Flames Watch: Bouwmeester fitting right in

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Early impressions of Jay Bouwmeester are, so far, thumbs up.

The marquee summer acquisition from Florida has been solid in his own end, very effective clearing the zone and quietly efficient controlling the power play. In other words, Bouwmeester is delivering exactly as advertised. He doesn’t do anything incredibly special (other than skate), but does everything really, really well.

That’s why he’s leading the league in average ice time per game and will stay close to the 29-minute mark all season.

A corollary to J-Bo in Calgary is the ice time he’s taking away from former leading man Dion Phaneuf. Last season, Phaneuf got sloppy and careless and his overall game suffered. With Bouwmeester in town, Phaneuf’s ice time has been cut from 26:32 last season to about 24 minutes through two games.

Even though he has three points in three games, Phaneuf tends to do too much watching and not enough defending, but hey, it’s early. CBC analyst Kelly Hrudey made the valid point Saturday that because Phaneuf got so much ice time in past seasons, he tended to do his resting or coasting during shifts, which led to his downward spiral.

Here are some other early-season observations…

• The lack of chemistry between captain Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen in the early going (and late last season) is quite disconcerting. Both of them are supposed to be difference-makers, but have been easily neutralized so far. What’s worse is they’re weak defensively when the puck is going in the other direction.

• Nice to hear the team is going to give goalie Miikka Kiprusoff a 15-20 game break this season in an effort to keep him a little fresher for the post-season. The sooner backup Curtis McElhinney gets a chance to establish himself the better for his psyche and for team confidence. The Flames won’t have a chance to win the division if those games are mail-in losses like last year.

• Is Nigel Dawes this year’s version of Matthew ‘Too Bad’ Lombardi? Good effort and energy, but snake-bitten around the net. Unless he starts connecting on some of his chances, he’s destined for a role on the energy line.

This article also appeared in the Calgary Metro paper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.

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