Last time the Flames played Dallas, Sutter iced the line of Nystrom-Jokinen-Iginla and as Kent illustrates here, they were terrible for the most part. In what parallel universe is Nystrom a first-line winger? More to the point, what has he done recently to earn a go-around on the top-line carousel? Is Sutter just doing this out of desperation, curiosity, or does he genuinely believe that this can/will be a good line, competing against Dallas' top unit?
I know he wants to keep the second line together because they are the only ones producing right now, but would it kill him to try one or both of Langkow and/or Bourque on the first line with Iginla? Perhaps playing with the team's leading scorer will enable him to put up a few points and get the ball (or the puck) rolling in the right direction. Eric Nystrom is a good hockey player, but he's not first-line material and likely never will be; which is unfortunate given that the Flames drafted him 10th overall in 2002.
Does this team even have a legitimate first-line left-winger? In comparison to other teams with playoff/Stanley Cup aspirations (San Jose, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, etc.), I would have to say no. The sheer incompetence of this line in all areas of the game, specifically generating shots on goal and scoring chances and lately, the powerplay, makes me think that that Whitney trade may not be such a bad idea after all. Phil Kessel had 10 shots on goal last night against Tampa...TEN! That's almost half of the Flames' shot total last game against the Wings. I die a little inside every time I see Mike Cammalleri score a goal or set up Gionta/Gomez (i.e. A LOT. Even in those weird stripe-y jailbait uniforms) and long for the days when petite #13 laced 'em up alongside Iggy and Langkow.
Nystrom's unexplained promotion to first-line duty makes even less sense when one considers his play as of late (1 point in his last five games, 0 SOG and -1 vs. Detroit); he has not been especially noticeable and if any young forward in the bottom-six rotation is going to get the job it should be Dustin Boyd (3 points in his last five games). I know LW isn't his natural position, but name someone else more deserving of the position based on his play so far this season. Step right up folks, everyone gets a turn on the wacky, unpredictable Flames first line that will shortly be the laughing stock of the entire NHL! Don't worry if you screw up, you'll get another shot in a few games because we've exhausted all of our other options and don't have the resources to trade for a viable top-six forward!
At least call up Mikael Backlund or something; he has more goals than Jokinen and is quite possibly playing against stronger competition in the American league. I would look into some trade possibilities but frankly, I can't be bothered. Trading Jokinen would imply that a) some other team actually wants him and is willing to give up something in return and b) Darryl Sutter would have to admit he was in the wrong. I don't know which situation is less likely to occur.
OK, rant over. Deep breaths...
Let's focus on the task at hand: getting two points against the Stars IN Dallas, something that has proven to be very difficult for the Flames.
Miikka Kiprusoff (illness) will not start in goal tonight for the Flames; he showed up to the morning skate and was promptly sent back to the team's hotel to get some rest. Karma? Irony? Poetic justice? You decide.
I have already made my thoughts on the H1N1 vaccine debacle clear over at M&G, but I absolutely cannot believe the backlash the Flames organization is experiencing. One man claims to have sold his season tickets and a woman in Airdrie is boycotting the Flames and the NHL, forbidding her children from watching or listening to hockey games and attending Flames games until the organization issues an apology. The vaccine shortage is in no way a direct result of Calgary Flames players, coaches, and their families receiving the vaccine, and I think anger at the players and the organization is misguided and wrought with hypocrisy.
OK, rant over for real this time.
So McElhinney will start for the Flames tonight, and the team in front of him supposedly has a renewed commitment to hard work and a newfound attention to detail. I'll believe it when I see it.
Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen, and Mike Modano are all healthy and will return to the Stars' lineup tonight.
* Brandon Prust is scratched with an apparent upper-body injury
The Flames desperately need two points tonight. They have four games in hand on Vancouver, but are now three points back after the Canucks won a fight-filled match vs. the Rangers, complete with some hilarious sound bytes. The Flames also have three games in hand on the Avs, who have lost two straight but play the Coyotes tonight.
I'm not overly optimistic that the Flames will come away with the victory, but if I see signs of improvement from the first line and/or that this team has learnt something from their past two losses and subsequent "tough" practices, I will consider it a small accomplishment.
Game time: 6:30 PM (TSN)