So, here are my key thoughts after watching the Flames pull a couple of wins out this week:
1. I think Miikka Kiprusoff is bouncing back. Really.
Aside from the fact he's "winning," it's the rebound control, particularly last night, that has my spirits buoyed. The Kipper of old had this bizarre, miraculous, Krazy Glue equipment that always set him apart, but disappeared often last year and was gone completely to start this season. Not last night. The rebounds were gone, and so were the second-chance goals. The Preds scored on the rush and on bang-bang passing plays, none of which I'll attribute to Kipper sucking. (OK, maybe he should have had the Zanon goal, but whatever. He's getting better.)
2. The Lombardi injury, if it's something mid- to long-term, may be an opportunity.
Hear me out here, and understand ahead of time that I'm a huge Matt Lombardi fan, who thinks the Flames are better off with him than without him.
I also think, however, that Dustin Boyd has a bigger upside, and that he's being wasted in the fourth-line/penalty kill nonsense he's been stuck with most of the season so far. That changed last night after Lombardi went down. Sure, Mike Keenan was weirdly going with a top line of Iginla-Primeau-Vandermeer, but he was also shipping Boyd out there with a succession of better linemates, and including him in the rotation in the last two minutes. The Flames will only gain from this kind of usage: This guy has potential, and he needs the confidence gained from playing in these better situations regularly.
If Calgary can keep its head above water in an extended Lombardi absence, and Boyd can establish himself as a Top 6 guy when he's gone, that's a good problem to have.
3. Jim Vandermeer appears useful.
Since they reunited him with Dion Phaneuf, my eyes have him as the steadiest guy outside of Robyn Regehr. Cory Sarich was downright pathetic against Nashville, just like Phaneuf was against Washington. Meanwhile, you have Vandermeer playing effectively at even strength, on the PK, and occasionally at forward when Keenan decides to shake it up IRON STYLE. If I'm ranking Flames defenders this year on defensive merit, here's the list:
And, the bottom three have all really struggled, with Phaneuf not being nearly consistent enough yet. Is "Jimbo" (take a look at his gloves next time they do a close-up) worth $2.3 million a season? No, but he's worth something, and everyone below him on that list save for Gio earns more.
Now, the advanced stats from Behind The Net have him middle-of-the-pack in most categories (even struggling) but, as I said, I think he suffered through many poor-ass pairings in the initial games, playing with both Aucoin and Giordano (who we all have to admit hasn't been the godsend we'd hoped for).
Also, I like the mean streak, if not the straight-arm-to-Tootoo's-face two-minute penalties, and he covers Dion's ass better than most.
4. Good-luck jerseys really work.
I busted out the 2004-era red Koho for Washington, and repeated it last night. 2008-09 record: 2-0. As for Saturday, I've got the Phoenix feed on Centre Ice but will be otherwise occupied, so I won't watch till Sunday. First game of the year I'll have to miss night-of, so no jersey, and I'll take full responsibility for the loss right now. Sorry.