The last time through Motown presented the sort of game that would have rightfully driven a Wings fan a bit nuts. They badly out-played the Flames for about 2 1/2 periods, before the 3-0 goal ended their push. On that night, the Flames chose Daymond Langkow to face Pavel Datsyuk, while leaving Jarome Iginla to battle Henrik Zetterberg et al. That sort of match-up may well occur again tonight, with the Russian center having the superior wingers in Franzen and Holmstrom. If Langkow gets a shut down role, that just leaves Zetterberg against Bourque-Stajan-Iginla. Nice. Bourque and Iginla looked pretty solid in St. Paul, so if Matt Stajan is going to survive this night not looking like a complete chump, his wingers will likely have to carry the mail.
Kent wrote his amicus brief on behalf of Langkow earlier today, and I suspect that as we go through the rest of the year, examining his performance by points scored will likely be an unsatisfying measure. He’s very likely to be stuck playing the other team’s skill players for the duration, and he’ll have to do it from some lousy spots on the ice. He and Christopher Higgins look up to the task so far, but tonight they and erstwhile cohort Ales Kotalik will be put under the microscope. No matter which of the Flames’ top lines matches with the top two Wings’ lines, we’ll get some answers about how much better suited Calgary is to play the better teams in the conference.
Craig Conroy had a tough afternoon in Minnesota shaking off the rust, and that can’t last tonight. He’ll very likely see a bit of Valteri Filppula this evening, so he David Moss and Niklas Hagman will need to be sharp. Filppula and ol’ Sparklepants do occasionally leak shots against though, which could mean good things if Hagman can locate his shooting eye. Normally that would leave Curtis Glencross, Eric Nystrom and Jamal Mayers in a good place relative to match-ups, but the Wings will have Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves against them, leaving a tougher challenge than they’ve faced thus far. Like I said, this night is a proper exam.
The Flames’ restructured backline was decent enough versus the Wild, with Giordano and Sarich getting a surprising ratio of D zone starts. Tonight does present some issues, and given the size of Holmstrom and Franzen, I wonder if Bouwmeester and Staios will draw that assignment. Ian White seems undersized for that sort of duty, and Zetterberg-Williams-Cleary aren’t quite as physically dominant. Again, interesting stuff.
After a day to watch his buddy at work, Miikka Kiprusoff will return to the net. The last time these teams met, he was the difference maker, stopping 40 shots en route to a shut-out. He’ll very likely need to be in that sort of form again, especially early on if Detroit unloads their standard first period blitz.
The Wings’ season, as I mentioned up top, seems to be a reflection of some injury and roster challenges, but they’ve been a bit unlucky in the shooting percentage arena as well. Despite out-shooting their opposition, they’ve been out-scored 5 v 5. Shooting 7% will do that to a team, and that percentage rates only behind Boston league wide. One spot where the Red Wings have clearly taken a step back is in 5 v 5 shot prevention, going from 27.1 SA/60 last season to 29.6 this year. That has them on track to give up about 200 more shots for the season 5 v 5, so the fact that Jimmy Howard has been pretty solid this season hasn’t given them much of a goals against boost. Again, injuries and a slight slide in play by Niklas Lidstrom are the likely culprits for the regression in shot suppression.
Detroit’s mostly healthy now, though, and that’s what makes this game such an intriguing contest. For all their problems earlier in the year, the Red Wings still might be the equal of any team in the West when they sport a full roster, and winning in Chicago Sunday while dropping a 5 spot on the Hawks isn’t applesauce. As long as Mike Babcock keeps future Hall of Famer™ Chris Osgood stapled to the bench, they’ll be a handful for any team, and that certainly goes for the Flames. Kiprusoff playing well and a night not spent in the box are the likely tickets to having a shot at winning this one. Detroit usually gets an early jump on teams at the Joe, and a few penalties normally just seem to add to the cascade effect. As I’ve mentioned, this is the type of contest that might well give us a proper feel for where this Flames’ season is headed.
Lines from the Herald:
From Helene St. James at the Freep:
Game time is 5 MT on Sportsnet West.
by Robert Cleave