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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    PHT Morning Skate: What should your team be thankful for?

    Henrik Lundqvist
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    PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

    No matter how they’re playing, each NHL team has something to be thankful for. (USA Today)

    Read an excerpt from former NHLer Patrick O’Sullivan’s book “Breaking Away”. O’Sullivan talks about growing up with an abusive father. (ESPN)

    NHL.com takes a look at the 12 biggest surprises at the quarter mark of the season. (NHL.com)

    Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Flyers and Islanders:

    Mark and Marty Howe do a Q & A with Sports Illustrated’s Sarah Barshop. (Sports Illustrated)

    “My goal is to get back into the NHL and I’m working out hard to do that.” Mike Richards speaks to the Waterloo Region Record about waiting for another opportunity. (Waterloo Region Record)

    After scoring against the Blues, Sidney Crosby has crossed every team off his hit list.

    Patrick Kane’s scoring streak > Sharks’ winning run on Wednesday


    SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Patrick Kane had two assists to extend his career-best scoring streak to 17 games, leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

    Kane set up Brent Seabrook on Chicago’s first goal and also got a helper on Duncan Keith‘s second-period goal to give him 28 points during the streak.

    Jonathan Toews and former Shark Andrew Desjardins also scored for Chicago. Andrew Shaw added an empty-netter for the Blackhawks, who improved to 2-1-1 on their annual circus road trip. The six-game swing concludes this weekend with games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

    Corey Crawford made 27 saves.

    Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who returned home from a 6-0 road trip to lose once again at the Shark Tank. San Jose fell to 3-6 at home this season after dropping 22 games here last season – their most since 1996-97. The Sharks had earned the most points at home in the NHL over the previous nine seasons.

    Martin Jones made 21 saves.

    After a slow start in their first game back from the perfect road trip, the Sharks found their legs late in the first period and tied the game at 1 when Burns scored on a one-timer from Joe Pavelski on the power play. It was San Jose’s first goal at home with the man advantage all season after 21 failed chances.

    But the tie lasted just 88 seconds before Ryan Garbutt sprung Toews on a 2-on-1 and the Chicago captain beat Jones with a shot high to the glove side.

    The Blackhawks added to the lead midway through the second period when Keith sent what looked like an innocent shot in from the boards only to see it elude Jones to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.

    The Blackhawks then killed off two power plays early in the third before Marleau made it a one-goal game when he beat Crawford with a wrist shot off a faceoff win in the offensive zone with 8:40 to play.

    Desjardins restored the two-goal lead 1:07 later when he scored his first of the season on a rebound.

    Fresh off their annual stop in Las Vegas during their November road trip when the circus is in town, the Blackhawks started fast. They got the first eight shots on goal and took a 1-0 lead midway through the period when Kane set up Seabrook with a one-timer that beat Jones.

    San Jose took more than 13 minutes before getting its first shot on goal.

    NOTES: The Blackhawks have one regulation loss in their past 10 games against the Sharks. … Dainius Zubrus made his debut with San Jose on the fourth line after signing a contract Tuesday. … Sharks D Justin Braun was scratched with an upper-body injury.

    Same story, different location? Isles foil flat Flyers


    NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders distaste for the Philadelphia Flyers clearly came with them during their move to Brooklyn. Seeing their nemesis Wednesday night brought out some needed emotion.

    “We needed a good, hard, physical game like that,” Casey Cizikas said after the Islanders beat the Flyers 3-1 in a rough-and-tumble affair.

    “Those games are fun. When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that, that’s what makes the game of hockey so much fun. I think we thrived off of that.”

    Jaroslav Halak made 17 saves and Kyle Okposo put the Islanders ahead early in the second period. Cizikas and Frans Nielsen also scored and the Islanders improved to 11-8-3 by snapping a two-game losing streak.

    Steve Mason made 33 saves and Claude Giroux scored the Flyers’ lone goal.

    Philadelphia has lost four of five and fell to 7-10-5.

    “We’re just inconsistent. It’s the same story every game. We need to find a way to be consistent the whole game,” Giroux said. “I’m not too sure what to say. It’s the same story every game.”

    The first of five meetings this season between Philadelphia and New York was a chippy one. There were post-whistle scrums seemingly after every whistle, and tempers boiled over in the second period when Nick Leddy fought Giroux.

    Leddy had earned the Flyers’ ire in the first period after boarding Michael Raffl face first into the boards, but Giroux said his rationale for fighting was only partially inspired by wanting to get even for his teammate.

    “The second period we were flat,” Giroux said. “Anytime you have a chance to change the momentum, you do it.”

    Seven minutes after the Leddy-Giroux fight, Matt Martin squared off with Wayne Simmonds.

    According to hockeyfights.com, New York had three fights this season prior to Wednesday night, and the Flyers had eight.

    “It was two teams battling hard,” John Tavares said. “We’re going to have a lot of those games coming up.”

    New York took a 2-1 lead 5:14 into the second period on Okposo’s fifth of the season. Tavares won an offensive-zone faceoff to begin the sequence, and Okposo gained possession of the puck along the wall, then curled toward the net before flipping a harmless-looking shot that appeared to ricochet off Nick Schultz and over Mason.

    “There’s no room for error,” said Mason, adding that the puck “bounced off the side of the net” for the game-winning goal.

    The teams traded goals in the first period and the long-time rivals went into the first intermission tied 1-1. Giroux opened the scoring with a power-play goal from the left circle 3:59 into the game, but Cizikas tied it with a short-handed goal with 58 seconds left in the period. It New York’s third short-handed tally this season.

    New York’s penalty kill came into the game ranked 11th in the NHL, while Philadelphia’s power play was 24th.

    “We have to look at everything,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when asked if his team’s scheme needed to be modified in order to generate more offense. “(We) try to do that every day. So we have to look at everything.”

    The Islanders outshot Philadelphia 36-18. New York had a 65-48 advantage in total shots.

    “It was one of our better games defensively,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We didn’t give them too much.”

    NOTES: This game marked Colin McDonald’s season debut. The Flyers called up the ex-Islander from AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. He had played in four games this season with the Phantoms, where he had two assists. … Philadelphia scratched Vincent Lecavalier, Evgeny Medvedev and Sam Gagner. Lecavalier has been scratched the last six games. The 35-year-old is in the third year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract. He has one assist in seven games this season. … New York scratched Adam Pelech and Taylor Beck. … The teams came into the match having split the last 16 matches. The Islanders were 8-8-0 while the Flyers were 8-3-5. … The announced attendance was 13,027.

    Vatrano presence: Bruins edge Red Wings in overtime

    Frank Vatrano David Krejci

    The Boston Bruins keep flipping the script.

    In Wednesday’s case, it swerved to a “Cinderella” story, as little-known forward Frank Vatrano scored two of Boston’s three goals – including the overtime clincher – as the B’s beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 (OT).

    Here’s his first goal of the night:

    While this is his overtime game-winner:

    It wasn’t a perfect night for the 21-year-old, yet it may have been a convincing one.

    The Bruins continue to begin a month on a sour note before ending up with impressive sprees.

    October: 0-3-0 start, finished month with four straight wins and victories in six of seven contests.

    November: 0-3-0 start, losses in four of five; currently on a four-game winning strek with victories in five of six.

    Boston faces a challenge in closing this month out against the Rangers on Friday, and it’s possible that this trend may continue, as they begin December with a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

    More than anything else, the safest bet with the Bruins is for ups and downs.