What's worse for the CBJ is that the Flames are hot going 3-0-1 in their past four while the Jackets are 0-3-1 in that stretch taking just one point, a shootout loss in Nashville, during this stretch of poor play.
Captain Canada, Jarome Iginla leads the Flames with 25 points in 24 games on 16 goals including 13 goals in his past 14 games. While he did not score a goal last night in Detroit, he did register two helpers and his chemistry with Olli Jokinen seems to be improving each night.
The Flames are +12 in goal differential having allowed just 61 tallies while the Jackets are a dismal -13 having already surrendered 86 goals. As we mentioned the other day, the CBJ are moving toward allowing an incomprehensible 300 goals this season and the Flames pose yet another test with a deep team that can throw physicality, scoring prowess, speed and team defense at the Jackets. Remember, the Flames have had little trouble scoring over the past few years. Their problem has been keeping the puck out of their net, even with Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes most nights. But, with the offseason change at head coach that brought yet another Sutter brother to the Flames organization in former Devils head man Brent Sutter, and the addition of all-world defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from the Panthers, the Flames have improved their defensive play and have become much more responsible in their own end.
The attention to defensive detail has paid off for the Flames as they are 7th overall in team defense surrendering just 2.54 goals per game, yet they have not sacrificed scoring as they are 6th at 3.04 goals-for per game. Whereas the Jackets have been struggling to find that sort of consistency. We can score this year (9th, 2.96 goals-for per game) but we are awful defensively surrendering 3.46 goals per game which is 28th overall. Clearly the CBJ must find a way to keep the Flames off the scoreboard while capitalizing on any opportunities or powerplays that come their way.
Control Calgary's first line - While the Flames have formidable secondary scoring from the likes of Daymond Langkow (15 points), Rene Bourque (21 points - who may miss tonight's game) and former Jacket Curtis Glencross (10 points), the Iginla-Jokinen-Lundmark line was difficult to control for the Red Wings last night with Iginla assisting on goals by each of his linemates. If the Jackets can recapture their defensive intensity, and keep this line in check, they will dramatically increase their chances to win by forcing the secondary scoring from other sources. However, both Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf can put the puck in the net and are dangerous on the powerplay.
Squeeze the Juice - Kristian Huselius has been incredibly hot for the Jackets with five goals in his last seven games. One thing that seems to have helped is that he is now skating more aggressively and shooting the puck more. Calgary's defense is susceptible to allowing a good number of odd-man rushes. Huselius should look for an opportunity to gamble and take a shot at a breakaway. The key will be whether our defense can control the puck in the zone and make good, smart multi-line passes out of our end.
Drive the net - Whether it's Mikka Kiprusoff playing again tonight, or more likely, his ward Curtis McElhinney, the Jackets should drive the net with vigor. The last time the Flames came to Nationwide, they did so as part of the second game in two nights and the Jackets simply outworked the clearly tired Flames. Now, that game was the infamous 6-5 OT loss to the Blackhawks when they led 5-0 and let it get away. I'm guessing they expended much more energy that night than last night in Detroit. However, Kipper and his defense do not like guys in his face. Phaneuf and Regehr, in particular, are prone to taking dumb penalties. If the Jackets can get in front and make trouble for either a perhaps-less-than-100% Kiprusoff (he made 40 stops last night), or his young back-up, we might have a chance to draw some penalties or score some goals that might not otherwise be there.
Can anyone stop the puck? Steve Mason has been abysmal this season and Mathieu Garon has been inconsistent. Like baseball, good pitching beats good hitting and good goaltending can make the difference any night. Will one of these guys step up and take the #1 job? Whomever plays tonight, if they're bad, forget it - the Flames roll.