2010-2011 NHL season preview: Calgary Flames

jaromeiginla2.jpgLast season: (40-32-10, 90 points, 3rd in Northwest Division, t-9th in Western Conference) The Flames just missed out on the playoffs last year, finishing five points behind Colorado in the standings. For Calgary, times were tough as Jarome Iginla struggled and the team got virtually no secondary scoring. Rene Bourque did his part to help, but this team had no jump late in the season.

Head coach: Brent Sutter enters his second season as head coach. After a rather uninspiring season, expectations for what Sutter can do to help keep the Flames locked in and in the hunt for the playoffs are tenuous at best. There’s good talent here, but there are cap woes to deal with and Brent’s brother, Daryl, brought back some ghosts from Calgary’s past to try and improve things. Brent Sutter’s job is safe as long as his brother is still the GM.

Key departures: F Nigel Dawes, F Chris Higgins, F Eric Nystrom. Not exactly a murderer’s row. It’s not fair to put both Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan on this list, but clearly their injuries and however long they’re out for this season will have a drastic effect on the Flames chances this season.

Key arrivals: F Alex Tanguay, F Olli Jokinen, F Raitis Ivanans, F Ryan Stone, F Tim Jackman. All right, on paper the Flames improved themselves. However, the quality of that paper is highly questionable. Jokinen and Tanguay both struggled in Calgary and were sent unceremoniously packing out of town, Tanguay after the 07-08 season, Jokinen in an early season trade with the Rangers just last year. Now they’ll be on the first line with Iginla looking to lead the team to the playoffs. Even Curious George finds this situation to be amazing. Ivanans and Jackman will be the muscle on the fourth line while Stone will potentially get forced into action thanks to injuries to two of the Flames top centers. Good times.

Under pressure: Daryl Sutter. If you thought the pressure was on Iginla to carry this team to the playoffs, you’re nuts. He does the best he can with what he’s got. Instead, the focus goes on Sutter because this fascinating creation of a roster is up to him. If his brother Brent can’t get the team to win, the cries for both of them to get out of Calgary will become deafening.

miikkakiprusoff1.jpgProtecting the house: Miikka Kiprusoff is the man and one of the main reasons why the Flames do as well as they have, even when things aren’t all that inspiring. He’ll play more than 65 games if he’s healthy enough to do so and while that might be an issue come playoff time, the Flames would like to get there first. Backing up Kiprusoff will be either Leland Irving or Henrik Karlsson, the loser of that battle heads to Abbotsford of the AHL. Of course the winner gets to play sparsely and mop up if Kiprusoff has an off night. The life of a backup goalie was never said to be a glamorous one.

Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Ian White, and Mark Giordano make up a fairly solid top four along the blue line. Steve Staios, Cory Sarich and Adam Pardy are there as well. Ideally with these seven, the Flames should have no problems on defense. With all the injury problems the forwards seem to have, keeping the defensive unit healthy and all together is a blessing. These guys won’t score much (Ian White did have 13 goals last season) but keeping the other team off the board will be their job. The Flames won’t dare try to be a run-and-gun team.

Top line we’d like to see: As if there was a doubt? Tanguay-Jokinen-Iginla. This will be the top line unless Brent Sutter loses his mind or youngster Mikael Backlund forces someone’s hand and moves to the top line. This will be like a franchise sport science experiment. The fans are baffled as to why Jokinen was brought back and scratched their heads at the signing of Tanguay. If things don’t pan out, it will be proof that you can’t go home again because the Calgary fans will go ape-nuts if the “chemistry” these three players had at one time doesn’t return. Keep the popcorn ready to watch this season-long soap opera play out.

Oh captain, my captain: Iginla is the captain and rightfully so as he and Kiprusoff have been the sole reason to watch the Flames the last few seasons. Iginla leads the team in scoring year in and year out and leads through his play on the ice. He scores, he fights, he hits, he’s every TV announcer’s man-crush.

Street fighting man: Take your pick between Ivanans and Tim Jackman. Jackman had 10 fights last year with the Islanders in limited duty and Ivanans, a monstrous figure at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, had 14. Should both of these guys get into the lineup at the same time, they might just fight each other if they can’t land an opponent to brawl with.

Best-case scenario: Jokinen and Tanguay use their pride to their advantage and go back to when they were both hugely productive players and help Iginla get to 50 goals while lighting up the scoreboard themselves. Stajan and Langkow recover from their injuries and bounce back with solid seasons. Mikael Backlund has a breakout season while Kiprusoff and the defense do their thing keeping everyone off the board. Mark Giordano adds another solid season to his resume while Bouwmeester ceases to be the invisible man in Calgary leading the Flames to a second-place finish in the division and a spot in the lower pack of the playoff race.

Worst-case scenario: Unabashed chaos breaks loose when Jokinen and Tanguay can’t reignite the old chemistry with Iginla and the line is broken up. Langkow and Stajan’s injury recoveries go slowly and with the lack of offense, the weight on Kiprusoff’s shoulders becomes too heavy to bear. Losing too many 2-1 games would make anyone crazy. Pressure to do something causes Flames ownership to step in and relieve the Sutter brothers of their jobs and start figuring things out for next season after finishing out of the playoffs.

Keeping it real: This is a perfectly average team. In the Eastern Conference they’d be able to sneak around better and their shortcomings wouldn’t be as painful and making the playoffs would be conceivably easier. In the Western Conference, however, times are tougher. What will keep Calgary motivated and afloat is that their division is not good. Getting to play a slew of your games against a potentially bad Minnesota team, a very young and goaltending-iffy Oilers team, and a Colorado team allergic to defense will keep you in the hunt. Forget about beating Vancouver though. The Flames can hang around and challenge for a seven or eight seed in the playoffs if things go well enough.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and a five being the best, the Flames are a practical 3. They’re not terrible, they’re not great, they’re an ideal middle-of-the-pack team in the West. If they make the playoffs, they could cause problems for a round if things go right, but overall you look at the team and you’re left unimpressed.

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    Vasilevskiy to get ‘more games’ as Bolts look to future

    CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    On July 1, when the Tampa Bay Lightning gave Andrei Vasilevskiy a contract extension through 2019-20, they essentially committed to a changing of the guard in goal.

    Though Ben Bishop remains with the team today, he’s a pending unrestricted free agent who’s not expected to re-sign, and may even be traded prior to the March 1 deadline.

    The situation leaves head coach Jon Cooper with a challenge. Vasilevskiy only started 21 games last season, in large part because Bishop was so good. But if Vasilevskiy is the goalie of the future, he needs to play.

    “The one thing is, you got to get Vasilevskiy more games. It’s what’s best for our team and what’s best for him,” Cooper told ESPN.com on Monday. “But you have to keep Bish engaged too, because he’s a two-time Vezina finalist the last three years and he’s a big reason we are where we are today. So there’s a balance. But if you really think about it, you start getting into the crux of the season, you’re playing 3-4 games a week, guys are getting in. I just want to find a way to have both guys play every week. It’s my job to find a way to get them in, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

    So far this season, Bishop has started three games and Vasilevskiy two. The youngster, just 22 years old, has been excellent, going 2-0-0 with a .952 save percentage. Bishop, on the other hand, has allowed 11 goals in his three starts, for a save percentage of just .861.

    It’s still early, but it’s going to be very interesting to see how this shakes out. If Vasilevskiy is still playing well by the trade deadline, GM Steve Yzerman may be tempted to deal Bishop. But then again, it’s always nice to have two capable netminders heading into the playoffs, as the Lightning know better than anyone that goalies can get hurt.

    The Bolts are currently on a six-game road trip. They started with a win Saturday in Ottawa, with Vasilevskiy between the pipes. They play tonight in Toronto and Thursday in Montreal, before hitting the New York area for games against the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders.

    B’s goalie drama continues — McIntyre the second emergency recall in as many days

    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    Tough, tough times in goal for Boston.

    Yesterday, we passed along word that Malcolm Subban had been recalled from AHL Providence — on an emergency basis — after Tuukka Rask missed practice with an injury, and Anton Khudobin was hurt during that same practice.

    Today, another recall.

    Zane McIntyre has also been brought up on an emergency basis, the B’s announced. They also announced that Khudobin would miss the next three weeks with an upper-body ailment, meaning that — for tonight’s home date at Minnesota — it will be Subban and McIntyre as the club’s goalies.

    Subban will get the start, and McIntyre will back up.

    Subban, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, has had a nightmare start to the year in Providence, going 0-3-1 with a 4.50 GAA and .846 save percentage.

    “I don’t know if he’s where he wants to be or where we want him to be,” head coach Kevin Dean said, per the Journal.

    McIntyre, the 24 year old taken in the sixth round in 2010, has fared much better, going 1-0-0 with a .977 save percentage and 0.44 GAA. To be fair, he’s only faced 43 shots in Providence this year.

    McIntyre had already been called up earlier this season — over the weekend, when Rask was initially lost to injury. Boston’s No. 1 netminder isn’t believed to be out long term (head coach Claude Julien said he’s not worried about Rask’s health situation), but that won’t make tonight’s scenario any less worrisome.


    NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27:  Michael Raffl #12 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks to pass as Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres defends in the second period on October 27, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    NBCSN has a doubleheader tonight and it begins at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Buffalo Sabres. Following that game, the Anaheim Ducks will take on the Sharks in San Jose at 10:00 p.m. ET. To watch the early game online, click here. To watch the late game online, click here.

    The Flyers will be playing their second game in two nights, as they dropped a 3-1 decision in Montreal last night.

    Philadelphia had some good scoring opportunities, but they were held to one goal mainly because Canadiens goalie Carey Price put together a strong performance.

    “We definitely wanted to come in here and get two points and it’s disappointing with the loss,” Steve Mason said, per CSN Philly. “Nice thing is, we can get right back at it tomorrow [against Buffalo].

    “It was a close game overall and both teams had chances to go ahead. They capitalized on a couple bounces there and that’s the ebbs and flows of the game. They found a way to win and we didn’t.”

    After opening the season with three straight losses, the Flyers managed to string together back-to-back wins before Monday’s loss.

    The Sabres will be playing their fourth and final game of a road trip that saw them win big in Edmonton, lose in overtime to Calgary and lose a close one to Vancouver.

    Expect them to make some small changes ahead of tonight’s tilt in Philly.

    In an attempt to get Sam Reinhart going, the Sabres will move him back to center where he’ll play with Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons.

    With Jack Eichel and Evander Kane still out, Matt Moulson will jump onto the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo.

    “We’ve got six goals in one game,” head coach Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “You subtract that, we’ve got four in the other three games. We need to get more goals. We need to get more goals throughout.”

    In the late game…

    After winning their first two games of the season, the Sharks have been slumping of late. It’s still too early to say that they’re suffering from a Stanley Cup  Final “hangover” though.

    San Jose enters tonight’s contest having lost three of their last four contests.

    This will be their first game back home after their five-game road trip that saw them travel to play the Blue Jackets, Rangers, Islanders, Penguins and Red Wings.

    The team’s power play has been a big problem so far this season. They’ve converted on just 3 of 20 attempts on the man-advantage and as CSN Bay Area points out, just one of those goals came on a five-on-four power play.

    “We’re not shooting the puck enough, that’s the big thing,” Logan Couture said, per CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to shoot the puck, get traffic. We always have a guy in front of the net and we’ve been getting away from that.”

    When San Jose hit the ice on Monday, they had completely different lines (the top power play unit stayed the same).

    Mikkel Boedker was on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, while Couture practiced between Joonas Donskoi and Joel Ward. Tomas Hertl was with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto on the third line.

    Only one point separates the Sharks (3-3-0) and Ducks (2-3-1) through six games, but things are a little more positive in Anaheim right now.

    They’re coming off back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Vancouver, and they believe that they’ve turned the corner.

    “I think we’re at a point where we’ve built our game enough where we should feel confident playing a team like San Jose,” forward Andrew Cogilano said, per the OC Register. “They’re good. They’re going to make it very hard on us and I think it’s going to show how prepared we are. How far we’ve come from maybe the first couple of games of the season. And if our game is here to stay.”

    Report: Anders Lindback will join injury-riddled Kings

    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 17:  Goaltender Anders Lindback #29 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Gila River Arena on December 17, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Blue Jackets defeated the Coyotes 7-5.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    The Los Angeles Kings have reportedly found a goalie to fill in for Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff.

    According to a report out of Sweden, Anders Lindback will be joining the Kings on a “short-term contract”.

    Lindback spent training camp with the New Jersey Devils, where he played well, but the team ultimately decided to stick with Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid.

    If you count the PTO with the Devils, this will be his seventh team in the last six seasons.

    The 28-year-old spent the 2015-16 campaign with the Arizona Coyotes. He had a 5-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals-against-average and a .894 save percentage in 19 appearances.

    This isn’t a long-term solution for the Kings, but at least it’s an affordable one.


    Kings expect Quick to miss about three months

    Zatkoff injures groin during morning skate