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Flames Watch: Line combinations find a groove

Whether the Calgary Flames makes the post-season or not, fans can at least say they saw them play playoff-style hockey. This magical run the team is on is reminiscent of NHL action in May, something the Flames haven’t experienced since 2004.

It has taken 120 games, but coach Brent Sutter has found a number of line combinations that are working. After fruitless attempts to pair Jarome Iginla with Olli Jokinen, then Matt Stajan as his center, Sutter found the right man in 35-year-old Brendan Morrison. Winger Alex Tanguay and Morrison are both playmakers first and that has worked well with Iginla’s happy trigger.

Jokinen is too much of a shooter and doesn’t think the game on Iginla’s plane to make that duo work. Stajan was too slow, soft and outmatched by the opposition to complement ‘Iggy.’ But Sutter bumped Stajan to the third line and finally it looks like an appropriate fit. A player of Stajan’s caliber is better used 12 to 15 minutes a game rather than the 16 to 18 he was getting on the top line.

A player who deserves a lot of credit for Calgary’s turnaround is fourth-liner Tim Jackman. He never stopped playing with intensity and grit and almost by osmosis generated the same resolve in linemates David Moss and Tom Kostopoulos. The line has since been broken up, but Mikael Backlund and lately Curtis Glencross are on board again playing with Jackman’s work ethic.

It would be nice to see Rene Bourque jump on the bandwagon and add some consistent effort to his play rather than glide around the ice as though he’s on a tow rope taking hooking penalties. Imagine if he started scoring every second or third game?

Sutter has also struck the right chord with his defence pairings. Mark Giordano is playing world-class hockey and works well with underrated Cory Sarich. There’s room for Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr to improve, but they’re a solid duo as well. Adam Pardy’s game has picked up the past 20 games and is a good offset for erratic Anton Babchuk.

It will be interesting to see how Sutter handles the workload in goal. The Flames can’t really afford to give Miikka Kiprusoff much time off, but they have to guard against overworking him down the stretch. In the final 27 games, Calgary plays back-to-back just four times. Don’t expect Henrik Karlsson to start more than three games if the Flames remain competitive.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.


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