleman and said, "My money’s on Backlund this year."
The one thing we were all hoping to see, what the Flames needed to have to set the stage for this season, was a fast start. Well the fans weren’t going to be disappointed. The Flames came out looking sharp and determined to set the pace.
Calgary immediately took the play to the Sharks. It looked like the high tempo, skill-oriented drills were coming to life in a game situation. Moving their feet and making that first good pass out of their zone, kept the Sharks on their heels and in most cases hemmed in their own zone. It seemed like it was only going to be a matter of time before the Flames put one in the back of net.
While many were waiting with baited breath to see how the captain would perform, it was Mikael Backlund that answered the bell. Backs came out looking like the #1 Centre we had all dreamed about; he was literally everywhere when his line was on the ice. The BBC (Baertschi, Backlund, Cammalleri) line drove the play, set up chances and the energy they brought to and from the bench set the example as to how the rest of the team played.
So who had Lee Stempniak in the first goal pool? Well when Martin Havlat took a penalty at the mid-point of the period it seemed possible for Glencross to tally the first goal yet again when he came out with Iggy and Cammalleri, while Tangs and Wideman manned the point for the first unit. When that didn’t pay off, out came Back’s line. Controlling the play in the Sharks zone, he dished the puck to Bouwmeester and went right for the net. Jay made a nice touch-pass to Stempniak, and he made no mistake; putting it past Niemi with a laser of a shot. Calgary out-shot San Jose 16-9 and it was 1-0 for the good guys.
The second period was un-eventful for the first half, both sides missing on a power-play each. At 13:45 though Chris Butler took a roughing penalty trying to remove Logan Couture from the side of Kipper’s crease. On the PP, Joe Thornton would steal the puck from Giordano behind the Flames net and feed a backhand pass to Patrick Marleau. An open Marleau in front of the net meant it was a tie game.
That seemed to be a big turning point in the game. At 15:05, Kipper would mis-handle Boyle’s shot from the point. Martin Havlat was waiting just off his left pad (how many times have Flames fans seen that?), and promptly deposited the bobbled puck behind Miikka. Then, at 18:10, Marleau would again be left open at the side of Kiprusoff’s net, needless to say, in just over four minutes of play, it was 3-1 for the bad guys. The sharks really took the play to the Flames in all areas and it showed, out-shooting them 14-4 in the second frame.
Behind the eight ball, the Flames came out with some push back in the third period. In fact they out shot the Sharks 7-0 to start the final frame, yet they couldn’t get the puck past Niemi. The Sharks seemed quite content to just hold on to the two goal lead and let the Flames fight their way into frustration. And that they did. At 16:13, Matt Stajan took a hooking penalty, which forced the PK to eat up valuable time, when the Flames had started to put some pressure on. After killing that off, frustration turned to collapse. At 18:36 Curtis Glencross would go to the box for tripping Havlat, and before they could even announce it, Baertschi was right behind him, tagged with holding. o.O
The full two minute two man advantage led to the goal from Dan Boyle, and that was the end of the home, and season, opener folks.
The Flames have a new "Hardest Player Award" this year; it’s a firefighters helmet. While the Flames spent the last two periods acting like fighters trying to put out fires, in the first, they were red hot.
Kipper played flawless for the first half of the game. The captain led the team with six shots on the night, but right behind him was Mikael Backlund with four. However, along with those four shots, he directly set up Baertschi for another two and was the catalyst in many of the Flames breakouts or movement into the offensive zone.
With that, I’m going to go with Backlund for the first game. Like I said, he was out there doing something every shift. He drove the play and created opportunities, even having a few near misses himself. At one point, he was like a beast behind the Sharks net, battling for the puck and dishing a beauty of a pass to Baertschi, which he put off the post.
Backs showed that he wanted to be a leader in this game and when the number one unit missed on the PP opportunity, he came in and helped the second unit get the job done. For a period when almost every line was greeted with ovations as they returned to the bench, Mikael’s fire burned the hottest.
We all know that it’s only game one right? So there is no need to bash the hell out of the panic button just yet.
The Flames played a first period that was almost exactly as what is designed for them to have success this year. Unfortunately, the Flames of last year showed up for the second period. You remember them right? Score one goal, then hold on for dear life and hope Kipper is perfect! *HeadShake* Instead, what was all to familiar to fans last year, reared it’s ugly head and the outcome??? All too predictable.
Some notes on the game. Alex Tanguay appeared to struggle in his first game as a centre. Asst. Coach Martin Gelinas said after the game that there were going to be some growing pains, but that Alex is a smart player and he’ll find his way soon. Let’s hope so Marty! Also I found it odd when I got to the Dome, to find out both Brodie and Jones were sitting in favour of ohhh say Begin and either Sarich or Smith. Though Begin was doing what they wanted him to do by getting in the middle of things with the Sharks, I expect Jones will draw into the line-up tomorrow. Jones is one of their better face-off centres and I have a feeling they will want him over the dot to go face to face with Ryan Getzlaf.
Tomorrow is a new day and with that a new opponent. The Anaheim Ducks are next on the dance card, and after seeing what they did to the Canucks in their opener, Calgary had better be prepared to get in the early habit of playing 60 bloody minutes.