December 18 2010 02:23PM
If there was ever a chance for the Calgary Flames to get on a nice little winning streak (longer than two), now would be the time, with a trio of games coming up where the Flames have winning records against the opponents. That starts tonight against the Minnesota Wild, the first of a home and home set with their division rival (8pm, CBC and The FAN 960).
Calgary's schedule sees them play Minnesota, Minnesota and Columbus over the next four days, and this could be one of the biggest stretches of the season. After winning consecutive games for the first time since late October on Thursday night, the team needs to find ways to win some more games. Their goal is to be at or above the .500 mark before Christmas; it's very much doable, sitting one game below right now, so go out and do it.
Who knows anymore. Calgary sat Curtis Glencross on Thursday night and didn't seem to really miss him in that game, but that's against a dismal Maple Leafs team. To be honest, i think Glencross was sat for one reason on Thursday: to send a message and piss him off. Curtis was not happy about being sat, especially against Toronto, in a game that would be considered a "showcase game", so there's probably some motivation to impress if he gets back in the lineup. If that is the case, it's a crap shoot as to who sits out...over the past little bit, David Moss, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan and Glencross have all taken healthy seats in the press box.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net, and he'll likely start three of Calgary's remaining four games prior to Christmas. You'd expect Henrik Karlsson to see action either Monday in Minnesota or the following night in Columbus, with Kiprusoff also playing Thursday in Dallas.
Because we don't know lines and pairings, as Head Coach Brent Sutter isn't tipping his hand in morning skate, here's what we saw in Thursday's win over Toronto:
Alex Tanguay-Matt Stajan-Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Mikael Backlund-Brendan Morrison-Ales Kotalik
Tom Kostopoulos-David Moss-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Calgary's top line did some really nice work against Toronto's number one unit on Thursday, with all three guys finishing well above water. It was a good return for Matt Stajan, who sat the two games and had been frustrating at times prior. But he showed his best qualities upon his return, using his vision to generate a number of quality scoring opportunities, including a deft pass to Alex Tanguay to set up a goal in the second period.
Olli Jokinen is shooting the puck, and the puck is going in as of late. That's good to see. Jokinen is a guy who will never be overly effective at 5-on-5, but if he's deployed correctly at even strength, he can generate some shots for; and if he's engaged, he can be a guy who does some damage on the powerplay. Let's see if those things continue.
Kent sums up the Minnesota Wild pretty well in his gameday preview, and his assertion is bang on. This isn't a powerhouse team, and it isn't a group that seems on the cusp of much anything more than what they are right now. The Wild will play it close to the vest, not generate a ton of chances, and will count on being opportunistic when they do have chances.
Niklas Backstrom gets the start in net for the Wild tonight, who has started just six of the last 13 games for the team. He hasn't been as consistent as in previous years, but he's a guy we all know has success against the Flames. Backstrom was strong in their first meeting with Calgary, a 2-1 win, and the coaching staff is trying to balance success with not letting frustration set in with their number one goalie.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Matt Cullen-Martin Havlat
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Antti Miettenen
Eric Nystrom-John Madden-Cal Clutterbuck
Chuck Kobasew-Patrick O'Sullivan-Kyle Brodziak
Marek Zidlicky-Greg Zanon
Nick Schultz-Brent Burns
Jared Spurgeon-Clayton Stoner
This is one of the rare teams Calgary has a winning record against the season, boasting a 2-1 record against the Wild, winning their last two games. With two more games in the next three days, this is a really opportunity to put a division rival well behind them, which is important for the Flames to do. Right now, with the pack so close near the Western Conference playoffs, a chance to vault yourself further ahead of a team, and put them further back of the pack...you do it. Calgary can beat Minnesota, so it's on them to go out and do it.
Calgary has done a nice job of staying out of the penalty box as of late, and that'll be important tonight. The Minnesota powerplay is still strong, clicking at 21.6%, good for seventh in the NHL. Calgary's penalty kill has not been good over the last ten games, allowing ten goals on 42 attempts at a low efficiency rate of 76.2%. That being said, Calgary has yielded just two powerplays in their last two games.