FGD: Into the Fire

A lot of consternation in Flamesland after the 6-3 loss to the Avs on Thursday, but from my angle the team has exceeded expectations from many angles through the early going. The results aren’t there and the goaltending has been *ahem* questionable, but the club has made a habit of outchancing and outshooting their opponents so far. With a few different bounces and an NHL-average Kipper, the Flames have a much better set of W-L numbers heading into tonight.

Chicago is probably the best team the Flames have faced thus far though. The Sharks are the only other true playoff caliber opponent Calgary has seen and they have some severe depth problems. Not so much for Chicago, who boast starts like Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook at the top-end of the roster and then quality depth options like Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik and David Bolland elsewhere.  The addition of Michal Roszival and Johnny Oduya in the off-season solidified their top-4 on the back-end as well, so there really is no obvious weakness to exploit on Chicago’s roster.

The Hawks haven’t lost in regulation this season, in part because of the quality of their line-up, but also because Corey Crawford is pulling a reverse-Kipper so far. Much maligned last year during an entirely mediocre season, Crawford has some out a put up a .934 SV% in 7 starts, including .930 at ES and a mind-boggling .968% on the PK. Obviously that’s not going to continue forever, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Crawford is better than what he seemed in 2011-12.

The Line-up

Out are Begin and Sarich, replaced by Comeau and Smith. The Butler-Sarich duo were victimized a couple of times last game and were an obvious sore spot on more than one occassion. Comeau is back to being one of the least popular Flames on the roster, but I think we can all agree he’s better than Begin.

  • Cammalleri – Tanguay – Iginla
  • Cervenka – Stajan – Hudler
  • Glencross – Backlund – Stempniak
  • Comeau – Jones – Jackman
  • Bouwmeester – Giordano
  • Wideman – Brodie
  • Smith – Butler
  • Kiprusoff

Word is Cammalleri will get elevated to the Iginla line today. Neither he nor Glencross had great games against Colorado, although that has been par for the course for Cammalleri thus far. He’s had a lot of problems executing all over the ice, so maybe Hartley is looking to get him some more ice time to help him find his legs.

With Glencross moving down to the Backlund line, I would suggest tonight would be a good point for the Flames new coach to start burying the bottom-6 in the defesive zone as much as possible. Last game the Iginla trio including Glencross generated the most chances at even strength (6) but also gave up the most against (5), whereas the Backlund unit only saw one chance against all night.

At best the top line is going to be even more "high event" with a struggling Cammalleri on the wing, so it would make sense to give the Backlund and Jones units the bulk of the own-zone draws.

The Opposition

  • Saad – Toews – Hossa
  • Sharp – Kruger – Kane
  • Bickell – Shaw – Stalberg
  • Bollig – Meyers – Frolik
  • Keith – Seabrook
  • Oduya – Hjalmarsson
  • Brookbank – Leddy
  • Emery

Okay maybe I exagerrated when I said there were NO weaknesses on this roster. For example, I have no idea what rookie Brandon saad is doing on the first line and I doubt it lasts more than a period. He’s a good quality prospect, but no way can he hang with Toews and Hossa at this point in his young career. Byron Bickell on the third line over Frolik is a baffling decision as well since Frolik has the best relative possession rate amongst regular forwards on the team. He still can’t seem to put a puck into the ocean, but even as a pure driver of the play he’s wasted on the fourth line.

Chicago’s third defense unit is pretty suspect as well, if only because the incorrigible Sheldon Brookbank is on it. 

Also odd in the early going for Chicago is the fact that Patrick Kane is getting his head absolutely beat in in terms of possession (-17.74 corsi/60) and it’s not like he is suddenly starting 70% of his shifts in the d-zone or anything. That’s the sort of rate goons, grinders and marginal AHLers put up, so it will be interesting to watch him to tonight to see just what is going on. The points are there for him right now, but that’s due to an on-ice SH% of 17.73% (which is more than double the league average). When that percentage regresses his results will crater if he continues to spend so much time in his own zone.

Sum It Up

The Hawks have a strong line-up with high-end talent and ga oalie playing over his head right now. The Flames have put together some strong performances but the goaltending has been poor so the record isn’t there. The best news for Calgary is the hawks played last night and lost in a shoot-out so they should be tired at least. In addition, Corey Crawford is taking a seat in favor of back-up Ray Emery, so that should help the Flames cause to some degree.