December 27 2010 11:54AM
We've heard the three words "stay the course" plenty of times from Calgary Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter over the last two months or so. As the Flames get set for the Buffalo Sabres tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome (7 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960), those three words remain the ones to live by for the embattled team.
It's F'in Game Day and I know a lot of theonline community and the folks on Twitter are feeling somewhat optimistic about this one. Hey, why not...our blogging buddies at hitthepost, M & G, and 4thlineblog were all together Thursday at Schanks North to witness Calgary's impressive 3-2 shootout win over Dallas, and I think it's only fair to credit them with the win (sorry Tangs). It really was one of Calgary's better performances in recent memory and certainly one of their best outings of the season, and even with the late game heroics needed, they deserved to win this one and it was good to see them do just that. How will they follow that up? Who the hell knows.
The Flames look to ice the same lineup tonight as they did Thursday in Dallas, which means Mikael Backlund will miss his fourth straight game as a healthy scratch. The buzz this morning was around the top line, with Olli Jokinen centering Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. The questions surrounded "are you guys starting to get in a groove?" To which everyone said "we have lost three of our last four games, that's far from a groove."
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net, and he made some key saves against the Stars, even with the lack of a lot of shots. You'll probably see Henrik Karlsson get back in either Friday or Saturday when the Flames take on the Avalanche and Oilers. Here are lines and pairings for 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
Here come the Sabres, a team in an almost identical situation to the Calgary Flames. They're three games below. 500 and sitting on the outside looking in, needing to string some wins together to get themselves back in the playoff conversation. The optimism level surrounding the Flames being able to do that isn't very high...and as for the Sabres, well, after the season ending injury to Derek Roy, it's probably even lower.
Roy tore a tendon in his left quad on Thursday night and will miss the year; it's an injury that absolutely crushes a Sabres team that doesn't have much depth up front to begin with. The evidence? Jochen Hecht was centering their second line prior to the injury. And Rob Niedermeyer will centre their top line now.
The other reason for the lack of depth, especially down the middle, would be the loss of Tim Connolly who is out indefinetely after reconstructive facial surgery. Connolly took a puck to the face on December 18th, and coupled with the Roy injury, leaves the Sabres extremely thin at centre ice.
After the Christmas break, Ryan Miller will get the start in net for Buffalo as he continues the search for this 200th career NHL win. We all know the ability Miller has to steal a hockey game, and we all know the ability the Flames have to let goalies steal games; that has to be mentioned in the pregame post, if only to make sure it doesn't happen. Here are lines and pairings:
Tyler Ennis-Rob Niedermayer-Thomas Vanek
Drew Stafford-Jochen Hecht-Jason Pominville
Luke Adam-Nathan Gerbe-Patrick Kaleta
Paul Gaustad-Cody McCormick-Mike Grier
Andrej Sekera-Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold-Steve Montador
Mike Weber-Craig Rivet
A few things come to mind for this matchup. First, the Flames need to build off their win over the Stars, because I was impressed with the hockey they played in Dallas. Second, they need to make life difficult on a beat up Sabres team that wasn't very good to begin with; pound them, put pressure on them, and don't let Miller steal a game on 'Dome ice.
Remember, the Flames finally won back to back games earlier this month, snapping a streak of almost six weeks without that happening...having that happen again isn't doable if they want to stay relevant, something they're barely doing right now. With the Avalanche in on Friday night, this is a big game against a mediocre and injury riddled Eastern Conference opponent.