December 23 2010 12:35PM
The Calgary Flames finish off their pre-Christmas schedule tonight in Big D as they take on the Dallas Stars for the first time this season (6:30 pm, Sportsnet Flames and The FAN 960). Calgary will try to snap a damaging three game losing skid against the second best team in the Western Conference.
It's the Flames and the Stars with Calgary trying to give themselves some sort of early present, in the form of a win...however they have to do it. It's a Stars team that sits on top of the Pacific Division and has suffered just three regulation losses at home. That seems daunting, and Calgary's road record makes it an even bigger task...they've won just five of 19 away from the 'Dome.
Not a whole lot changes for the Flames tonight, with the exception of Miikka Kiprusoff returning in net after Henrik Karlsson turned in a strong performance on Tuesday night. Mikael Backlund takes a seat for the third straight game, and at this point, there's nothing else I can say about this decision. There's no reason for him to be sitting, and I have no idea if the call comes from Brent or Darryl Sutter, but it is 100% a poor decision in my eyes.
Olli Jokinen has taken back over the role of centering the top line, and hasn't been overly horrible at it. At the very least, he's shooting the puck in offensive situations...sometimes. He's firing it more often now than he has at any other time this season, so that's a positive for that guy. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Brendan Morrison-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Ales Kotalik
Tom Kostopoulos-David Moss-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Stajan and Morrison seem to have swapped positions in terms of where they're playing, but it really doesn't matter...at all. Stajan was completely invisible on Tuesday night and has done very little overall this season. After a strong start, Brendan Morrison has been nowhere near as good the last while, and to me Backlund gives you more than he does; maybe both.
It's funny...I was looking at the Stars underlying numbers yesterday afternoon, and they're a baffling team. Is it a fluke that they are where they are? No...but there's certainly some luck playing into it as well. Dallas doesn't boast outstanding special teams, with a middling powerplay and a below average penalty kill...so, they must be really good at even strength right? But as Robert Cleave points out, that's not the case either. The team is allowing a ton of shots at even strength, but the pucks are staying out and they're going in at the other end, thanks to a high shooting percentage.
This team does boast some talented forwards, clearly their strength. Lead by Brad Richards, this team is getting pretty balanced scoring from two lines. The blueline leaves quite a bit to be desired, and can be exploited. Kari Lehtonen starts in net for the Stars tonight, boasting average statistics, but he's got the job done to this point. Dallas does a nice job of pushing things to the outside when in their own end, so they do limit the quality of shots against.
Here are lines and pairings for the Stars tonight:
James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson
Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Jamie Benn
Steve Ott-Adam Burish-Toby Petersen
Brian Sutherby-Tom Wandell-Brandon Segal/Krystofer Barch
Nicklas Grossman-Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley-Jeff Woywitka
Matt Niskanen-Mark Fistric
Ribeiro's line sees a lot of top opposition, so we'll see if Marc Crawford goes with his unit against Iginla's line for most of this one. If so, you can expect Richards line to get out against either Stajan or Morrison.
Do many people believe the Flames will be a playoff team? No. But at the very least, win a game before you go one your short Christmas break. After tonight, the schedule slows down for a bit...a home game on Monday, a home game on Friday, and then in Edmonton on Saturday. So, win here, give yourself something to feel good about, and go from there. Calgary can beat Dallas...but will they do what they need to? That's the million dollar question.