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Scouting the Flames: Q & A With Matchsticks and Gasoline

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I anticipate a different style of play tonight than we seen on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were nursing some injuries and wanted to keep the game close and take advantage of a Sabres mistake.  They almost accomplished that goal but the Sabres penalty killing was clutch in the end.

The Calgary Flames come to town as a team that is clicking on all cylinders.  They have won four games in a row and they have an impressive 5-1-1 record playing away from home. They boast one of the highest scoring offensive teams in the league, averaging over three goals/game, and they have Miikka Kiprusoff in goal.  In other words, the Sabres have their work cut out for them tonight.

The Sabres penalty killing was clutch on Wednesday and they will need to be again tonight.  The best strategy will be to stay out of the box because the Flames have scored 12 power goals this season and they have the 11th ranked power play in the league. The penalty killing has been very good for Calgary as well. They have allowed 11 power play goals against but they are ranked 9th in the league.

Kent from Matchsticks and Gasoline was kind enough to answer some questions for us. I had the pleasure of answering some questions for him as well so make sure to head over there and check it out.

1.       The Calgary Flames found themselves making headlines quite often this summer. The biggest news was probably the hiring of Brent Sutter. Here on the East Coast Sutter is not looked at favorably because of the way he left New Jersey.  What was the reaction to his hiring in Calgary?

Flames fans were thrilled for the same reason New Jersey fans were furious: Brent Sutter is a good coach. Whatever his motivations were for the Devils prior to the expiration of his contract, they weren't overly inspected for moral consistency because, well...Calgary made out well in the exchange. Sutters tend to be popular in these parts and I assume Brent still would be in the swamp had he stuck around. Love and hate is a thin line, afterall.   

2.       With Sutter now the head coach, what has been the biggest difference in the team and their style of play?

The results have been favorable thus far, but the actual performances have been uneven. Expectations were Calgary would reassume it's previous "you can't score on us, HAR HAR HAR" identity, but instead they began the new season much like they ended the last one: marginally outscoring some obvious defensive deficiencies. On top of that, the team's shot differential went into the tank and only the decent record was stopping fans from looking at each other and laughing nervously.  

However, things have begun to turn around recently. The shots are down, the goals against are down and the club is starting to at least partially resemble the hard-ass defensive team many of the faithful began fantasizing about the moment Keenan was canned. In sum, the quality scoring chances against have begun to drop with the shots against, Kipper is playing better and Calgary's very expensive blueline is blocking a lot of shots. Sutter's next trick will have to be coaxing Olli Jokinen's largish, melon head out of his butt.

3.) The other big news was acquiring Jay Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers.  How surprised were you when the trade was made and how has he impacted the Flames?

To some degree, I wasn't surprised at all. I made some rather smug predictions at my personal site (www.fiveholefanatics.ca) that Sutter would aggressively pursue Bouwmeester because, given our brave leader's player acquiring proclivities, JayBo may have well been made out of diamonds and chocolate (or something that would be as equally seductive to a farmer from Viking who rarely smiles and never admits to enjoying anything besides hard work and pain).

That said, the timing of the trade surprised me somewhat, as I assumed Sutter would simply join the chorus of suitors once Bouwmeester divorced his hideous ex of a team and joined the open market. Silly me.

As for impact, Bouwmeester has actually usurped Robyn Regehr as the team's number one shut-down option, which is impressive. In fact, one gets the impression from watching Bouwmeester that he could take on the tough match-ups with little more than a blind, ill-mannered yak as a partner and still manage to keep his head above water. So yeah...he's been good.

4.) Hockey fans everywhere have heard about Jarome Iginla and Dion Phanuef but the Flames leading scorer is Rene Bourque.  He has come out of nowhere to be a force in the Flames lineup.  What has been the biggest difference in his play that has allowed him to become an offensive force?

He's taken some steps forward as he's matured, but in truth Rene Bourque was probably always this player. He scored a bunch of goals in his first season in the AHL and was named rookie of the year. However, he's almost always been cast in a defensive roll ever since he cracked the NHL. The Blackhawks had him patrolling a third line with nobodies against bad-asses and killing penalties. The Flames under Keenan did roughly the same thing, although he was also forced to play a lot with Todd Bertuzzi, which is kinda like being asked to run through an obstacle course with a tuba over your head. He formed some nice chemistry with Daymond Langkow and managed to ride some decent percentages and a total dearth of left wing depth in the organization into his current scoring role. He's now the anchor on the best two-way forward line on the team...but he also gets some PP time for a change. And there's no Bertuzzi weighing him down this time. Thus the improved numbers.

5.) We always ask our fellow bloggers for a prediction.  Who will win the Sabres or Flames?

I'd love to be self-effacing and gregarious...but I won't. I'll take the Flames, by a score of 5-1, if only to cause all your readers to visit my site and make angry comments in big capital letters about how I know nothing about hockey.