Five Takeaways from Tampa at Calgary Tuesday December 7 at the Scotiabank Saddledome...
The team that most Calgarians believe the Flames beat in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals -- remember Martin Gelinas -- were back in town Tuesday. Of course, much has changed on both rosters and within the game itself. Still, for those that were around in 2004, there was just a little bit of payback in this game, won 4-2 by the Flames.
Not only was this a franchise that beat the Flames for that coveted Cup in 2004, this was a team sitting seventh overall in the NHL standings. A team with a record of 15-9-3. An Eastern Conference team and the east has been a bit of a beast for the Flames this season as they are now 2-4-1 against that conference. And a team featuring one of the top snipers in the game, Steven Stamkos.
The energy line. Brendan Morrison is proving to be quite the utility man. He has played on every line from top to bottom this season and, wherever he plays, he seems to be effective. With hard-worker Tom Kostopoulos and tough Tim Jackman on the wings the energy line is also a bit of a threat. Kostopoulos scored his first as a Flame, the second of the game. And the first goal came off the hard forecheck and puck pursuit of the trio as former Lightning d-man Cory Sarich slapped home the opening goal of the game and his first of the season.
The Flames, who have been known to start slowly this season, didn't have that problem Tuesday and much of the credit has to go to that fourth line. The Flames led 2-0 after the first period on just seven shots while Kostopoulos, Morrison and Jackman were a combined plus four in the first period.
The Lightning pushed late in the second and early in the third but, on this night, the Flames pushed back and capitalized on a 5-on-3 just past the midway point of the third.
Throughout the game just about every line showed spark. Mikael Backlund, a healthy scratch last game, was confident carrying the puck through the middle and helped set up the prettiest goal of the game -- a three-way passing play between he, Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque, neatly finished by Bourque to put the Flames up 3-0. Bourque would finish the game with that goal and two helpers and almost had an empty-net tally.
The top line had its moments, and some sustained pressure on a couple of shifts in the second period. Jarome Iginla, however, blasted home his 12th of the season with the Flames enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage to put the Flames up 4-2. It looked like something out of Steven Stamkos playbook. Iginla now has points in five straight games.
Adam Pardy, out with a shoulder injury since the second game of the season made his return to the Flames line-up. He had played just 19:41 in the two games he did play to start the year, managing just 43 seconds in the home-opener against Los Angeles before being forced to leave after being hit into the boards. As much as he was able to practice with the team and try and get himself back into game shape, it's just not the same. On his first shift he bobbled the puck twice, almost losing it in the neutral zone. But, on his second shift he neatly fed a pass across the blueline for Cary Sarich who wired home the first goal of the game.
With veteran defenceman Steve Staios out of the line-up after suffering an upper body injury in Chicago on Sunday, Pardy's return to the line-up is timely and gives the Flames seven healthy defenceman. Brendan Mikkelson was the healthy scratch on the blueline against Tampa.
A slightly new "Euro Line" came out of some of the juggling done by head coach Brent Sutter. Niklas Hagman, Olli Jokinen and Ales Kotalik played together at various stages of the game. Kotalik, however, saw spot duty on a couple of other lines. It was just Game 2 for Kotalik as he had an extended absence because of a knee injury suffered late in the pre-season.
Can't say that this line showed a lot of chemistry but given some time there is scoring on a line that already has size in Jokinen and Kotalik so seeing the two Finns and Czech together for a bit won't be a surprise. The line drew a penalty late in the second period after creating a turnover in the neutral zone and turning the puck up ice in a hurry. Jokinen and Hagman teamed up with Brendan Morrison on the second power play.
Shutting down the big boys. With a combined 74 points you could say that Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are one of the hottest line tandems in the league at the moment. The Flames didn't seem to deploy any particular forward line to check the duo, who are paired with one-time 40-goal scorer Simon Gagne. Through much of the game Tampa's top line sign a combination of the Flames top forward line and the line of Mikael Backlund, Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross. However, the combination of Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr were the defence pairing out against the Lightning top line at every chance. Stamkos finished with four shots on net while St. Louis had three. St. Louis set up Stamkos for one of the now-patented one-timers in the third period on a power play but goalie Miikka Kiprusoff made the save. All in all a pretty nice defensive job, from the goalie out, on the Stamkos-St. Louis combo.
The goalie search. Tampa certainly appears to have enough offence to get to the playoffs. But will their goaltending hold up? Neither Dan Ellis or Mike Smith have a save percentage above .900. Ellis, who faced the Flames last night, entered the game with a .882 save percentage while Smith has a .872 save percentage. Scoring gets tougher as the season progresses (although Stamkos score more as the year went on last season) and goaltending becomes even more important down the stretch and into the playoffs.
There is, obviously, time for improvement but if the current tandem don't start stopping more pucks, Tampa may just be on the hunt for a goalie to lead them into the playoffs.
Had the pleasure of sitting beside former Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener in the press box -- he was a panelist on Sportsnet between periods. Loved his old-school work ethic and attitude when he played. Gave it all, all the time. But never lost sight of the fact that the game is fun, too. Hope he had some old school, genuine thoughts for the television audience, just like when he played.