CALGARY – Alex Tanguay showed Calgary Flames fans exactly what they wanted to see Tuesday night—some offensive creativity.
Returning to Calgary after two sub-par seasons with Montreal and Tampa Bay, the 30-year-old winger set up a pair of goals including Jarome Iginla’s winner in a 3-2 pre-season victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
With the score tied 2-2 in the third, Tanguay sent Iginla down the right wing and the Flames captain ripped a wrist shot over the glove of Vancouver goaltender Tyler Weiman.
“It always feels good to win, no matter what, especially when we’re at home and playing Vancouver. But you could see that there was rust on everybody,” Iginla said.
Calgary ranked second last in the NHL in goals last year as the Flames finished 10th in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
The team is hoping the combination of Iginla and Olli Jokinen, which didn’t really pan out last year, will work better this year with the insertion of Tanguay onto the line.
The combonation seemed to click, as Tanguay was also involved in the Flames’ first goal. With the Flames short-handed and trailing 1-0 in the second, Tanguay broke away on a two-on-one with Mikael Backlund and feathered a pretty pass to the Swedish youngster, who deflected the puck past starting Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack.
“Even though it’s pre-season, it’s nice to find ways to win in the third period. Our captain took care of that last goal for us,” said Tanguay.
Ales Kotalik also scored for Calgary. Jannik Hansen and Marco Rosa replied for the Canucks, whose line-up was young and inexperienced compared to the Flames. Of the dozen Vancouver forwards dressed, the only Canuck regulars from last season were Hansen, Tanner Glass and Darcy Hordichuk.
Both teams fielded a split-squad, with the rest of their teammates playing a second game Tuesday night in Vancouver.
Like Jokinen, who was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline last year only to re-sign with Calgary as a free agent in the summer, Tanguay is also on his second tour of duty with the Flames.
Tanguay’s last year in Calgary was 2007-08, a year in which Iginla scored 50 goals. Iginla’s totals the two years since have dropped to 35 and 32 respectively.
General manager Darryl Sutter signed Tanguay with the hope that his playmaking could be the perfect fit for both Iginla and Jokinen, who are known primarily as shooters. Jokinen had 15 goals last year after averaging 35 over his previous four seasons.
“As a line, it felt great tonight and I think we’re going to keep getting better,” said Iginla.
Tanguay was also satisfied with the first real test.
“Our key is going to be our skating. If we’re moving, with the skill level that we have, we’re going to be able to create some offence,” said Tanguay. “Tonight, we were a little flat in the neutral zone, we didn’t skate as much as we would have liked but it’s nice to know that you’re with two guys that if they get one shot like Iggy did in the third, it’s going in.”
The interesting thing to watch this year will be whether Tanguay overpasses trying to set up his linemates.
On a dangerous two-on-one in the first period, Tanguay passed up the shot trying to force a pass across to Iginla that went off a defenceman.
“I know in the first period, I made a couple of terrible plays. I was trying to force the issue a little bit too much,” Tanguay said. “But it’s going to get better. It was the first game, it’s a learning process. We’ll try to keep getting better on a daily basis until that first game.”
On a second period power play Tanguay hung onto the puck, seemingly refusing to take a shot despite having a clear path to the net. Frustrated cries of “shoot” could be heard from some of the Saddledome crowd of 19,289.
“People would be yelling ‘shoot’ once in a while to him and he will shoot and he will score, but he could have had five assists tonight,” said Iginla. “On the power play, he gave me a couple point blank ones, Olli had some, (Ian) White had one right in the crease there. So he’s going to have a lot of targets, we do have a lot of shooters on our team.”
Miikka Kiprusoff got the start in goal for the Flames and turned aside 17 of 18 shots in 40 minutes of action before giving way to rookie Leland Irving.
Lack, the 21-year-old six-foot-five Swedish rookie, played very well for the Canucks, making 16 saves in his two periods of action.
“He reminds me a lot of a young Pekka Rinne,” said Hordichuk, who was a teammate of the lanky Finn while in Finland. “Nobody has really seen this kid on the radar but he’s going to be a good goalie in this league some day and he’s done well all the way through camp so far.”
Lack admitted he had butterflies before the game.
“It felt kinda weird being out there,” he said, talking about facing the likes of veterans Iginla, Jokinen, and Tanguay. “I’ve only played with these guys on video games. But I felt pretty good out there, it was really fun playing against them.”
His only regret was surrendering a goal to his countryman Backlund.
“A Swedish guy scored on me too so I’m probably going to hear a lot about that,” he said with a laugh. Lack had played against Backlund, also 21, back in Sweden.
Notes: With coach Brent Sutter with the team in Vancouver, Flames head coach duties were shared by assistant coaches Dave Lowry and Ryan McGill. It was a similar situation with the Canucks with assistant coach Rick Bowness covering for Alan Vigneault… Canucks Off-season acquisition Keith Ballard headlined a slightly more experienced blue-line for the Canucks with Shane O’Brien and Andrew Alberts also dressed… Calgary’s David Moss made his debut at centre. Moss is being tried in the middle after playing his first four NHL seasons on the wing. Moss scored eight goals last year after a career-high 20 in 2008-09… Another new look had Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester camped in front of the opposition net during a couple of Calgary’s power plays. Bouwmeester had a disappointing year offensively with just three goals last year after scoring 15 in each of the previous two seasons in Florida.