After the rough start and tough loss against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames have pulled out of the season opening tailspin with back-to-back wins over Detroit and Columbus. Neither was an overwhelming effort and you can argue both could have gone the other way, but Calgary wasn’t exactly "lucky" to win both either. They battled the the depleted Red Wings to about even in terms of scoring chances and limited them to just six shots on net when Detroit was chasing in the third. In Columbus, Calgary came out of the gate really flat but turned things around in the second and mostly dominated the rest of the way.
Backlund’s Hard Luck
– Mikael Backlund’s redemption season seemed to be on track, especially when his turn with the Czechs last night resulted in his third goal of the season. And then he got hurt again.
No word on the severity of the injury right now, but it’s doubtful he will be available for the Canucks game. The last thing Backlund needs at this point of his career is another long-term affliction, especially with pucks going in for him and people starting to notice he’s a quality player.
Furthermore, the Flames can’t really afford to see Backlund go down long-term given their already tenuous situation down the middle as it is. Backlund is the Flames best possession pivot by a fair margin and the depth chart without him (and Cammalleri) looks like this: Tanguay (not really a center) – Stajan – Jones – (?)Horak, Street. Moving Hduler or Cervenka to the middle is also an option I suppose.
Kneel Before TJ!
– On the good news front, how about TJ Brodie? I have been high on the kid for awhile and was intrigued by his play in the AHL this season during the lock-out, but his noteworthy performance so far in the NHL is surprising even to me. Promoted to the second pairing after game two, Brodie is nevertheless leading the Flames back-end in corsi (a staggering +22.30/60) and his zone start ratio is only 50%. Last night, he finished with over 20 minutes of ice, two assists and a +3 rating.
Our perception of the sophomore is no doubt being pumped up by a lucky run (PDO is a team high 106), but his other results are very good and his play by eye has matched.
Make no mistake, Hartley is still being somewhat careful with the lad: Brodie sees next to no time on the PK and the head coach is burying the rest of the blueline in terms of quality of competition (Bouwmeester and Giordano) or zone starts (everyone else), so the kid isn’t hiking too far uphill. Still, it’s hard to get over just how good Brodie has been thus far.
Iginla is Fine
– In recent games, I’ve noticed a shift in how Hartley deploys the PP units. To start the year, it was pretty much all Iginla/Tanguay/Cammalleri. I’d say that general grouping would get about 80% of the minutes. With Cervenka, Glencross, Stempniak and Hudler in the line-up and playing well, the split between the first first and second units is much closer to 50/05. In fact, Iginla isn’t starting ever PP for the first time in forever. It’s the right decision.
Also, anyone worried about Iginla’s goal total shouldn’t be. He’s shooting just 3% through the first 8 games, but is averaging about 4 shots per game. Jarome still isn’t the best two-way player and I still think he’d be better served not seeing so much ice time against the other team’s best starts every night, but he’s certainly still capable of potting more than a few goals. He’ll get going eventually.
Irving Now, Taylor Later
– I don’t really fall on one side or the other when it comes to the Irving/Taylor debate. Logically if Taylor was better than Irving at the AHL level then it follows he is better than Irving at the NHL level. That said, Irving has been fine in his first two outings (not great, but fine) so the organization might as well give him rope to see if he’ll thrive or hang himself. If Irving stumbles in Kipper’s absence, then see what you have in Taylor.
Whatever happens, I hope the club gives Taylor some time at the NHL level this season. His results the last 3 seasons and the fact he usurped Irving in Abbotsford suggests the organization might have something on their hands. It’s worth giving him a shot either now or later to see if he’s something more than just a good AHL ‘tender. Especially considering the organization’s uncertain goalie situation beyond 2013.
– On a personal note, I want to add that this year’s iteration of the team thus far is much more interesting to watch on a pure entertainment basis – and this is coming form someone who is entirely skeptical about the club’s future and direction.
By about the middle of February last year, after watching game after game of the Flames being fed their lunch in terms of shots and chances and will no apparent sunrise on the horizon, I’ll admit I became weary of Flames hockey. I provided what interest and analysis I could for the site, but eventually I began to approach the games with something akin to apathy.
We’re not even 10 games in yet so we don’t really know how indicative this small sample will be of the rest of the season. Still, it’s been refreshing.
– In addition, Left Wing Lock has added a line matchup tool at their site here. This allows you to see what % of ice time each player/line spent against other players each night. LWL has other tools worth checking out too.
– Mak sure to swing by JetsNation.ca to check out the contributions of JN hopefuls. We’re putting out 3 to 4 articles a day from the applicants over the rest of Februar and there has been some good material so far.