I didn't see any of the Flames' last game in Phoenix (thanks, Sportsnet...kissing the NFL's ass) but it doesn't seem like I missed much. This game sounds like it was almost an exact replica of the one played between the two clubs last time they met at the 'Dome in mid-November, only the Flames came out on the losing end of things this time around when Taylor Pyatt danced around Mark Giordano and put the winning goal five-hole on a confused Kiprusoff in the dying minutes of the game. Perhaps all that praise was a little premature. We still love you Gio. Everyone's alllowed one fuck-up, that was yours. Losing to the Coyotes doesn't carry the same stigma as it once did, but the loss still stings after this team looked so good in their rout of the Predators earlier in the week.
Bourque led the team in shots on goal with four in his return from injury, which speaks volumes of the Flames' offensive effort on Thursday. His linemates Iginla and Jokinen registered one and three shots, respectively. Given the heroics of Kiprusoff in this game, the Flames probably deserved a better fate, but it's in the past now so let's suck it up and prepare to get blown out of the water by the Sharks.
First rule of pessimism: prepare for the worst and you'll never be disappointed.
Thinking about this game, against the best team in the league, in their building, against the best line in hockey, makes me feel physically sick. Memories of last season's January victory at the Shark Tank, San Jose's first home regulation loss of the season, which artificially cemented the Flames' status as a Western Conference elite come to mind. That might have also been the last time I was so nervous about a regular season game. I will be more than satisfied with an overtime loss, if the Flames are lucky enough to push the game into extra time.
Needless to say they will have to get off to a good start and capitalize on their opportunities; playing catch-up against a team of the Sharks' calibre on the road is not advisable. Kiprusoff and the Flames defence will surely be tested often, and need to be at the top of their respective games. The Flames held an optional skate this morning so it will be interesting to see if Sutter adjusts the defence pairings for the purpose of tonight's match-up. The forward lines appear unchanged.
One stat that jumps out when comparing these two teams is faceoff percentage. I have been whining about the Flames' ineptitude in the faceoff circle for quite some time now, and it doesn't seem to be improving--in fact, they now sit dead last in the league in faceoff percentage at 46.8% while the Sharks are first with a 56.3% success rate. The Flames' best option on the dot is Dustin Boyd--operating at 50.5%. While Sutter, a go-to faceoff man in his day, claims the team is working on faceoff strategies, this is quite the fall from grace for a squad that ranked eighth in the league in the same category last season.
By the way, Joe Thornton is on a ten-game point streak. Kill me now.
Game time is 8PM on CBC. Heatley is a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms.
Go Flames Go.