Four Games isn’t enough for anyone to be engaging in any sort of meaningful analysis unfortunately. Let’s put it this way, in the past I had counted 10-game samples where Matthew Lombardi led the team in possession rate. I always had a soft spot for Lombo, but he was never the best forward on this team at any point during his tenure here.
As noted previously, weird stuff is going to happen in small bursts, especially early in the seaason. With that caveat noted, here’s some of the surprises that have emerged from the Flames first 10 days of 2013.
1.) Lee Stempniak, Superstar!
He leads the team in points, plus/minus, powerplay goals and is second in shots on net to Jarome Iginla. And it’s not just the superficial numbers that are good for Stempniak. Of regular Calgary forwards, he currently has the best corsi rate as well.
Stempniak teamed up with Backlund much of the time last year and together they managed similarly good possession rates, so the corsi thing is nothing new. Still. beyond the numbers, Stempniak has passed the eye test as well – he looks like a man who hit the ground running coming out of the lock-out and has become a go-to player under Hartley. Previously a third line option, Stempniak has averaged more than 18 minutes of ice for the Flames new bench boss despite the team’s notable depth on the wings.
It’s unlikely Stempniak will continue to be a point-per-game player indefinitely given his career to date, but he’s certainly looking like a nice value signing at $2.5M per year.
2.) Brodie Overtakes Butler
TJ Brodie established himself as a capable 3rd pairing option last season and after taking against, obvious step forward in the AHL with the Heat scratching him in the Flames season opener seemed like an odd choice. The Flames lost and the kid got a chance the next game where he showcased the mobility and pin-point accurate headman passes that marked his performances in Abbotsford all year.
Since then he has moved up the rotation and landed onto the second pairing with Dennis Wideman.
What’s more surprising is his promotion has come at the expesne of Chris Butler, who spent almost all of last season facing the heavies with Jay Bouwmeester.
Now, there was always a sense that Bouwmeester was carrying Butler to a significant degree, in part because of the younger guy’s limited experience with toug minutes and in part because Butler visibly struggled to keep up some nights.
That said, it’s still unexpected to see him lose his spot in the lineup entriely, particularly to a sophomore. It’s a situation that might not persist long-term, although Brodie hasn’t stumbled at all in his new role so far.
3.) Flames Powerful PP
Last year the Flames man advantage was actually pretty effective, finishing 13th overall with a 17.7% success rate. The team was only middling in terms of actually getting shots on net and in fact was one of the worst clubs in the league in terms of shots/60 minutes of play through the first few months.
Calgary has scored on 29.4% of their PP’s so far this year (4th overall), but even more impressive is the fact they’re currently third in the league with an average of 64.6 shots/hour at 5on4. In contrast, they were at just 48.6 last season.
Maybe it’s just a nice run over 4 games or maybe the new coaching staff and roster additions really have improved Calgary’s man advantage to a significant degree. We’ll only know for sure at the end of the year.
4.) Fast Starting Jarome
If I was asked to bet on anything coming out of the work stoppage I would have put my money on Jarome Iginla having a slow start to the season. He didn’t play during the lock-out and will be 36 years old come July. It was a pefect recipe for the captain to spend the first 10+ games finding his legs. Add in Alex Tanguay trying to figure out how to play center at the NHL level again and you had a recipe for a problematic first line.
Instead, Iginla has played like a man who shed a few years in the off-season. Some persistently poor habits that had creeped into his game the last few years (skating into coverage in the shallow end of the offensive zone, giving the puck away in the neutral zone, etc.) have been refreshingly absent from his game so far this season. He’s never going to be a paragon of defensive acumen, but Iginla has seemed quicker and more involved all over the ice than I remember him under Sutter.
What’s more, he’s consistently dangerous in the offensive zone again as demonstrated by his 19 shots on goal (4.5/game). Iginla’s shot rate has consistently fallen since 2008-09 0 last year his 251 in 82 games (3.01) were the fewest he’d managed since 2000-01.
The points haven’t really been there for Iginla so far (3 assists in 4 games) but they will if he continues to play like this.
5.) The Oilers Still Suck
Haha, just kidding. That’s not a surprise.