Kevin Kraczkowski from Matchsticks and Gasoline, the SB Nation blog covering the Flames, sent me three questions to answer about the Hurricanes. I answered his questions and sent him three of my own.
Here are his questions and my answers to start with:
1) Has Cam Ward completely regressed to this point? Is there a call for him to be relegated to number two?
Short answer, yes. Last season, Khudobin won the number one spot and Ward was relegated to number two most of the year, (when he was healthy enough to play). He ended up with a .898 save percentage and a 10-12-6 record compared to .926 and 19-14-1 for Khudobin. The jury is still out this season, although Khudobin has the early edge with a .912 save percentage to .846 for Ward.
Neither goalie has won a game yet though, so look for Ward to be given another chance tonight.
2) If the Canes have a strong point in the early going, it would have to be the power play (4-for-15 as I write this). Does Bill Peters have a plan to rely on his pests (Nathan Gerbe, Tim Gleason) to try and draw more penalties?
(As of today, Gerbe is hurt and may not play). I'm not sure he and Gleason are very good at drawing penalties, so much so that it is part of a plan, but they do indeed try to be pests. There has been special emphasis by the team on improving the powerplay and as you say, so far they have shown great improvement over last season, (25% versus 14.6%). The biggest improvement is their ability to bring the puck in the zone and get set up to run a play. They spent most of their time chasing the puck, dumping it in the zone, then chasing it some more, last season. Primary kudos should go to Rod Brind'Amour, who was given this task over the offseason.
3) Chris Terry has been a nice surprise for you, with four points in four games. Who else should we be watching for tonight?
Riley Nash has probably been the most consistent, overall player for the Canes so far this season. He leads the team in faceoff percentage, is second with four points, has a good (plus/minus), and plays responsibly in all zones. For a player who was expected to be challenged for third line center duties this season, his improvement has been a pleasant surprise.
Also watch for Andrej Sekera, who is the team's best defenseman, and Jiri Tlusty, who leads the team with four goals in five games.
Now my questions and his answers:
1. Some of us selected Sean Monahan as the 5th overall pick (for the Canes) in our Mock Drafts two summers ago and we were pleased to see him get off to a fast start last season, before his injury. How is he doing so far this season and where do you project him as he develops in the future? (1st line, 2nd line, 3rd line center?).
Monahan did pretty good last season, with 22 goals and 34 points overall in 75 games. He also finished eighth in the Calder Memorial Trophy race, for the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. He’s currently filling the second line center spot.
This season hasn’t seen him getting off to a very fast start. Although his average time on ice has held steady through both seasons at about 16 minutes, and he leads the club on faceoffs, with a 52.7% success rate (going 68-of-129 in the early going), he has only contributed two assists through Calgary’s first eight games. The goals will come. The Flames understand patience, and will not take his ice time away anytime soon. I think that the powers-that-be see him for what he is - a young man with a floor very close to his ceiling. That is, this center is at least a third liner and at most a second liner.
2. Hiller and Ramo have played four games each and they each have two wins. Is Hiller considered the number one guy in net or are the Flames splitting the duties for now?
Hiller and Ramo are sharing the number one spot in net. Flames’ coach Bob Hartley has stated that both are happy and having fun, well rested by alternating each start. It’s hard to argue with results. Ramo has looked improved from last seasons’ already impressive second half, stopping 91.7% of shots faced and allowing 2.20 goals per 60 minutes. He’s nothing if not steady, allowing two goals three times and three goals once.
After a slow start that saw him allow seven goals on 71 shots through his first two starts of the season, Hiller has been spectacular in his last two games, making 83-of-85 saves. He has posted a roughly identical to Ramo 2.22 GAA and a sparkling .942 save percentage. If the past eight games is any indication, this is the guy that you’ll see between the pipes for the Flames tonight.
3. This is Bob Hartley's third season in Calgary. Is he on the hot seat if the team fails to make the playoffs again this season?
This may be hard to believe for a sports consuming public that has grown accustomed to the "quick fix," firing a coach or coaches for an immediate change of pace, but Hartley is in no immediate danger of losing his job. The expectation going into this season was that this is the second season of a rebuild, aimed toward a sustainable playoff team in the future.
Most pundits picked the Flames sixth in the division, ahead of one team (the detestable, pathetic Edmonton Oilers) and finishing with about the same amount of points (75) as last year. If Calgary earns a minimum of 70 points, the rebuild will continue moving forward as blueprinted. I’m a little more optimistic than the average Flames’ fan, and even though I’d still love them if they missed the playoffs, I’m hoping they sneak in with a surprise berth and a Cinderella run - as long as we don’t have to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Finals.