Flames 5 Islanders 4 (so)
CALGARY — In a pre-season game with playoff intensity, there were plenty of storylines in Calgary on Thursday night.
Topping them all was 41-year-old Theoren Fleury, who scored the shootout winner as the Flames beat the New York Islanders 5-4.
Playing in his first NHL game in six years, Fleury scored the only goal of the shootout, deking to his forehand and tucking the puck behind rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin.
“I don’t miss those chances ever,” the five-foot-six Fleury declared. “Not in the big moments. Never have, never will.”
Fleury was first off the bench to hug goaltender David Shantz after he turned aside Greg Moore’s final attempt, clinching the victory.
As chants of “Theo, Theo” filled the Pengrowth Saddledome, Fleury acknowledged the supportive crowd.
Another storyline on the night was a second period hit by Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf on the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo.
The 21-year-old Okposo, the seventh pick in the 2006 Draft, remained motionless on the ice for over six minutes as he was attended to by trainers from both teams and other medical personnel.
“I thought it was a clean hit,” said Phaneuf. “I stepped up and used my shoulder. You don’t like to see guys get hurt, but that’s part of my job when the hits are there, to take them.”
Immobilized onto a spinal board, he was taken off the ice by stretcher to the quiet applause of the crowd of 19,289.
An Islanders spokesman said after the game that Okposo did have movement in his fingers and toes, but that he had been taken to a Calgary hospital.
After the hit, New York forward Pascal Morency jumped off the Islanders bench and charged Phaneuf but was intercepted by Calgary’s Mark Giordano. A small melee ensued, that included Islanders goalie Martin Biron. Morency was given a game misconduct.
“From what I saw — and it happened really fast — but I saw Phaneuf kinda go up in the air,” said Biron. “I’d like to see the replay on that but it definitely looked like feet went up and he came across head hunting and those kinds of hits are what the league is trying to take away from the game.”
Olli Jokinen with a pair, David Moss and Nigel Dawes also scored for Calgary (1-1-0). Matt Moulson had two goals to lead the offence for New York (0-2-1). Also scoring was Blake Comeau and Trevor Smith.
Phaneuf remained the target of the Islanders the rest of the period as the intensity picked up and two more fights took place, but the blue-liner refused to drop the gloves, despite being approached on several occasions.
“If you’re going to do that, at least respond to the challengers after that,” said Biron. “I’ve never seen Scott Stevens back down to a fight after he hit a guy on the blue-line coming across. If you’re going to play that way, then be the whole package and play that way, and that’s where we had a big problem with that.”
Flames coach Brent Sutter, who coached Phaneuf at in the Western Hockey League with Red Deer, had no problem with the hit.
“That’s part of Dion’s game. When he sees that open ice, Dion has to use it. It’s one part of his game that makes him a unique player,” said Sutter. “You never like to see anybody get hurt obviously, and it’s too bad that happened, and hopefully we’ve been told, he’s going to be okay. But Dion still can’t pass up that hit”.
Also standing out for the Flames was Olli Jokinen. With two goals and an assist, he showed Flames fans the kind of offensive presence that abandoned him late last season when he was held off the scoresheet the final 13 games.
“We all start from scratch,” said Jokinen. “It’s a new coaching staff and we’ve got a lot of new players, we have a couple more weeks to go and we’re all learning every day.
“If you happen to score, that’s fine, but the biggest thing is to learn the system, play within the team roles and build some chemistry with linemates”.