The five takeaways
Five observations from the Flames-Sabres game
Five Takeaways from the Calgary-Buffalo game December 27, 2010 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
It was two desperate teams that butted heads on Monday during this holiday season. Both the Flames and the Sabres are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs.
Buffalo, having lost their leading scorer, Derek Roy, to a season-ending leg injury (torn thigh ligament) also had to deal without the services of Tyler Meyers, the six-foot-eight defenceman who played his minor hockey in the Calgary area and had spent time with family and friends here over the holiday break. He was struck with the flu.
The Flames, meanwhile, were looking to make it two wins in a row. It didn't look all that positive for the hometown boys who fell behind in the first period when a defensive breakdown allowed Drew Stafford to walk out front and beat Miikka Kiprusoff with a low shot at 8:11.
Olli Jokinen, hammering home a rebound at 2:26 and then Jarome Iginla, on a breakaway at 16:13 brought the Flames back to life in the second. In fact, the first line of Jokinen, Iginla and Alex Tanguay took control of parts of the second period -- Jokinen and Iginla combined for six of the Flames 14 shots on goal in the second frame. The line finished the game with six points.
Okay. We did a double-take but that was Jarome Iginla tucking away a breakway goal in the second period. Not normally one to bury on a breakaway, Iginla made no mistake in beating Ryan Miller this time. When Craig Rivet inexplicably gave up on a two-on-two inside the Sabre blueline, Alex Tanguay feathered a pass to Iginla, who was, by that point, behind Rivet. A little snap shot later and the Flames were leading 2-1 and Iginla had his 15th goal of the season. It was Iginla's first goal in six games.
Olli Jokinen has started to produce some offence after a terrible, slow start. He was goal-less through the first nine games of the season and then went another 14-game stretch without a goal. But, in the second period, he woke the crowd at the 'Dome when he hammered home a big rebound from in front of the Buffalo net. It marked his eighth goal of the season and his sixth in the last nine games. That type of production would have been more than welcome at the start of the season.
Head coach Brent Sutter said that Jokinen has changed his game slightly.
"He's playing more straight line hockey than a circling game," said Sutter. "He's playing a big centre game."
The Flames spent a fair bit of time at the morning skate working on power play formations and plays.
It looked very crisp at the skate but didn't translate into anything tangible during the game -- until the fourth line capitalized on a five-on-three at 19:59 of the third period. Tom Kostopoulos tapped home the Flames fifth of the night during a goalmouth scramble as the Flames went 1-5 with the man advantage.
To get back into the playoff hunt, however, the power play will have to improve.
Heading into the game it was ranked 22nd in the NHL. To be in the playoffs, you need to be in the top 10 as a rule.
As defenceman Mark Giordano noted: "The team that wins the special teams battle usually wins the game."
Words to live by.
Ales Kotalik is on the scoreboard. Known as a scorer he has came off a pre-season knee injury and, through nine games, had no goals or assists.
That's over. He skated into an Anton Babchuk area pass and whistled a snap shot over the shoulder of Ryan Miller. It is the picture-perfect Kotalik goal and the kind of goal the Flames expect on a regular basis from the winger.
"I knew (goalie Ryan Miller) was going to challenge. He likes to do that. I was just going far side, top," said Kotalik. "When you are coming back from an injury you just try and hlep the team and chip in any way you can. What did I feel? Relief."
Haven't seen a player listed below 5'8" in the National Hockey League for a long time. That makes Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe a bit of an interesting character. The 23-year-old is listed at 5'5" and 178 pounds. In a league fascinated to ad nauseam with size, it is somewhat refreshing to see a team give a chance to a smaller player with skills. The Sabres obviously hope Gerbe can follow the likes of some smaller players like Daniel Briere and Derek Roy in their ranks.
Gerbe hails from a small village in Oxford, MI, the sister city of Oxford, England. He was a standout at Boston College where he was a Hobey Baker Finalist. He also played at the World Juniors for Team USA. The Sabres took him in the fifth round in 2005.This season, despite missing eight games with a broken jaw after taking a puck in the face, Gerbe has six points in 22 games and is a plus player.
He is a little brick you-know-what-house who doesn't mind getting his now dirty, either.