It’s days like this when I wish we played the West more often. After a night to remember in Edmonton, the Sabres travel south across Alberta to the Saddledome and play the Calgary Flames. Calgary is one of my favorite teams to watch in the West, and the Sabres seem to match up well against them in recent times. Last season the Sabres never saw them, and haven’t been in Calgary since 2006. That’s far too long without a game against one of my favorite HNIC teams, so I’m pretty excited about tonight.
I like the Flames for a number of reasons, but let’s start with the fans. The atmosphere at Flames games is phenomenal, especially in the playoffs. Imagine if every Sabres fan had a blue jersey and knew to wear it to every home game. The Saddledome is a wash of red for every game, something Sabres brass only dreamed of seeing back in the ’99 Finals. Remember that picture from the Finals that used to be in the atrium at the Arena? Calgary makes that look like an AHL promotion come playoff time. Calgary is a hockey town through and through, and their passion makes most people forget the Flames are from Atlanta.
Not only that, but they have a few really likable players. You can’t think about Calgary this decade without Jaroma Iginla being mentioned. He hits, he fights, and he scores goals. What more do you want from a hockey player? Last season he was mentioned as an MVP candidate, and for good reason. A 98 point year is nothing to sneeze at, and he’s been producing since he started playing at age 19. Iginla is one of the great captains in the league, and he follows the “leader” model as well as anyone.
Calgary also has one of the best young defenseman in the game in Dion Phaneuf. His defensive numbers haven’t been great this season, but he’s an anchor on the power play and hits as hard as anyone in the league. The Flames rely heavily on Kiprusoff, and he’s had another solid year as well. He’s played in 43 of Calgary’s 46 games, the most for any NHL goalie this season. Kipper’s backup (Curtis McElhinney) has a 0-2-1 record so far, so perhaps that’s why.
Overall Calgary has had another solid season thus far, with 60 points and a nine point lead in the Northwest Division. That’s at least a three seed in the postseason, and with a hot goaltender Calgary can make some noise this spring for sure. They’ve gotten good scoring balance from guys like Craig Conroy, Curtis Glencross, and a formerly left-for-dead Todd Bertuzzi; along with good seasons from their big guns. Their top three salaries are also their top three scorers, so it’s hard to find a big disappointment on this team.
Calgary gives up a quite a few goals, but then again so do the Sabres. After last night’s game we really have no idea what to expect from this Sabres team, so all that could mean nothing. With Miller and Kiprusoff we could see a goaltender’s duel, or another high scoring affair out on the plains of Alberta.
Adam Mair may be the only change in the Sabres’ roster (stitches from a blocked shot), but we haven’t heard anything as of yet. The first five minutes of this game may tell us a lot, as Calgary hasn’t played in a week and the Sabres played less than 24 hours ago.
It’s always interesting to watch Calgary, as three former Sabres are on the roster. It looks like only Cory Sarich will be active tonight, with Wayne Primeau and Rhett Warrener on Injured Reserve. It seems Miller and Cammalleri have some history, so look for that to get beaten to death tonight.