January 17 2011 12:24PM
The Calgary Flames look to finish off a four game road trip on a strong note when they take on the Montreal Canadiens for the first time this season (5:30 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960). The Flames took wins in Ottawa and Toronto over the weekend and are playing their best hockey of the season, sitting 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.
It's the first of two meetings between Calgary and Montreal, and the situation hasn't changed a lick for the Flames. They enter action seven points back of the final Western Conference playoff spot and needing to play at or around the same clip they've played over their last ten games. Overall, the Flames have made this Eastern Conference road trip a successful one, earning at least five of a possible eight points. However, where the Flames are, seven is better than five.
Things for the Calgary Flames look to remain the same from Saturday's shootout win over Toronto, with the one possible exception of Robyn Regehr. After missing two games with a sore knee, the Flames defenceman is a game time decision after taking part of today's morning skate. With some meh opposition, Regehr wasn't really missed, with Cory Sarich and Adam Pardy both seeing large increases to their ice time, and doing just fine with it. If Regehr does play, Brendan Mikkelson will be scratched to make room.
Up front, not a whole lot of reason to change what worked against the Leafs. Brent Sutter did a little juggling before and during that game, sliding Brendan Morrison up to the top line while dropping Olli Jokinen to a second line. The best trio had Matt Stajan centering Curtis Glencross and Niklas Hagman, which is one of the biggest positives from this road trip. All three of those players have been next-to-invisible for much of the last two months, so seeing them play some good hockey over the last few games is encouraging. Stajan snapped a 12 game goal-less drought on Saturday while Glencross has been strong for a number of games now.
If the lines stay the way they did against Toronto, they'll look like this:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-Ales Kotalik
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Curtis Glencross
David Moss-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Mark Giordano
Cory Sarich-Adam Pardy
Anton Babchuk-Brendan Mikkelson
We saw those pairings mixed up at times on Saturday, with Pardy seeing time with Bouwmeester and Giordano playing with his regular partner Sarich. However, as things got tighter late in the game, it was back to the combo with the bottom pairing seeing very limited work.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after bouncing back against Toronto on Saturday. Three mediocre performances from Calgary's number one goalie had many wondering what was up, and if Henrik Karlsson should start both games over the weekend. That didn't happen, for good reason, and Kiprusoff looked very good against the Leafs.
Montreal is in a dog fight for positioning, not only in the Eastern Conference, but also in the Northeast Division. The Habs and Boston Bruins are the only two playoff teams in the division right now, and they continue to jockey for position, with Boston sitting on top with 55 points, two up on Montreal. It's a Canadiens team with some quality players, including a young goalie who's bounced back from a rough season; but it's also a team with some injuries affecting them, specifically on the back end.
Montreal's blueline is without two of their top minute eaters, as they've lost both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges for the season. Markov hasn't played since November 13th when he was injured in a collision with Carolina's Eric Staal, suffering a knee injury which required surgery in early December. He's started the rehab process and should be back for training camp in September. As for Gorges, his string of 150 straight games was snapped on Boxing Day when he locked up his knee, aggravating an injury he'd been playing with since 2004. Both guys average a ton of ice time, with Markov getting more than 22 minutes a game and Gorges just north of 21 minutes.
So, knowing they were stretched a little thing, the Habs brought in James Wisniewski in late December, sending a second and fifth round draft pick to the New York Islanders. Wisniewski has played well upon his arrival, with nine points in his first eight games, and he's Montreal's number one defenceman, playing on the top pairing with Roman Hamrilk. The blueline also features an electrifying, but limited, defenceman in the name of P.K. Subban, but overall, the team could certainly use their two injured players.
Up front, the Habs are lead by Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec, who offer quality minutes at even strength and they're overall depth isn't bad. Plekanec leads them in scoring with 35 points, with former Flames forward Mike Cammalleri sitting second with 29. Cammalleri, who gets a lot of offensive zone time, returned to action in Montreal's win over the Rangers on Saturday after missing two games with illness; he occupies the left side on their top line centered by Plekanec.
Both Wisniewski and Benoit Pouliot missed practice this morning with the flue, they're both game time decisions. If they do play, here are lines and pairings for:
Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec-Lars Eller
Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot-David Desharnais-Mathieu Darche
Andrei Kostitsyn-Jeff Halpern-Travis Moen
Roman Hamrlik-James Wisniewski
Hal Gill-P.K. Subban
Jaroslav Spacek-Yannick Weber
It looks like Alex Auld gets the start in net for the Habs tonight, as Carey Price will get the night off. He actually boasts pretty impressive numbers for a backup goaltender, sitting 3-2 with a 1.74 goals against and a .941 save percentage. Does this mean the Flames are getting back-upped again?
Well, even with a four game point streak and a 6-2-2 record over their last ten games, the Flames remain nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They play their best opponent on this road trip, so the winning efforts against Ottawa and Toronto will have to improved upon. Still, they're doing enough to win right now, so let's see if they can do enough to beat the Habs on the road.