Apologies for the late post…
The Flames won their first season opener in six seasons Thursday with a 5-3 win over the Canucks at home. After a sizzling start led to an early 3-0 lead, the Flames slowed down the next two periods, and eventually Miikka Kiprusoff had to bail out the team in the third period to preserve the win. Nevertheless, there were some good things to take away from the Flames’ win. But since it was the season opener, these can only be called general observations, or knee jerk reactions.
Miikka Kiprusoff was the first star and saved the game for the Flames. When the third Vancouver goal went in – a very weak goal from the side of the net that somehow squeezed through his pads – I fully expected the Flames to lose, as it fit the formula of so many other collapses I had seen. But he managed to rebound from this bad goal, like vintage Kipper. Kiprusoff is a notoriously slow starter, and though I obviously won’t go so far to say he won’t be this year based on this one game, he did look in midseason form tonight. While this wasn’t necessarily a steal of a win, I don’t remember him being this important to a Flames win since he single handedly beat the Kings 2-0 last February – a win that was one of the few he outright stole last year. He made a diving stick save on one of the Sedins that was reminiscent of his TSN Play of the Year save last year on Kyle Wellwood (incidentally, the Wellwood save happened in late February). He was helped, I thought, by the fact that while the Canucks outshot the Flames through two periods, they did not start getting rapid, real scoring chances in succession until the third. I don’t know how long Kipper can keep this up, but I haven’t seen him play this good, this early, since Jim Playfair was coach.
Other notes on the game. Something I’d been curious about – especially since Anton Stralman was traded at the end of training camp – was who would be the second defenseman on the second powerplay with Mark Giordano…tonight it was Robyn Regehr….filling in for Cory Sarich was 7th defenseman Staffan Kronwall, and he might be my early candidate for the Anders Eriksson Memorial Defensive Scapegoat Award…Dion Phaneuf looks like he’s got his legs back after his hip injury derailed him last season; his open-ice hit on Daniel Sedin to end the first was one of my favourite moments of the game. He played 23:21, a far cry from last season when he was competing with Jay Bouwmeester for highest ice time in the league…Bouwmeester himself was a +2 with 29 minutes. Though his offensive contribution amounted to 1 shot and 1 missed shot, his speed and quiet defensive play was apparent…Rene Bourque got two powerplay points after just one the entire 2009 season, and Adam Pardy and Brandon Prust also scored after just two goals combined from the two last season with the Flames… The Flames were 2-for-3 on the powerplay, but 2-for-4 on the penalty kill. The first Vancouver powerplay goal went in off Fredrik Sjostrom’s stick (a player I’ve been told is an excellent penalty killer). Perhaps this is the story of this opening game as it applies to the bigger picture: a promising start, with some very positive signs, but still obviously some kinks to work out. Which is generally what was to be expected, but still better than the usual opening season rout I had expected.