Kent Wilson was the managing editor of Matchsticks and Gasoline and is the managing editor of FlamesNation.ca, as well as the writer of his own thoughts at Five Hole Fanatics. Needless to say, he's a serious Flames supporter. I asked him a few questions about the Flames, their coach, and their statistically poor offense as a team. Consider this as an addendum to the New Jersey Devils-Calgary Flames preview that went up (much) earlier today.
KW: I've been honestly disappointed with Brent Sutter this season. His arrival did shore up the Flames defensively (although the addition of [Jay] Bouwmeester and the resurgence of Kipper [Miikka Kiprusoff] probably helped), but it also cratered Calgary's offense. Part of that was the departure of [Michael] Cammalleri and the struggles of [Olli] Jokinen, but the truth is Sutter has the team playing a very cautious game. He also completely misread the talent in town for the first 50 games, playing guys like Jokinen and [Jarome] Iginla in roles that didn't suit their abilities.
Question 2. For many outside fans, when we think of the Flames, we think of Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Dion Phaneuf. While it's too early to tell how Wednesday's deals will impact the team, Phaneuf was traded well back in February. How have the players acquired from Toronto fit in Calgary so far?
KW: They've been good, but not a panacea for the offensive woes. I was on record in the summer as saying the team needed to re-allocate dollars from the back-end to the front, so I'm actually pleased with the move in principle. It remains to be seen if Sutter dealt for the right players though.
Question 3. One of the more surprising team stats for the Flames is that they only average 28.5 shots on net per game - the third lowest average in the NHL not including Wednesday's and Thursday's game. Why aren't they shooting the puck more? Is it because of the constant changes at forward? Is it because of the coach? Is it because of something else entirely?
KW: The Flames were actually much worse to start the year. That had 2 causes:
1.) Calgary had the highest SH% in the league through October and much of November. That meant the club got out to a lot of early leads and spent a lot of time sitting on their heels protecting leads. It suppressed their shots totals for the first two months to the degree that the Flames had the third worst shot differential in the entire league.
2.) Remember I mentioned Sutter misread talent above? More specifically, he played Jokinen and Iginla together on the "top line" and skated them against other top guns. They got their heads beat in in terms of possession, scoring chances and outshooting most nights because Iginla is not longer and elite player and Jokinen was never a guy to drive possession (despite his gaudy offensive totals). So when you have $12M worth of forwards spending half the night in their own end, it becomes tough to generate shots.
And finally, Calgary is one of the worst teams in the league at drawing penalties for whatever reason. As a result, less PP's = less shots. [Ed. Note: Calgary has had only 210 power play chances, the third fewest in the NHL. New Jersey has the fourth fewest with 214.]
Question 4. Let's talk goaltending. Miikka Kiprusoff has a fantastic work-ethic and a high stamina level; and his back-up is now Vesa Toskala, so I figure that he'll start against the Devils on Friday. What should Devils fans expect from Kiprusoff in terms of his style and tendencies?
KW: Kipper has rebounded from two very mediocre previous seasons. He's highly competitive and can absolutely steal a game on some nights. He's had some struggles recently (think the Olympics) but is typically solid at stopping the first shot and controlling rebounds.
Question 5. This will be the only time the Devils and Flames will play each other - in the regular season. So let me be frank, will the Calgary Flames make the playoffs as they are?
KW: After the loss to Minny, their chances fell to about 20%. So, I honestly doubt it.
Big thanks to Kent for taking the time to answer my questions about Calgary. Cautious, eh? Nothing throws off a cautious team like forcing them to take risks early. Keep that in mind while watching tonight's game. Let me know in the comments whether this changes your outlook and hopes for tonight's game.