The Calgary Flames rebounded from a relatively lackluster performance against Chicago on Thursday to defeat Edmonton 4-1 at the 'Dome tonight. Owen Nolan continued his strong play, leading the way with two goals. Dion Phaneuf also scored for the Flames, with Jarome Iginla adding an empty netter. The Flames are currently in seventh place, remaining two points back of Minnesota for the division lead. Colorado is a point ahead after creaming Vancouver (three points back) while Nashville is two points back of the Flames, however the Flames hold the upper hand due to leading the season series against the Preds.
In a first period punctuated by a flurry of fights (four in the first five and a half minutes), the Flames were able to score in the first for the first time in six games. The Flames outshot the Oilers 11-3 in the first, but couldn't score until at 16:14, when Dion Phaneuf's shot from the blueline hit Owen Nolan on the way for a deflection into the net. Despite this statistical dominance, there was also some critical, excellent defensive plays on the Flames' side. What stood out to me was Robyn Regehr's work in the middle on an Edmonton 3-on-1 (this might have been Cory Sarich, I'm not entirely sure) and a few good defensive plays by David Hale, of all players.
In the second, the Flames were just as dominant, with a 10-3 shot count, and got in two more goals. The first came from Dion Phaneuf, who wired home a slap shot from the point in heavy traffic on the power play at 4:41. Eight minutes later, Owen Nolan came down the wing and scored with a heavy, fast slapper from the right circle (although to be fair, Mathieu Garon fell down trying to stop it). Although Robert Nilsson ruined Kipper's shutout with about four minutes left on a clean-cut breakaway, Iggy sealed the deal with a minute forty left, scoring on the Oilers empty net from center ice.
While I'm cautious about any kind of optimism until there is an "x" next to Calgary's name in the standings, it's undeniable that this was a huge win for Calgary in the playoff push, and the kind of game we should be winning against teams like Edmonton. The Flames' dominant effort was re-assuring, to put it lightly. The fact that the Flames are showing themselves able to win without scoring from Iginla, Huselius, or even Langkow is an extremely positive sign. Alex Tanguay continues his hot streak under extreme heat, now with no goals but 11 assists in his past 11 games.
The player on the Flames who has completely proven me wrong continues to be Owen Nolan. When he signed here on July 2, my first reaction was anger at Darryl Sutter. But he is a perfect fit here and on pace for more goals than last year in Phoenix (less overall points, but name me one player who scored more points after coming to the Flames). His recent play has me convinced that Nolan could be a huge veteran presence on the Flames come April.
Although the effort tonight was statistically dominant, it is my job as a loyal fan to find something to criticize. I felt watching the first ten minutes that the effort was not much better than that of the Chicago game (and ESPN.com's handy play-by-play transcript confirms this - most of Calgary's 11 shots came past the ten minute mark.) I don't know if I'm the only Flames fan who feels this, but the Flames just don't have the playmakers to make plays, if you know what I mean. Maybe it was the watching-from-the-couch perspective, but I seemed to see several plays the Flames could have made out of loose pucks, especially coming out of our zone. One of the main reasons I think the power play is so terrible is that our players hold on to the puck too long and cannot make quick, smart decisions with it. This is one of the reasons we don't make plays like other teams, as well.
The Flames begin a big and tough (Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Coyotes and Stars, before coming home to face the Wings) road trip in San Jose on Tuesday, which could turn out being the most important series of games the Flames will have all year. Even though the Flames won tonight, the climate in Calgary still, to me, remains high for a trade and the two day break seems like a window of opportunity for Darryl Sutter.