Scouting the Competition: 3.1.10
A look at the Flames competition over the coming week
After a shaky start to December, the Calgary Flames picked their game up and rattled off four straight victories to close out 2009 and open up 2010.
Their 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday was the last time they'll play at the Saddledome for close to a week. This week the Flames will have their work cut out for them with two sets of back-to-back contests, three of those games being played on the road. The only time they'll hit the ice in front of the C of Red is Friday against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Look for the trio of Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and Curtis Glencross to produce the bulk of the Flames offense. After being put together on the top line and adjusting to each other's style, the three exploded for eight points against the Leafs.
"We’ve been together for a few games and we’ve been able to create some chances, but the first couple (games) it didn’t really feel they were going," said Iginla, who had a three-point night against the Leafs. "Tonight, it was nice to get some and get a power-play goal.
"It feels like it’s coming with our line, for sure. It feels like its coming where you don’t have to look as much to make sure the guy is there."
Flames vs. Predators, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 6:00 p.m. at the Sommet Center, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960
After years of being a Western Conference basement dweller, the Nashville Predators have emerged as a force to be reckoned with. They're currently sitting at sixth place overall in the conference and second place in the Central Division with 53 points and a 25-14-3 record.
They've been red hot as of late, going 7-3-0 in the their last ten and have outscored their opponents 38-31 in that span.
Goaltending has been solid for the Predators with both Dan Ellis and Pekke Rinne getting equal opportunities to shine. Head coach Barry Trotz has alternated his netminders for six straight games, with Rinne getting the call on Saturday, and that ability has the bench boss grinning ear to ear.
"I think both of them are going pretty good right now," Trotz told Nashville media on Sunday. "I don't think I can make a bad decision right now. I could close my eyes and get the quarter out and flip it and both could do a good job. That is the luxury we have and it will be really important for us.
"We'll look at teams we're playing and who's had success against certain teams. Maybe that's the decision we go with or we just keep rotating. But if you're asking who's playing the next game, I haven't even thought about it."
If the rotation continues, it Ellis will be squaring off against the Flames. The 29 year-old has played in 19 contests this season, posting a 2.79 GAA and a .908 save percentage. In comparison, Rinne has played in 28 games and has a 2.74 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
After being named to Team Canada's blueline, Shea Weber has really picked up his game. He played a key role in the Predators 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday with a goal, an assist and 10 shots on net.
"Shea was playing injured for a long time – about six weeks – and it affected his play," Trotz told the assembled media on Saturday. "He really wanted to be on the Olympic team – you can see the weight’s off his shoulders. He’s got so much jump; everything is firm and crisp and clear. He’s back to what we’re used to."
Weber is leading all Predators defensemen in scoring with seven goals and 16 points. He's picked up five points in his last five games.
Martin Erat is the team leader in scoring, potting 14 goals and 27 points in 37 games this season. However, he won't be in the lineup against the Flames as he's been sidelined since Dec. 29 after sustaining an injury in the Predators tilt with the St. Louis Blues. He was checked ferociously in the first period and the team has described his ailment as an lower-body injury.
He's just one of the many Predators sitting on the sidelines in the New Year. Jordin Tootoo is out with a broken foot, Jerred Smithson is dealing with a broken hand and Kevin Klein was also lost in the battle with St. Louis with an upper-body injury. All three players are expected to out of the lineup on Tuesday.
The two teams have met twice this season, splitting the games. They both have won on the home team's turf, with Calgary pulling out a 5-0 win on Nov. 30 and Nashville winning 5-3 on Dec. 19. They will meet for a fourth and final time on Jan. 15 in Calgary.
Flames vs. Wild, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 6:00 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center, The FAN 960
It's been an up-and-down season for the Minnesota Wild and right now there's no doubt the State of Hockey is feeling the blues. The Wild have dropped three straight, being outscored 12-9 in those games, and are sitting second-last in the Northwest Division, only ahead of the woeful Edmonton Oilers.
The Wild are barely above of .500, going 20-19-3, and have gone 5-5-0 in their last ten contests. They kicked off 2010 with a loss against their old coach, Jacques Lemaire, and his new club, the New Jersey Devils, but are trying to glean the positives from the game. It was a much closer game than the 5-3 score indicates as the Wild were able to comeback against a two-goal deficit twice. Captain Mikko Koivu hopes the team can build off that effort this coming week.
"It's a good team. We knew that," Koivu told the assembled media. "But I think we played a good game as well. It shows we can play any team in this league if we're just on top of our game."
Koivu is the team leader in scoring and picked up a short-handed tally on Saturday, breaking a seven-game goalless drought. He's amassed 11 goals and 41 points in his 42 games this season.
Koivu was one of the three Wild players named to Team Finland last week. He'll be joining goaltender Niklas Backstrom and Antii Miettinen i representing Finland in Vancouver next month. Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky are also heading to the Olympics, representing the Czech Republic.
"It's always a big honor to be representing your country," Koivu told MinnesotaWild.com on Thursday. "It's a big thing for all the people in Finland and you get a chance to play for your country and the people back home. It's very special for us."
If Miikka Kiprusoff is given the start on Wednesday, it'll be the battle of the Finnish 'tenders. While Backstrom is expected to play backup to Kiprusoff in February, he doesn't view the Flames superstar as his archrival as February draws closer.
"You do whatever it takes to help the team," said Backstrom. "It's not like the players are playing against each other or battling against each other. We're battling against the other countries. We try to be good as a team and you need all 22 or 23 players to do that."
Backstrom has gone 18-14-3 this season with a 2.58 GAA and a .907 save percentage. He's expected to be in net on Wednesday.
This is only the second time these two teams have seen each other this season. The Wild pulled out a 2-1 victory in overtime on Dec. 11, giving them the edge in the six-game season series. The next time this two will face off is Mar. 3 in Calgary.
Flames vs. Blue Jackets, Friday, Jan. 8, 7:00 p.m. at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960
After a promising start to the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets look like they may be in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes come June.
They kicked the 2009-10 season off with a 12-6-2 start, looking like a serious contender in the West, but have gone 3-13-7 since. They haven't scored more then two goals in their last 10 games and show no signs of being able pull themselves out of the slump they've fallen into.
"We've had a lot of these games like this (where we've) played really well and create a lot of scoring chances and don't finish," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock told assembled media after Saturday's 3-2 loss to Colorado. "These are disappointing losses for everybody. Every game is tense for us because there's no margin for error."
Despite the adversity the team is facing, veteran forward R.J. Umberger says the team hasn't given up hope of making the post-season.
"Until we're mathematically out, yes, that (the playoffs) is our goal," he told the Associated Press. "Once we stop believing that, then what are we playing for? We are going out there trying to play hard for our fans, ourselves, for each guy on this team."
Offense has been troubling for the Blue Jackets. They're currently 23rd in the league in goals scored with 110 on the year but forward Raffi Torres says the team is trying to rectify that on the coming trip.
"The chances are there. We have to get a few more bounces our way. We have to do a better job of getting traffic to the net. Our ‘D’ is doing a good job of getting pucks to the net, we just have to get our sticks on them and put some pucks in the net."
Not surprisingly, the Blue Jackets leading scorer is their captain, Rick Nash. He's collected 19 goals and 38 points this year. He's slowed down a bit lately though, only notching two points (0 g, 2 a) in his last five games. He has four points in three games against the Flames this campaign.
Goaltending has been an issue all season for the Blue Jackets. Steve Mason hasn't had the season he would like, going 11-14-6 with a 3.18 GAA and a .895 save percentage. His backup, Mathieu Garon, hasn't been stellar either. With a 4-5-3 record, he has a 2.82 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
This is the fourth and final meeting between Calgary and Columbus. Calgary has the edge in the season series with a 2-1-0 record, outscoring the Blue Jackets 11-8.
Flames vs. Canucks, Saturday, Jan. 9, 8:00 p.m. at GM Place, CBC & The FAN 960
In the battle for supremacy in the Northwest Division, the Canucks had a shaky start but are starting to really press against their divisional rivals, the Flames and Avalanche.
Vancouver has been on roll lately, picking seven of a possible eight points on their last road trip, and players think the team has finally found their groove.
"I thought we started slow; we were inconsistent. The last half of the first half we’ve been playing a lot better and stringing some wins together. We’re going to try to forget we were terrible on the road at the start of the season," forward Ryan Kesler told the Vancouver Sun. "We need to get better on the road to keep climbing the standings. We all know what’s coming up in February. We need to be good now to be good then."
The Canucks will go on a marathon 14-game road trip due to the Olympics and feel their current success will translate when they need it later on this month. Still, they see room for improvement.
"I think it has only been the last three or four weeks where we’ve really played the hockey we know we can," Henrik Sedin told the Sun. “"Of those four weeks, maybe 65 or 70 per cent we played full, 60-minute games. There’s been games where we’ve taken periods off and lost those games. (The first half) was a little too much up and down probably. But we’ve turned it around a little bit. We’re playing a lot better."
Roberto Luongo has been the best Canuck on the ice all season and his performance has helped Vancouver win more than a few tight games. He played a huge part in the Canucks 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday and his coach, Alain Vigneault, had nothing but praise for him afterwards.
"I think a lot of it starts with goaltending," Vigneault told the Associated Press when asked about the Canucks surge. "Roberto, when he gets on a roll like he is now just gives everybody that extra boost of confidence."
Vigneault also credited the Canucks goalie with the team's success on their recent four-game road trip, particularly his clutch goaltending in the final periods of games. Luongo made one of his best stops of the year on Mike Modano on Saturday, showing off just on his game he is right now. His kick save on the veteran Star through traffic has been all over the highlight reels since Saturday night.
"We got seven out of a possible eight points, so I'm real happy with the overall road trip," Vigneault said. "The third period was more challenging, but that's why you pay the goalie the big bucks, to make the big saves, and he did."
Luongo has a 21-12-1 record this season and has posted a 2.25 GAA and a .921 save percentage. He was in net during the Canucks only win over the Flames this season when Vancouver handed Calgary a 5-1 loss in the Saddledome.
Henrik Sedin, while always an offensive threat, has been on fire this season and has surprised many with his ability to find the back of the net. He's leading the team in scoring with 17 goals and 55 points on the year and is second in the league in points. He has eight points in his last five games and has scored four points against the Flames this season.
This is the fourth game in the six-game season series between the Flames and Canucks. The next time these two will face off is Mar. 14 in Vancouver.