Get on them early. That will be the battlecry for the Calgary Flames tonight as they host Northwest Division foe Minnesota, a team struggling to start games of late.
The Wild have developed a habit of giving up the first goal of late. They have been scored on first in their last 10 games, including a 4-1 loss at home to Chicago on Sunday before travelling to Calgary. Through that stretch they are 2-7-1. To make matters worse for the Wild, they have scored just twice in the first period over their last 11 games. The Flames, coming off a big, come-from-behind win over Ottawa at home on Saturday, should have plenty of jump to get things started tonight. Calgary is 12-3-3 when scoring first this season.
After a good start to the season, the Wild were 14-7-1 through the first two months of the season, Minnesota is having a December to forget. They are 3-8-1 in the Christmas month.
"This whole month has been all over the map," noted Wild veteran Andrew Brunette, the team's third-leading point-getter.
The Flames, meanwhile, are putting together a December to remember and currently hold down first spot in the tight, Northwest Division. The Flames are 6-2-3 with two games remaining in the month, tonight against Minnesota and Wednesday against Edmonton. Calgary has also compiled a strong record in the Northwest -- they are currently 7-3-1.History shows if you win more than you lose in your own division, you are going to be in a playoff race of some sort.
Calgary owned the Wild last season, compiling a 6-2-0 record against the tight-checking Jacques Lemaire crew. In the first meeting between the two teams this season the trend continued as the Flames beat the Wild in overtime on a Todd Bertuzzi goal. The Flames are 8-2-0 in their last 10 against Minnesota and the Wild have not won in Calgary since March, 2007.
Jarome Iginla paced the Flames with six goals and five assists against the Wild while Marian Gaborik had four goals and nine assists in seven games against the Flames last season. However, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire announced over the weekend that the team will be resting Gaborik who has already missed much of the season because of a groin injury.
The hot hand on the Flames belongs to Rene Bourque at the moment. The Flames newcomer, who came via a trade with Chicago in the summer, had three goals against the Sens in a 6-3 win Saturday and has six goals in his last six outings. The big, strong, winger has a hard shot and, obviously, a nose for the net.
"He's a big guy and he can skate really well," said defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who played with Bourque in Chicago. "He certainly seems to be doing the right things here."
“He continues to improve," said head coach Mike Keenan of Bourque. "He is accelerating his performance level to a point where he can play in any position, in any circumstance, power play, penalty-killing, regular shifts. He’s adding a lot of speed to his game and confidence is part of that process. He continues to improve as a player and is playing very confident hockey right now.
“He’s a good hockey player and I don’t know what the issues were in terms of his development before if there were any. Maybe he is just at a point in his career and his life where he is more confident and mature and he’s certainly responded to more ice time.”