September 28, 2011
Stajan leads Flames in pre-season shutout
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Maybe it was a case of Matt Stajan being fired up because heís grown tired of being in the doghouse. Or maybe the centre, who has struggled mightily since coming to Calgary in the infamous Dion Phaneuf trade, is honestly worried heís become a candidate for a AHL assignment. Or, maybe Stajan is finally about to turn his game around. Whatever the cause, he played the way people have expected for all these months in the Calgary Flames 2-0 pre-season victory over the New York Islanders Tuesday night. Not only did Stajan set up the shorthanded goal by Curtis Glencross which opened the scoring, but also had a few scoring chances himself. To his credit, too, he started on the fourth line with Guillaume Desbiens and Lance Bouma ó two players likely headed to the minors ó before receiving a third-period promotion. As it stands, the Flames really need the maligned centre to be the player heís capable of, especially with fellow pivots Brendan Morrison (off-season knee surgery) and Mikael Backlund (undisclosed) both battling injury issues and the regular season opener now 10 days away. Through his struggles, Stajan ó now in year two of a four-year contract worth US$14 million ó has been constantly upbeat. Well, as upbeat as somebody who arrived here on pace to a career season prior to the trade and subsequently collected just nine goals and 47 points in 103 games donning Flames silks. Some frustration finally bubbled to the surface after the morning skate. ďThereís always a whipping boy in every city. If itís me, itís me,Ē he said. Gee, makes you think heís been surfing the web through the fan chat sites or listening to the call-in shows. Stajan, whose 2010-11 campaign was derailed first by a pre-season shoulder injury and then a concussion after being on the receiving end of a wicked open-ice hit in November, looks like he can be his own worst enemy and allow struggles to get to him. Maybe finally bursting out is all he needed to turn a corner. Lee Stempniak scored Calgaryís other goal, finishing a perfectly executed two-on-one with Alex Tanguay. It was a Flames roster without RW Jarome Iginla (back), C Mikael Backlund (undisclosed), RW Tim Jackman (groin), C Brendan Morrison (knee), D Cory Sarich (pelvis), D Brett Carson (back), LW Rene Bourque. Islanders of note who didnít play included D Mark Streit, C Josh Bailey, RW Kyle Okposo, RW Nino Niederreiter, RW Michael Grabner, G Rick DiPietro and C John Tavares, so pretty much all their top talent. OFF THE GLASS Hey, you are allowed contact in pre-season games without it breaking some unwritted rule. In the first couple of minutes, Islanders forward Colton Gillies drilled Flames blueliner Derek Smith with a teeth-rattler of a hit ... Too bad thatís about all of note through the first 20 minutes. Well, other than another fine bloopers reel by the in-house production crew ... The next play of note came in the dying minute when Flames hopeful Roman Horak nearly batted the puck out of the air and into the goal when Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov tried to clear it ... So, who out there had Horak as their pick for the forward who would put together the most serious push for a NHL job out of all those at the prospects camp? Anybody I know who says they did is lying. IN THE CORNERS It looks like Bouwmeester is making a concerted effort to be more in the offensive play. About time. With his skating ability and hands, he could play like Scott Niedermayer ... Have to give credit where itís due. For a guy playing his first pre-season game after being out of action in any league since January, Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov looked pretty good in stopping 15 of 16 shots through the first two periods ... After a strong pre-season debut, C Paul Byron has become less and less noticeable in the last three outings ... Olli Jokinen really is quick and strong. He showed it by sending Islanders defenceman Calvin de Haan flying into the end boards when they both raced for the puck and bumped at the goal line. THREE STARS Roman Horak For a first-year pro, heís surprised all. The player acquired from the New York Rangers via trade this summer has a better defensive game than youíd expect and some creativity. Lee Stempniak Has shown in the pre-season to have more speed than expected by those who havenít seen a ton of him. The quick release on his goal made it look easy, since the Islanders netminder couldnít get across in time. Henrik Karlsson Sure, it wasnít much of a workload and the Islanders hardly brought much NHL talent, but he big netminder stopped all shots he faced while pitching the goose egg in likely his last pre-season action.