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Features

Flames season preview

A preview of the Flames regular season roster

Tuesday, 05.10.2010 / 7:44 PM / Features
By Torie Peterson  - CalgaryFlames.com (@toriepeterson)
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Flames season preview

FORWARDS

INJURED LIST: Daymond Langkow (neck, indefinite), Matt Stajan (shoulder, indefinite), Ryan Stone (knee, indefinite), David Moss (shoulder, indefinite) and Ales Kotalik (knee, indefinite).

With the last minute addition of Brendan Morrison on Monday, the Flames have shored up their forward roster for Thursday.

Newly acquired Brendan Morrison will help fill the void left at centre.
VIDEO: PREVIEWING THE FLAMES OFFENCE

The top line is currently comprised of captain Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. The trio developed chemistry over the preseason and Iginla thinks they will continue to gel as the regular season rolls along.

"It feels good,” said Iginla during training camp. "Every day, literally, you feel a little better. A lot of it is, we’re just trying to play to our own strengths. Olli’s flying - let him skate, go with it, big shot. I’ve got to shoot, skate, get in there, be around the net. And Tangs, he can obviously score, but he’s a natural, very gifted passer. It could be a really good line.”

Jokinen has admitted he was trying to be too much of everything last season and that he was trying to pass far too often instead taking shots. He believes the addition of Tanguay will balance the line perfectly and make it a force to be reckoned with.

"A smart player,” Jokinen said of Tanguay. "Any time you play with the smart players, it makes your game a lot easier. You give him the puck, he sees the ice well, you know you’re going to get the puck back. It’s very easy to play with a guy like him."

The second line was given a boost with the acquisition of Morrison. The veteran forward is skilled, speedy and a natural playmaker. With him centering Niklas Hagman and Rene Bourque, the line is going to be counted on for significant offensive production.

"We haven't got a chance to do a lot of drills together yet but just from watching him play through the years and seeing what he's done, I think he's going to help our line and our team quite a bit," said Bourque.

"For me and Haggy, we like to get the puck wide and drive to the net so hopefully he can get it to us. He's a good passer too and we need a playmaker between us because we're both shooters so hopefully he finds us and we work well together."

Although he'll only get three practices under his belt before kicking off the regular season in Edmonton on Thursday, Morrison believes he can easily adjust to his new club and his new linemates.

"I think I can fit in right away," he said on Tuesday. "It's very exciting. They're both guys who can finish and I enjoy playing with guys who like to shoot the puck. I can finish as well but I have a tendency to pass first and it's always nice to play with guys who can score. They both have good speed and they're smart hockey players so it should be a good opportunity."

With the acquisition of Morrison, Mikael Backlund has been moved down to center the third line with Curtis Glencross and Tim Jackman. The skill mixed with grit gives this line a lot of punch and coaching staff are expecting to it will also give Backlund a chance to hone his skills without the added pressure of being in a top-six roll right off the bat.

"Backs is still a young guy with a lot to learn in his game and we're going to develop him the way he should be developed," head coach Brent Sutter said. "He's going to get his share of ice time in different situations and there's going to be times where he'll be put into those positions, top six positions."

Backlund himself expressed relief at the signing of Morrison.

"Brendan seems like a good guy and he's a good player so he'll help the team. It will put less pressure on me so it'll be good.

"Because of all the injuries, I've been a second line player. I would love to be there, I'm not saying that (I wouldn't), but I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself. Now with him here, it's going to be more pressure on him I guess. There's not as much pressure any more."

Rounding out the Flames forward lines is veteran Craig Conroy, newcomer Stefan Meyer and Raitis Ivanans. Conroy has been battling for a roster spot after signing a one-year, two-way deal this summer and while he knows he may be the odd man out once a few more players recover from injuries, he says he's just happy to be with the team.

"If you're still on the team, you're still part of it and there's always a chance. That's what you're looking for ... It's a waiting game to see what's going on. All you can do is come and have some fun and try to play your best. That's it."

When asked if he was worried he'd spend time in the press box as a healthy scratch, Conroy said he wasn't worried about things that are out of his hands.

"Yeah, sometimes you've got to bite the bullet and do what's best for the team. If they feel different guys are better, then that's what you've got to do. But everybody wants to play too. You want to play, you want to be a part of it. It's more fun but if not, that's part of the game too. You deal with it and move along from day to day."


DEFENSE

It's been an absolute battle of the blueline during training camp and while there have already been casualties (John Negrin, Matt Pelech, Staffan Kronwall), nothing is set in stone yet.

Rookie T.J. Brodie has surprised everyone with his play during his time in camp and remains on the roster despite having never played a regular season professional game.

"As a coaching staff, we'd love to see him there on opening night," said Sutter. "He's certainly warranted it through training camp and the exhibitions. But there are lot more factors involved than that."

VIDEO: PREVIEWING THE FLAMES DEFENCE

The biggest issue in keeping Brodie for an extended period of time is the already crowded defense corps. With seven players with one-way contracts left on the roster, the coaching staff and hockey operations have a lot of decisions to make.

If Adam Pardy misses time due to the injury he sustained in the Flames final preseason match, Brodie may be able to squeeze into the lineup without dislodging a veteran from the roster. However, if Pardy is able to play, there could be a significant change on the blueline.

"I think you've got to weigh everything out, right?'' said head coach Brent Sutter. "The biggest thing is you can't keep a young guy here if he's going to sit and not play enough minutes. And where those minutes fall into is important and how you define his role on the team.

"Would we like him to be here? Sure. But management has a say in it, too, obviously. And bottom line, everything comes down to what's right for him to continue to develop."

Rookie Defenceman TJ Brodie will start the season with the Flames.

While Brodie would love to remain in Calgary, he said he was perfectly happy heading to Abbotsford to acclimatize to playing at a professional level.

"I'd love to stay here. It's my number one choice." said Brodie. "Abbotsford would be great too. Playing pro anywhere would be great. It will really help my game out."

Through all seven games of the Flames preseason, it was apparent the defensemen were asked to be far more active offensively. Players were constantly jumping into the play, leading rushes and parking themselves in front of the net on the power play if need be.

"I thought after the season was over last year, we needed to have more of an attack with our defense," said Sutter. "Sitting down with the coaching staff and Darryl, we went through different things and we want to change our game here. We have to. The game has changed and we have to be prepared to change with it in doing certain things.

"We want to up the tempo in our game and be a better speed team, both offensively and defensively. To be able to do that, you need to have defense that are activated but also doing it with intelligence too."

That mindset gives Jay Bouwmeester, a player known for his ability to contribute offensively, a chance to have a career year. The smooth skating defenseman didn't hit his stride in his first year with the team, only scoring three goals in 82 contests.

"It just wasn't happening for me last year," Bouwmeester said. "Nothing seemed to work, nothing seemed to be going in."

"You've got to do the things that give you the best chance to score. You've got to shoot the puck, get it through from the point, join the rush, those things. It's a combination, but as long as you're making the effort and are conscious about the things that are going to create opportunities, that's all you can do."

The Flames will also be counting on Mark Giordano and Ian White to build on their productive 2009-10 season.

Giordano scored a career-high 11 goals and put up 30 points in 82 games. White split his time between Toronto and Calgary and managed to notch 13 tallies between the clubs. During his 27 games with the Flames, he found the back of the net 4 times and had 12 points.

"I'm just going to try and build on last year and try and get better," said Giordano. "I want to be guy who contributes offensively and is a good power-play guy."

Giordano understands that while the coaching staff is expecting him to maintain the level of play he displayed last season, he needs to remain steady in his own end.

"I don't want to be seen as a guy who's purely offensive and is a liability defensively. To play in this league and to play a lot of minutes, you have to be a good defensive player and you have to be able to shut down top players on the other teams and to play in key situations."


GOALIES

As expected, Henrik Karlsson will be sticking around Calgary to backup the Flames starting netminder, Miikka Kiprusoff.

Karlsson has spent his entire career in the Swedish Elite League and while he was relatively unknown coming into training camp, he heads into the regular season being thought of as a capable goaltender thanks to his stellar performance over the past couple of weeks.

VIDEO: PREVIEWING THE FLAMES GOALTENDING

The Swede played a full 60 minutes against the Edmonton Oilers last Friday and while he did surrender the first goal of the game, he settled in very quickly and didn't allow another tally.

"You want to prove yourself when you come to a new team, and I worked really, really hard to have as good a start as possible," Karlsson said after the Flames 5-1 win. "I’m pretty happy. I think it’s getting better and better."

Over the course of eight periods in the preseason, Karlsson has posted a 0.75 GAA and a 0.92 save percentage. His outstanding play has earned him the respect of his entire team.

Netminder Henrik Karlsson will serve as Miikka Kiprusoff's backup.

"He's been just great," said defenseman Cory Sarich. "He's made some huge saves for us in his games and he looks like he's going to be great over the season. He's a passionate guy, he really cares about his play."

That passion has been on display throughout camp. During practices, Karlsson has been known to let cries of aggravation out or to slam his stick on the ice after having a goal scored on him. Goaltending coach Jamie McLennan says that kind of intensity is needed.

"He's a firey guy on the ice and really competes hard but his temperament is very nice. He's a very laid back guy so I'm very happy about that and think he'll adjust to playing a North American style very well."

Karlsson is excited to get the season underway but has no expectations as to how many games he'll start over the course of the campaign.

"I don't think about that. I will play whenever they want me to play. I want to get better and better every day in practice and make sure I'm ready to play whenever I can. I'm just happy to be here, playing for a great team."

The number of games Karlsson will get to start depends greatly on how Kiprusoff is performing and given his preseason, it looks like it will be another excellent year for the Finnish netminder.

Kiprusoff stopped all 27 shots on Sunday against the Oilers, giving his club a 1-0 victory and an extra shot of confidence given his jaw-dropping saves throughout the contest.

"He's looked ready right from day one," Jarome Iginla replied when asked what he thought of the shutout performance. "Even though sometimes fans might think he's just happy-go-lucky, he's a very driven, very competitive guy and you can see he's in great form already."

Despite last season's disappointing end, Kiprusoff's play througout the entire year was phenonmenal. Game in and game out, he was ready to carry his team when the Flames were having difficulty scoring and often backstopped them to victory in tight outings.

However, Kiprusoff doesn't see last season the same way. Instead, he vowed he could improve his play.

"If you don't make the playoffs, nobody is happy," he said. "That's the biggest thing, so I think we'll be ready. I've been saying some numbers have been better (for me) the last few years, but also I didn't have enough wins to take the team to the playoffs, so I can do better."

In past seasons, Kiprusoff has been counted on to play 72-75 games per season. With the addition of Karlsson, that number could drop for the starting goalie.

When asked if he thinks he'll play better with a possible lighter workload, Kiprusoff just shrugged.


"I think it's been the same thing for many years now," he said. "You don't know. It depends how the year goes. It's up to the coaches and how they want to play their goals, but I always say I'm ready when they want me to play."