The Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks are the best team in the NHL today. Since day 1 of this NHL season they have been dominating, running off 25 wins, scoring more than every team in the league save one (Buffalo), and they have more points than any other team in the league. They show no signs of slowing, having the best record (8-2-0-0) in the league in their last 10 games.
Not that I think this is a particular suprise to hockey fans. After having won the Scott Niedermeyer sweepstakes thanks to an ace in the hole (Damn you Special Neids!) the Ducks (or more specifically Brian Burke) aquired the disgruntled Pronger from Edmonton, thus having locked up possibly the best 1-2 defensive group in the history of the NHL. Supergenius coach Randy Carlyle has determined playing them apart at about 25 minutes a night (usually more) assures that at any moment one of the two of Niedermeyer and Pronger are on at any one time, creating an unstoppable defensive force. Who is Pronger paired with? Who is Niedermeyer paired with? Does it matter? All apologies to Beauchemin and O'Donnel, but I'm pretty sure Zyuzin could play with Neids or Pronger and look like all-star material.
That is why the Flames' game against the Ducks tonight is of the utmost importance. Already Calgary has had what could be termed as huge success against the Ducks with a home shutout victory (1 of only 4 regular time losses the Ducks have accrued all season). But the Flames are no longer at home. The Flames are facing their nemesis - the road. With a road record hovering around .500 and 10 straight home wins, you can do the math and figure out the Flames are having a second straight Jekyl and Hyde season.
The current road trip has been much of the same, loss against division rival Canucks, but a win against the basement dwelling Coyotes. Tonight though, is the real test, D-Day, if you will. Tonight's game could become a turning point for the Flames this season; pull their proverbial shit together, beat the best team in the league and prove to themselves AND their critics they have what it takes to be the best, or fall back into old patterns of being good to great at home and terrible on the road, leading what could be another first round playoff flop.
To be fair, the Flames have a slapdash defensive group tonight, the pairings being Regehr/Ference, Phanuef/Giordano (hope Mark is ready for a 20+ minute night) and Regehr/Ference II (by the way, how wierd is that?) But there are always ways to find excuses, always ways to find reasons to win. The Flames need to find reasons to win.
As Rod Stewart sang, "tonight's the night." But will it be alright?
Keys to the Game
Shut Down Selanne - The Masterton Trophy winner has been a Flame killer in the past, and he's simply on fire this season. He is the key to the Ducks' offense.
Giggy vs. Kipper - Giguere couldn't get the job done in the playoffs last year but his record this year is a stunning 21-3-5 with a .922%. Kipper played very average against the Ducks in the playoffs but shut them out once already this year. He may need a repeat type performance for the Flames to win.
Secondary Scoring - Don't count on the Flames winning without at least a goal from a line other than the Iginla Langkow Tanguay one. Huselius has had his moments versus the ducks, in my opinon, he's the one to watch.
- check out Finny for the view from the opposition!