The Calgary Flames lost in a shootout to Los Angeles on Saturday, ending their 6-game winning streak. In the last 10 games, the Flames are 7-1-2. That’s 16 points out of a possible 20 — more than the last-10-game stretch for any other team in the Western Conference, and topped only by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the East. They have earned enough points to now leap-frog the Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings by a single point. To say this team is “streaking” is like saying the sun is kinda warm.
Jay Feaster’s ascension to the GM post has had its desired effect, so it seems.
But Feaster is not finished tinkering, so the rumor mill says, and we may see the team be active as the NHL trade deadline approaches. A scoring center might be first on the shopping list, as none of the Flames’ pivots has reached the 10-goal mark so far this season. Of course with guns on the wings such as Jarome Iginla (22 goals/27 assists), Alex Tanguay (14/28), Rene Bourque (15/13), Curtis Glencross (13/8) and David Moss (12/7), why worry about your centers lighting the lamp?
The stars are the ones lighting it up in the last 10-game stretch: Iginla and Tanguay both have 9+ points; center (Rolly Polly) Olli Jokinen has 7 points; and center Brendan Morrisson has 4 goals and 7 assists. Coach Brett Sutter is no doubt hoping that this team of mostly seasoned veterans will follow their lead.
Goaltending has been solid during this surge, for the most part. Miikka Kiprusoff has started all but one game in the last 10. However, the game prior against Carolina on January 11th, he let in 4 goals on 8 shots and was yanked early in the second period. Kipper likes a lot of work, and for the most part he thrives. But when he tanks, it’s Katie bar the door.
About the only sour note Feaster has sounded since his arrival was the handling of the Craig Conroy retirement, which some feel was botched and insulting to such a devoted veteran. Apart from that, it’s smiles all around in Calgary, especially with the Flames now back into the thick of things and fighting for a playoff spot. Such is the case with the Blackhawks, and pretty much every Western Conference team except Edmonton.
The Blackhawks come into this game fresh off a difficult loss as well, having blown a 3rd-period lead against Vancouver to give the arch-rival some more salt to rub in our might-not-make-the-playoffs-after-winning-the-cup-last-year wound. The six-game road trip hits the midway point with this pair of games in Alberta, and the Blackhawks could very much use the four-point boost two wins would give. Remember, the Flames gave the Blackhawks their first bare-assed spanking of this season with a 7 – 2 whooping up in the ‘Dome. Let’s show Calgary fans we aren’t the pushover we were in November, eh fellas?
Notable with the Blackhawks of late is the breadth of the scoring punch from our forward lines. Patrick Sharp has slumped a little bit, with only 3 points in his last 8 tilts. But Patrick Kane has 11 points in his last 12 games; Marian Hossa has four in his last four; and Jonathan Toews has had three multi-point games in a row, and now sits second on the team scoring list. The ‘Hawks are also getting regular contributions from Troy Brouwer, Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland, and a demotion to the fourth line has brought a change to Viktor Stalberg — he has been crashing the net and inflicting damage along the boards on top of winning races to the puck in his own end.
The defense is even getting on to the score sheet, with goals from Duncan Keith and rookie Nick Leddy lighting the lamp in recent games. (Sorry, Nick Boynton, your “goal” doesn’t count — the usher in Section 226 had as much to do with that puck going in as you did.) Also worthy of mention is Brian Campbell, who in his last 16 games has a goal, six assists, and is a combined +12. And quietly amassing assists is Brent Seabrook, who has four helpers in his last two games, eight in his last ten. Furthermore, Seabrook is second in the league with 152 hits. Is it a contract year for him or something?
But as usual, the goaltending situation is the point where the story starts to go sour. Marty Turco was given the first two starts after the All-Star break, in what many have touted as his chance to win his starting spot back. In those two games his GAA was 4.00, good enough for a win and a loss, but likely not good enough to get him back in Coach Joel Quenneville’s good graces. Corey Crawford will start against Calgary, and though we may see Turco back in one or the other of the back-to-back games this coming weekend, I think Q has made his decision about which of his two ‘tenders will give the Blackhawks a shot at making the post-season.
The injury bug: Calgary’s Daymond Langkow and Niklas Hagman are out tonight, and some schmuck by the name of Raitis Ivanans won’t be playing either, though few will notice or care. On the ‘Hawks end of things, John Scott has rejoined the team after suffering a bout of flu the past week. However, he has lost a significant amount of weight during this illness and is nowhere near a return to the lineup. He couldn’t even finish the morning skate today.
This is me, crying. Boo-hoo, no John Scott in the lineup. Oh, darn. Whatever will we do…
Ryan Johnson has practiced with the team the past few days, but is not expected to play tonight. Duncan Keith was *not* practicing with the team today, but he *will* be in the lineup. No word on what that’s all about as yet.
8:30pm puck drop for Chicagoland tonight. Comcast SportsNet for your TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should tune in on channel 208.
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