Newest Flames make their debut
Four new players join the Flames line-up, but Flyers win 3-0
Barely 24 hours after having their lives rocked by a trade, the four newest Calgary Flames were on the ice in front of a Pengrowth Saddledome crowd anxious to see them take their first strides in red uniforms.
|HOW THE NEW FLAMES FARED VS PHILADELPHIA
Whirlwind? No kidding. Sunday morning they live in Toronto. Monday evening they have flown halfway across the country, slept in a hotel, met 20 new teammates and numerous other hockey operations staff, been swarmed by the media following the morning skate, had a pre-game nap, a bite to eat and hit the ice.
"It all happened so fast," said Matt Stajan. "The one thing is hockey and that's what we are focusing on right now. The family stuff...will take care of itself."
Certainly a 3-0 loss to the visiting Philadelphia Flyers was not the result the newcomers were seeking in their debuts but head coach Brent Sutter said it is far too early to pass judgement.
"I think it is unfair to judge them this quickly," said Sutter. "But the reality is we can't have new and old players taking too long to get used to each other because we don't have the time."
Stajan was perhaps under more scrutiny than any of the players involved in switching from Leafland to Cowtown, simply because he was placed on Jarome Iginla's line. That centre spot has been a bit of a revolving door this season with Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen, Craig Conroy and, of late, rookie Mikael Backlund, taking spins between the Flames franchise player.
With 87 goals and 136 assists in 445 NHL games, Stajan is known as a puck-dealing centre. The big question was whether or not his dishing would mesh with Iginla, largely known as a shooter. And just how long might it take to develop that often-mentioned chemistry?
"I think," surmised Stajan, showing wisdom beyond his 26 years, "you have to be yourself. We are all hockey players and we have been around the game and teammates for our whole lives. It's a new group but all I can do is be myself, get to know the guys and let things take care of themselves. We'll get more comfortable as we go."
In the first period Stajan was noticeable in making a couple of good defensive plays and drawing a penalty while driving the net. When the Flyers scored the opening goal of the game in the middle frame, Stajan was left chasing Flyers captain Mike Richards down the slot as he scored his 100th career goal. However, he was a perfect eight for eight in the face-off circle.
Ian White immediately drew attention to himself. Yes, that was him wearing Dion Phaneuf's No. 3 and playing with Phaneuf's former blueline partner Robyn Regehr.
White, however, is one person comfortable in his own skin -- approachable, honest and not afraid to face questions from the media. And, while scrutiny in Calgary is very visible, it is not like living in the fishbowl that is Toronto, the self-described center of the hockey universe.
"It never really got to me," said White. "The fans want to know. I don't have a problem with answering a bunch of questions every day. I think it is good for the game."
As for playing with Regehr, White chuckled. "Well, I think his style is the opposite of mine. We should complement each other pretty well. I don't think we are going to need 10 or 15 games together."
Indeed, the pairing looked sharp most of the night as White worked hard in the defensive zone and made some smooth first passes out of the zone. He also saw some power play time and consistently moved his feet and the puck.
Finnish forward Niklas Hagman, who brought with him 20 goals from Toronto, also showed he is willing to work hard. He also has some soft hands and saw power play time with Iginla and Stajan.
Veteran Jamal Mayers, the oldest player in the trade, did what he does -- provide a big body, some speed and a solid work ethic. He's also a pretty good face-off man who won four of his six draws on the night.
"I'm excited and I am looking forward to the challenges," said Mayers. "There are four new faces in here. That's a lot of change. There is no time to rest or think about it. The thing that we are best at is playing hockey and that's what we will focus on."
There are many ways to analyse a trade. Usually the winner of a trade is the team that is declared to have received the best player. Dion Phaneuf was the centrepiece in the trade, but the sum of the pieces may just end up being in the Flames favour. They certainly got more pieces for their puzzle, which is putting together a team that will contend for the Stanley Cup.
Who knows? If Hagman scores 30, Stajan develops into the dishing centre for Iginla and White proves to be as serviceable as, say, Mark Giordano and Mayers becomes a player to count on in the face-off circle, the Flames will certainly be happy.
Of course, it's far too early to answer all the questions. One game does not make for proper grading of a trade. But the four newest Flames want to be part of something good, something big, in Calgary.
"We're all hard-working guys that came here in this deal," said Stajan. "Hopefully we can bring our assets to the team and it complements well and we can have a nice little streak here before the (Olympic) break. It's a great opportunity for all of us to come to a team like Calgary that is in the mix."
By mix, Stajan means the playoff mix, something long forgotten in Toronto as the Leafs continue to rebuild. The Flames began the day in the final playoff spot in the West and the trade was, at least in part, aimed at pushing the team further into that playoff mix.
"As a hockey player all you want to do is win hockey games and win a Stanley Cup. That's what we are going to try and do here," said Stajan.
Nobody thinks it is going to be easy. Nobody thinks changing the dressing room by adding four players is a pass into the playoffs.
"The bottom line is we are here to win games," said White. "Every game from here on out is crucial. There's no easy games. Everyone is scratching and clawing to get those last few positions do it's going to be a battle. It's something I've always looked forward to because when you achieve it it feels that much better."