December 21 2010 12:19PM
Things are looking more and more bleak for the Calgary Flames as they prepare for their third meeting with the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at Nationwide Arena (5 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960). After two straight losses to the Minnesota Wild, the team has fallen eight points out of the playoffs; they'll turn to their backup goaltender tonight against the Jackets.
Monday night was as frustrating a loss as there's been all season for the Flames, as they weren't able to finish a hockey game; a game they had controlled and dominated at times through 40 minutes. Two powerplay goals against in the third, including a horribly timed Miikka Kiprusoff gaffe, were the difference, and dropped Calgary back to three games below .500.
Henrik Karlsson starts in net for the Flames, which was the plan all along. Karlsson has been pretty good in his relief of Kiprusoff, and played a strong game in his last start, against the Anaheim Ducks ten days ago. You can tell the confidence level continues to rise for Karlsson, and if you're a fan, you don't cringe as much when you hear the backup is going in.
The Flames did not skate this morning in Columbus, so a lot of the lineup decisions will be of the game time variety. We do know Ales Kotalik slots back into the lineup, after sitting one game yesterday as a healthy scratch.
Mikael Backlund joined Kotalik in the press box, as Craig Conroy and Curtis Glencross returned to the lineup. Again, I'm on record thinking it's absolutely ridiculous to have Backlund sitting period, especially if he sits a second straight game. Sure, he was not very good against the Wild on Saturday, but what message does this send? Hey kid, you've done a great job of getting your game to a real NHL level and you've impressed a lot of people, but if you have one bad game, you're out...sorry rook. I don't think it does any real damage to his development per say...I'm more worried about the message. And if you're trying to tell me Tom Kostopoulos makes more of an impact than Backlund, then I guess I should just stop watching hockey. This is all an if, because we don't know at this point.
These were lines and pairings in Minnesota on Monday, however they will change, at least slightly, tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Rene Bourque
Curtis Glencross-David Moss-Brendan Morrison
Tom Kostopoulos-Craig Conroy-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
All four forward units were fairly effective yesterday, as the Wild really had nothing in the opening 40 minutes. Calgary really did work them, but suffered with finish issues which would come back to bite them in the behind.
It hasn't been that long since we've seen the Jackets, in fact, just eight days ago when they visited Calgary. That game went down as a 3-2 overtime win for the home side, with Jarome Iginla scoring the game winner. Calgary held a 2-0 lead in that game, only to let it slip in the third period.
Overall, it's a Jackets team that is beatable, as they don't boast a ton of depth, much like Minnesota didn't the past two games. But they're opportunistic and they do a solid job of sucking the life out of opposition teams by the way they play. It's not an offensive juggernaut, with just 20 goals scored over their last 12 games...and the results haven't been there of late either. The Jackets have just two wins in their last ten games.
Steve Mason was dismal last Monday against the Flames, being pulled after allowing two goal in the first period. The team is not longer babying him in their treatment, as their goaltending coach recently ripped him for his performance and his focus. As such, Mathieu Garon will get the bulk of the work load going forward, and will start tonight against the Flames. He played the majority of their last game against Calgary.
Mike Commodore sits down in this game to make way for Rostislav Klesla on the blueline. Here are Columbus lines and pairings:
Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Jakub Voracek
Kristian Huselius-Antoine Vermette-R.J. Umberger
Ethan Moreau-Sammy Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett
Tom Sestito-Kyle Wilson-Jared Boll
Jan Hejda-Marc Methot
Fedor Tyutin-Anton Stralman
Kris Russell-Rostislav Klesla
If Calgary's playoff hopes were bleak heading into their home-and-home set with Minnesota, they are downright depressing at this point. No, nothing is impossible, and the season still isn't lost...but after such a promising start to a three game home stand, it really is disappointing, yet not surprising, they've taken large steps back in the last two games. Columbus is a team they've beat twice already this season, and they have the ability to beat them a third time tonight...if they show up to start. Columbus should be a motivated team, so a slow start just isn't going to cut it for the visitors.