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Scouting the Competition: 29.11.09

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

After two big wins on the road, the Calgary Flames continue on their season-high six-game road trip in hopes of improving their impressive 9-1-3 track record away from the Pengrowth Saddledome.

"The reason they win on the road is because they play the same way as they do at home. There’s very few teams that can play like this," Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock told the Calgary Herald. "They’re probably one of two teams in the West that can play with that grit and determination on road . . . I don’t think there’s a lot of teams in the West that can pull that off. But they can. They have a very gritty team. I think sometimes when you play them and they're on the road, you expect maybe a little easier game — you don’t get it. That’s their mantra. They play this way every night."

While the Flames will be without rugged defenseman Cory Sarich (undisclosed injury), they may get some more help offensively with Rene Bourque. The forward made the two-week trip with the club and has been skating with them.

"We’re just taking it day to day with him," said head coach Brent Sutter. "He’s getting closer every day. We’ll monitor it as we go along . . . to see if at some point he’s good enough to go."

Another member of the Flames has picked up his game since Bourque was knocked out of action. Olli Jokinen has been red-hot as of late, scoring two goals and seven points in his last five games. Last week, right in the midst of Jokinen's five-game points streak, Jarome Iginla addressed Jokinen's lack of offense with

"He's getting better and better every game; I think he's going to be breaking out pretty soon here. Most players are streaky, and he usually gets hotter as the season goes on. He's been through it before, and that's a good thing."

Flames vs. Predators, Monday, Nov. 30, 6:00 p.m. MST at the Sommet Center, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960

The Nashville Predators are chasing the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division and thanks to a superb November, they're just four points behind the boys from the Windy City.

The Predators have gone 8-2-0 in their last ten games and have only lost three games this month, earning 18 of a possible 24 points. They head into Monday's tilt on a 4-1 win over the struggling Florida Panthers.

A big reason for the Predators success this month has been their power play. During their seven-game winning streak, they scored 10 goals with the man advantage. However, they've gone 0-for-9 on the power play in their last two games.

"You need (the power play) to be the difference,'' forward Steve Sullivan told the Tennessean last week. "If you're not going to score, you want to at least create momentum for your hockey club. You want to create chances, get the energy level going and get everybody into the hockey game."

Dan Hamhuis

The Predators are getting some big offensive contributions from blueliner Dan Hamhuis. The veteran defenceman is currently riding a five-game point streak- a career high - and had two points in Nashville's win over the Panthers on Saturday night. He credits his sudden scoring touch to playing a very simple style and taking as many shots from the blueline as he can.

"As the game developed we saw a lot of blueline shots taken out there and our forwards made good plays and went to the net – which is the key," he told "We were taking it to the net and making it tough on the goaltender."

In addition to Hamhuis' contributions, Shea Weber is also giving the club a boost from the blueline. The 24 year-old is second on the team in scoring with six goals and 15 points. Although he was blanked in his last two games, he's still put up four points in his last five outings.Weber's just two points behind scoring leader J.P. Dumont.

After getting a night off on Saturday, it is likely that starting netminder Pekke Rinne will be in net on Monday night. The Finn has had a great season, going 11-5-0 and winning four of his last five games. He goes into the week with a 2.37 GAA and .916 save percentage.

On an Olympic side note, this game will feature several possible candidates for the Games next February. Rinne and Kiprusoff are looked at as possible starters for Finland while Weber and Hamuis are competing against Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester for spots on the Canadian blueline.

This is the first game of a four-game season series between the Flames and Predators. They'll face off again on Saturday, Dec. 19 in Calgary.

Flames vs. Coyotes, Thursday, Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. MST at the Arena, Flames PPV & The FAN 960

While the Phoenix Coyotes started off the season on a red-hot pace, they've cooled as of late and that's something their captain, Shane Doan, wants to change as soon as possible.

"We haven't played as well as we think we're capable of yet, and yet we're lingering around," he told Arizona Local News. "Our forwards, starting with myself, none of us has really got going, and that's going to change. It has to change eventually. We've got to do little things right, but we think we're capable of being a lot better.

Shane Doan

"Whatever our leading goal scorer is (Scottie Upshall and Radim Vrbata with seven), it's not good enough, especially 25 games in. We'll get it going."

A concern for Doan is fan attendence. Without upping the number of souls strolling into the arena on game nights, the team will most likely be moved. Doan wants to keep the Coyotes in the desert and he knows the only thing that will do that is a winning club.

"We haven't won. You can't blame the fans, or the city, or the area, one bit for the fact that we haven't won," he told "If you went seven years without making the playoffs? And not even being close? You'd see what any hockey city would be like, especially when you have as many options as Phoenix.

"But if you win in Phoenix, they'll support you and love you. If we're able to win, people will come out and cheer for us. If we're able to make the playoffs they'll come out and support us huge," added Doan. "It's really going to come down to the players and the organization and winning. When we win, it'll be OK."

Former Flame Matthew Lombardi has risen to the second in scoring with several strong outings. On Friday, he notched three assists in the Coyotes 5-2 win over the Stars, pushing himself up to 15 points on the year. He's now just two points behind scoring leader Doan.

Head coach Dave Tippett is impressed with his squad's performance this season but would like to see some more scoring from the Coyotes former first-round pick (2006, 8th overall) Peter Mueller. Last week, Tippett spoke to Arizona Local News about Mueller's troubles and how the coaching staff is hoping for an offensive outburst soon.

"He's a player we're relying on to produce, and he hasn't produced as much as we'd like. It is what it is. He's got to contribute more offensively," Tippett said. "He's one of the guys that I think needs to create more chances, and to do that, he's got to have the puck more, and not just by other people giving it (to him), by him going and getting it sometimes. Hopefully, we'll keep pushing him, and we can find the answer for him."

This will be the second meeting between the Flames and Coyotes. Last Wednesday the Flames handed the Coyotes their second loss on a two-game Alberta road swing. They'll meet again on Jan. 28, 2010 in Glendale.

Flames vs. Sharks, Saturday, Dec. 5, 8:00 p.m. MST at the HP Pavillion, CBC & The FAN 960

The Flames end the week with what may be their biggest challenge of the season: defeating the league-leading San Jose Sharks on home ice.

The Sharks are a staggering 7-1-2 at home this season, however, they are coming off a 7-2 thumping at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks so they'll be itching to solidify their dominance on home ice this week.

"It’s at home and it’s embarrassing," said Jason Demers. "It’s disappointing, but at the same time you have to turn the page."

They were able to turn the page as soon as they hit the road. The Sharks headed into Rexall Place in Edmonton on Friday and were able to pull out a gritty 5-4 SO win over the slumping Oilers. They'll play the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night before heading back to the Shark Tank.

Patrick Marleau

The Sharks top line, comprised of Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thorton, has been one of the best lines in the NHL and have been a major factor in San Jose's dominance this season. The trio are numbers one, two and three in scoring on the team and have combined for an astounding 97 points on the season. Heatley leads the three in goals scored with 18 and Thorton leads them in points with 36.

The three haven't always been put together however. When the rest of the team's forwards are struggling, head coach Todd McLellan has spread the trio out to distribute offense evenly.

"We've said all along that it's great that line is playing well, but if the other three aren't, we may have to move pieces around," McLellan told Mercury News. "We're not going to sit back and be happy with just three players. We have to be happy with all 12 forwards."

Marleau has been particularly dangerous as of late. He has seven points in his last five games (four of those against Edmonton) and has a great shot percentage: 20.5 per cent of his shots are  finding the back of the net.

"Patty does everything," Thorton told Mercury News. "Shoots, passes, sees the ice, skates. He grinds it out. Patty's just the complete hockey player."

Goaltending hasn't been an issue in California. Evgeni Nabokov has been his usual steady self, going 15-4-4 and holds a 2.37 GAA and .921 save percentage.

This is the first of a four-game season series between Calgary and San Jose. Last season, the two split their four games with the Sharks outscoring the Flames 12-10.

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