Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Calgary Flames vs. Detroit Red Wings - Pre Series Analysis cont

For the first time since Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury and Lanny MacDonald played together, the forward group is Calgary's true strong point. From top to bottom, Calgary only has one or two real weaknesses (which I will get to later) while they have many many strengths. On the top line, Jarome Iginla is on his best PP/G season, and in my opinion, is playing the most effective hockey of his career. With him is his best buddy Craig Conroy, who has been somewhat of a revelation since he returned from La La Land. He's been very steady (that gaffe in SJ aside) and is on a near point a game pace. On the other side is the sublime Alex Tanguay, who reminds me a lot of Ales Hemsky. Sometimes you want to scream at him to shoot the puck, but most of the time he's just making really superb offensive decisions. Tanguay's biggest problem is that he's a bit prone to taking bad penalties, so the first year Flame will have to stay disciplined.

On the second line we have Daymond Langkow at centre. While early on in the year Daymond couldn't score to save his life, he came alive in November and continued on a torrid pace until now, netting 33 in the process. His winger is Kristian Huselius who is arguably the best puckhandler and pure goal scorer in the NHL (19.65 shooting percentage). Watching him is dizzying - he single handidly runs Calgary's PP, freezing opposition players with his moves and then drilling the puck in. MG mentions Huselius' PP prowess in his pre-series analysis as well, and I think it's a point the Detroit coaches will need to take home to shut down Calgary. The third member of this potent second line has varied from Matthew Lombardi to David Moss. They both play nice complimentary roles: Lombardi provides the line with top notch speed and a devastating forecheck, while David Moss is a true grinder. He goes into the ugly areas to get the puck and he loves scoring the ugly goal.

Calgary's third line has come alive in the last 10 games. Defensive specialists Stephane Yelle (king of blocking shots) and Marcus Nilson (who Calgary sorely missed in last year's playoffs) have been paired with Jeff Friesen or Tony Amonte. It's hard to say who has been the bigger disappointment for Calgary, but have had very low expectations, and both have actually played below expectations. But for whatever reason, Jeff Friesen's play has been steadily improving since late December-early January, and now is a positive force on the team. Tony Amonte is probably Calgary's worst player - he's mediocre defensively and he's lost any touch he ever had around the net. A friend of mine has coined a statistic that applies only to Amonte - SAG (shots at goal). This refers to the fact Amonte almost always misses the net.

Calgary's fourth line is a bit of a jumble right now. Wayne Primeau has been the oft-centreman of this line, and his physicality is something this team sorely needs up front. He's been joined by a bunch of wingers: Tony Amonte (spoken about already) whose true place IS on the 4th line, Byron Ritchie, who has had a very respectable season and who probably deserves more ice time (but who many speculate is hurt). Darren McCarty, the former Red Wing (and Wing fan favourite) has been hurt with a 'groin' problem for most of the season, but last year saved his best for the playoffs. He appears to be ready to go and could be a nice energy guy on this line. Eric Godard is Calgary's enforcer, and while he has limited hockey skills, he KO'd Derek Booguard, and if utilized will keep Detroit's players guessing.

In terms of weaknesses, Calgary has two, both of which I have touched upon already. Tony Amonte is one, and Calgary's best chance is to hide him on the 4th line. Calgary's lack of physical forwards is #2. While Primeau has been consistent, the rest of the Calgary forwards have been pretty much MIA. If Calgary is to beat Detroit, this trend must be reversed. Jarome has to throw his weight around, same goes for Langkow and Moss. The third line doesn't have to hit, but they must pester. Finally, Darren McCarty and Wayne Primeau can only play one way to be effective, and that way is physical.

I can't analyze the Detroit forward with the same depth as the Flames forwards simply because I'm not as familiar with them. However, there are some key players who I think will be difference makers in the series. This list starts first and foremost with Henrik Zetterberg. In my opinion he was the most consistent Red Wing in the playoffs last year, he lead the team in goals this year and will have to be a top 3 player for Detroit to win. His health is questionable though, and although it sounds as if he will start on Thursday, one has to wonder if he is truly game shape ready. Second on the list is Pavel Datsyuk, the best regular season player Detroit has. I say regular season for the well publicized fact that Datsyuk has so far not been able to keep his game together in the playoffs. He has the reputation of being soft, and if Detroit is going to win this series, Datsyuk must be a positive factor.

On the second line, Robert Lang only had a so so season, and Todd Bertuzzi has been shuttled in to help get that second line going. Whether you love or hate Bertuzzi, he has been a Flame killer in the past. There have been many a game against Vancouver in the past that Bertuzzi has used to mesmorize Flames defence with his strength and puck handling skills and almost singlehandidly beat us. Bertuzzi's health is a question mark as well though, and although he won't be expected to carry the team as he was in Vancouver, every game that he doesn't perform he will be put even further under the microscope. The pressure could definately get to him. As always, Tomas Holmstrom will be standing in front of Kipper tipping pucks past him. He will score in this series, its only a matter of time.

When Daniel (Danny) Cleary played for Edmonton my friends and I would joke that he would only get going if the stadium music guy played some Celtic jig music, but the fact is that Cleary has been a nice little rescue project for the Red Wings. His second half has been extremely mediocre, but he could provide some secondary scoring for Detroit in this series. Kyle Calder has had a statistically terrible season, but he looked alright last year in the World Championships. I wouldn't expect a lot out of him though.

Of course we are going to see Maltby pestering anyone he can get his hands on, his stickwork matched only by his mouth. As always Kris Draper will be killing penalties, dishing out hits, and occasionally, scoring.

A couple of notables that are question marks to me are Mikael Samuelsson who got off to a roaring start last season but has cooled off considerably since, and Johan Franzen, a guy who Detroit blogs have been raving about.

Edge: Calgary
The Flames in my opinion have more depth and more proven guys, including the best forward in the series: Jarome Iginla. The Red Wings, although potentially very dangerous, have a lot of question marks. If those question marks are answered, Detroit could regain the edge.


walkinvisible said...

Sometimes you want to scream at [tanguay] to shoot the puck

picture it: december 7. calgary v. minnesota at the xcel center in st. paul. game goes to shootout. i'm one of maybe 3 flames fans in the entire arena. seconds after tangs takes the puck at centre ice, i yell through the hushed crowd, at the top of my lungs, "SHOOOOOT !!!"

it was kindof my attempt at sarcasm. or more accurately a well-timed comment on #40's game. seriously... tangs just needs to put more pucks on net, without a doubt...

Kyle said...

My rule of thumb is that usually when you have a high shooting percentage (20.56 in Tanguay's case) it simply means you aren't shooting the puck enough.

33 goals for Juice though and I'll make an exception.

MetroGnome said...

That (SAG) Amonte stat is great. I may have to employ that in the future if I feel like giving him the gears...

Poor, poor Tony. I actually like the guy, you know. He tries hard an all that - he' just can't seem to DO ANYTHING of note anymore.

Kyle said...

Good news! It looks like Tony was being utilized on the 4th line in practice. Here's hoping it stays that way.

duncan said...

Saw that list, it's just how the lines should be — Lombo on the wing with Langkow, Amonte on the fourth. Let's hope it stays that way.

Kyle said...

Duncan, I like the list too, but I hope we can find a way to utilize Moss.