Monday, March 31, 2014

Mom, I'm Home! New and Improved Giordano Returns to Toronto

Mark Giordano is coming home and the Flames captain can't wait.

The Toronto-born defenceman will play at the Air Canada Centre for only the fourth time in his career on Tuesday night when Calgary takes on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I love playing for the friends and family so I'm excited for that one, for sure," said Giordano, prior to the Flames departing on their Eastern road trip. "It's going to be an intense game and it's going to be a really fun game because they're fighting for their playoff lives."

While it's been over seven years since he made his first NHL appearance in Toronto, he remembers it like it was yesterday, which is not surprising considering how the night unfolded. A raucous Saturday night at the ACC, the featured national game on Hockey Night in Canada, and not only was he playing in front of his friends and family for the first time, he also scored his first NHL goal. In fact, he scored twice -- a feat he surprisingly hasn't duplicated since.

"I don't think that's one I'll ever forget, it was a great night," recalled Giordano, who had just turned 23 at the time and was playing his 12th NHL game. "I was really happy. I got to stay over night in Toronto and hang out with my buddies and my family afterwards. It was a fun time and probably one of the most memorable games of my career."

Tons of Tickets Needed

Giordano says Tuesday night will once again be a chance for all those Ontario folks to see him play live, something they haven't had the chance to do very often.

"First of all, my parents and my sister haven't been out much this year so they'll be there. As well, tons of friends, aunts, uncles, and everyone. There will be a lot of people at the game and hopefully we have a good one," he said.

Getting back to that night on Oct. 14, 2006.  His two second period goals came in a span of three shifts and in less than seven minutes.

The first one at 4:52 got the Flames on the scoreboard after they trailed 2-0 after the first period. Watch it right now through this link (it occurs around 13:25 if the video doesn't open to that point automatically) and you'll see it is a goal that is not unlike some of the goals he's scored this year. Assertively pinching up into the slot, Giordano took a centring pass from Matthew Lombardi and snapped a perfect shot over Andrew Raycroft. It's the kind of heady play we've seen from Giordano all year in a season in which he's set career highs for goals (12) and points (44).

"I've been feeling confident offensively, obviously. Just trying to jump in when you can," says Giordano, second among NHL defencemen in points-per-game, behind Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. "The league's all about that now. A lot of defencemen are putting up good numbers because that's where all the offence is generated from. It's a really tough game to score 5-on-5 or off the rush for forwards so you need that second wave."

Giordano also compliments the rest of the team for affording him the luxury of pinching up as often as he has. As exhibited a couple times on Sunday night in Ottawa, it's not unusual to see No. 5 battling for the puck along the end boards in the offensive zone.

"It's having an aggressive mindset but you also need to have a great group of forwards, who back check and cover for you when you do get caught. That eliminates a lot of your mistakes."

After Lombardi tied the game 2-2, Giordano's second goal at 11:26, which you can view here (it occurs around 18:20 if the video doesn't open at that point automatically), came on a slick power move out of the corner after a cycle with Jarome Iginla that temporarily put the Flames into the lead (and sure caught the attention of the broadcast team of Bob Cole and Cassie Campbell). Calgary ended up losing 5-4 in overtime on Mats Sundin's dramatic third goal of the night and 500th of his career.

Back in the Third Pairing Days

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that game -- and it's nearly impossible to fathom considering how much Giordano plays now as part of the Flames top pairing with TJ Brodie, is Giordano's ice time that night was just 7:45. No, that's not a typo. Seven minutes and 45 seconds is all he played. Goodness, he routinely plays that much in a period now. In fact, in 442 career games, that remains his third-lowest ice time ever -- and one of the other two below it was a game in which got injured in the first period.

"Pretty effective for those seven or eight minutes, I'd say," Giordano says with a grin. "I was just breaking in back then. I was the sixth d-man, so it was a little bit different. You really didn't see too much ice time. There were also a lot more penalties back then, a lot more special teams, so it was tough to get in any shifts."

Under the guidance of Jim Playfair in his one year as the Flames head coach, the defence back then was anchored by Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, who both played over 26 minutes in the role that Giordano and Brodie play today. That night, Roman Hamrlik came in at 23 minutes while Andrew Ference and Andrei Zyuzin were in the 16-18 minute range.

Giordano's most recent visit to Toronto was Oct. 15, 2011. Two-and-a-half years later, Giordano says the player he is today barely resembles the player he was in that last visit.

"I'm a ton different," Giordano admits. "In the NHL, you don't realize it until you do play so many games, but playing defence, a lot of it has to do with experience. For example, not running around out of position. I was a different player back then. I got caught more often."

New and Improved No. 5 

Any way you slice it, Giordano is in the midst of one heck of a breakout season.
  • His 25:07 in average ice time leads the Flames, ranks him 10th in the NHL, and is two minutes more than his previous career high.
  • His plus-12 rating leads the Flames and is staggeringly good if you consider he's facing the opposition's top lines on a nightly basis -- and mix in the fact that Calgary has a net minus-32 goal differential.
  • He's got three times as many goals (12) and points (44)  in 57 games this year as he did last year when he had 4 goals and 15 points in 47 games.

With the stability Giordano brings to the blue-line, one can only hope that the Flames will be able to rebuild quickly and return to the post-season as it's been a while for the team, and it's been even longer for Giordano.

He has played only four playoff games in his career. They all came in 2007 when he played games 3-6 against Detroit. After a contract stalemate, he opted to spend 2007-08 in Russia. He missed the 2009 playoffs due to a shoulder injury. This year will be the fifth consecutive year Calgary has missed the playoffs.

When the Flames do make it back to the post-season, you get the sense that as good as he's going right now, Giordano will find yet another gear and further elevate his game. Now wouldn't that be fun to watch.

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