The Flames entered last night's game against the Islanders with a veteran-laden lineup, looking to redeem themselves after a stinker against the Oilers Tuesday night. One would think that would be an easy task against a young, tired New York squad sans Tavares, right? Wrong. What ensued was a battle-for-the-ages that could give a playoff game a run for its money. Here's the scoop:
The game started off innocent enough with Dawes netting the Flames' first goal on a sweet feed from Daymond Langkow. The Flames seemed to be carrying the play until a miscue by Jay Bouwmeester led to the tying goal. Olli Jokinen would try to ignite his club by dropping the mitts with the Isles' Mike Haley; he actually fared pretty well, but didn't provide the spark he was hoping for. The Flames would enter the intermission leading the Islanders in the shot department 11-4, but tied at one.
All Hell would break loose about five minutes into the second period. With the Isles leading 3-1 after two quick tallies, this happened:
Kyle Okposo was cruising through the neutral zone with his head down when Phaneuf smoked the speedy forward with a trademark open-ice hit. Okposo would remain on the ice for a few minutes, immobilized, until he was finally strapped onto a stretcher and taken to hospital. Reports later indicated that he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and was cleared to join the Islanders for their flight to Saskatoon later that night.
Was the hit clean? Yes. Was such force necessary in an all but meaningless pre-season game? Probably not, but Okposo has been playing hockey long enough to know he has to keep his head up. When play resumed, the young Islanders seemed to lose their composure and got into some penalty trouble. The Flames would capitalize and even the score on two powerplay goals by Olli Jokinen. The Flames and Isles entered the second intermission tied at three, with the Islanders outshooting the Flames 13-8.
With Fleury in the box, the Isles took the lead just over three minutes into the final frame. The Flames would tie it up a few minutes later on a powerplay goal of their own by David Moss. The boys in red would dominate the remainder of the period, outshooting the Isles 17-4. Isles goalie David Poulin, apparently possessed by the spirit of Patrick Roy, made a series of phenomenal saves to preserve the tie.
The Flames enjoyed a rare powerplay in the extra frame with Brendan Witt off for roughing, but were unable to capitalize despite firing seven shots at New York's keeper, who continued to steal the show. A shot off the stick of Olli Jokinen would trickle across the line just after the buzzer signalled the end of the overtime period, and was immediately called off.
The 'Dome erupted after minor-leaguer David Shantz secured the shootout victory with a save on the Isles' Matt Moulson, culminating in the pre-season's first ever "YEAHHH BABYYYY" from Peter Mahr. So epic.
Things I loved:
- Olli Jokinen: the big Finn completed a Gordie Howe hat-trick and dominated on the powerplay. Hopefully a sign of what we can expect from him come October
- Nigel Dawes: Redeemed himself after a mediocre performance earlier his week with a goal and two assists. Proved why he's competing for a spot in the top-six
- David Moss: Chipped in a with a goal and an assist, led the team with nine shots on goal
- Robyn Regehr: Steady performance, led all defencemen with five shots on goal and was +1
- Daymond Langkow: Steady, smart play and an assist from the gritty centre, +1
- The Powerplay: The PP was actually cycling the puck and getting traffic to the net, a welcome sight after a futile man-advantage unit faltered down the stretch and into the playoffs last season
Things that need some work:
- Jay Bouwmeester: A miscue in his own zone led the Isles' first goal, got better as the game wore on, especially on the powerplay
- Mark Giordano: Looked a little rusty in his first game back from off-season shoulder surgery, but like Bouwmeester, improved later in the game. Dropped the gloves twice and led all defencemen in penalty minutes.
- Jarome Iginla: Was invisible for most of the game, but demonstrated why he is one of the league's best power forwards in the third with his speed and strength on the puck.
- Dion Phaneuf: Bobbled the puck at the Isles' blueline during a Calgary powerplay leading to a short-handed breakaway, ended the game a +1 but still needs to work on his defensive positioning.
- Theo Fleury: Looked out of place in the first period but found his legs in the second, seemed to have some good chemistry with Langkow and Dawes. Scored the shootout winner in a perfect ending to his first game with the Flames in almost a decade
Things I'm on the fence about:
- Mikael Backlund: Spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and fired four shots on goal. Made some good plays with the puck, but wasn't especially noticeable without it.
- Keith Aulie: Didn't make any glaring errors in almost fifteen minutes of ice time, but didn't stand out in a good way either
- Jason Jaffray: Showed some jump but led the team with 17 PIMS.
- Craig Conroy: Solid on the PK as always, but didn't stand out much otherwise
Things that sucked:
- Miikka Kiprusoff: If Kipper really is in the best shape of his career, he didn't show it last night. Allowed three goals on fourteen shots and did little to quiet his critics. The Flames will need #34 to turn in a much more convincing performance when the puck drops for real in two week's time.
The Flames' pre-season record now stands at 1-1-0 with four games left to play. Overall, they seemed to have some trouble consistently adhering to coach Brent Sutter's more structured, defence-first system, but he will no doubt make sure they fine-tune that aspect of their game before September ends.
Up Next: The rematch. The Flames will take on the Isles in Saskatoon tomorrow in what should be another physical affair. No indication as to whether Phaneuf will suit up or not.