January 19 2011 12:03PM
I know many will shed tears or droop their heads when they found out tonight's game between the Calgary Flames and the Minnesota Wild is the final one this season (7:30 pm, TSN on The FAN 960). With three losses against already, the Flames look to finish the season series even, while they also look to extend their five game point streak against a Northwest Division opponent.
Calgary finished their four game road trip in a fairly successful manor Monday night, earning a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to Montreal. However, the fact the Flames battled back from a 4-0 deficit seemed to make that certain OT loss a little sweeter. As it was, Calgary earned six of a possible eight points on that road trip, and yet, they still find themselves eight points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Ahhhh, the fun of being 14th place.
Miiikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net for the Calgary Flames, after a recent stretch of uncharacteristic play from the number one tender. Kiprusoff was yanked in two of the four contests on Calgary's recent road trip, being replaced by Henrik Karlsson in both Carolina and Montreal. He did have a solid outing Saturday against Toronto, but overall, he hasn't been good enough on this five game point streak for the Calgary Flames. I still think he works his way out of it, so we'll see if he continues to do that tonight.
Cory Sarich says he'll be "good to go" for tonight's game after taking a puck off the foot Monday night. He said the swelling has gone down significantly and he feels almost back to normal, so he'll take up his regular spot beside Mark Giordano on Calgary's second pairing tonight. Sarich has seen some pretty sizeable minutes over the last little while, and remains the only choice as Calgary's 4th guy on the blueline. Overall, he's been okay in the role, and is obviously helped by Gio, so while I don't believe Sarich is necessarily a top four guy at this point, he hasn't been awful in the role.
After two solid games in Ontario, Adam Pardy had a rough game in Montreal, making a few mistakes that stood out, including his overtime shot that was blocked and sent the other way for P.K. Subban's winner. He was a constant topic on the call-in program Monday night, and I think it's probably okay to lay off the guy. Pardy isn't a top four defenceman at this point, so when he's elevated to a larger role, mistakes are going to be made. Against the Sens and Leafs, he wasn't playing against...well...anybody, whereas the Habs boast a little more firepower. Pardy will be back to his normal role tonight, so the pairings will look like this:
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Up front, not a whole lot of change. Tom Kostopoulos will miss his fifth game in a six game suspension and will be eligible to return to the lineup Saturday in Vancouver. At morning skate, the lines were tweaked a little bit, with David Moss bumped up to the third line and Niklas Hagman knocked down to the fourth unit.
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-Ales Kotalik
Curtis Glencross-Matt Stajan-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
The top line, especially the two wingers, really brought their 'A' stuff in the latter half of the Montreal game and the way they were driving things really seemed to trickle down. Kotalik has goals in two of his last three games and Rene Bourque has started to produce as well.
Finally, Jarome Iginla has been excused by the NHL from the All Star Game in Raleigh so he can spend some time with his grandmother, who's suffering from some health challenges. Daniel Briere gets the nod in his spot.
Suddenly the Minnesota Wild are playing some pretty good hockey, and suddenly they're knocking on the playoff door. After a 4-1 win Tuesday night in Edmonton, the Wild have wins in two straight over divisional opponents, and have moved within three points of the final playoff spot in the West. Sitting at 23-18-5, the Wild are winning games by making the most of their offensive opportunities, relying on some pretty good goaltending, and pushing things to the outside as much as possible.
The team does allow a lot of shots, averaging over 31 against per game while putting a league-worst amount on net at 26. That would probably explain why virtually everyone on the team is in the minus when it comes to their Corsi number. This is a team that you can generate on, and team that isn't going to come back from a lot of deficits.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Martin Havlat leads the way in scoring with 40 points in 46 games with Mikko Koivu right behind him at 39. It drops off from there, as we know this team has never been the most offensively potent. I keep forgetting that Guillaume Latendresse only played eight games this season, and is a large part of their attack. Latendresse remains out with a torn labrum and there doesn't seem to be a time table for his return. They're also without Marek Zidlicky and his 22 points off the blueline, as he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered late in December.
Defenceman Marco Scandella is out about a week with a concussion while goaltender Jose Theodore is still recovering from a hip injury. The good news on the Wild injury front comes in the form of Niklas Backstrom, who is healthy again after a hip injury suffered on New Years Eve. He was the backup last night in Edmonton. Here are lines and pairings for tonight:
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Antti Miettinen
Cal Clutterbuck-Kyle Brodziak-Martin Havlat
Eric Nystrom-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Brad Staubitz-John Madden-Chuck Kobasew
Nick Schultz-Brent Burns
Clayton Stoner-Greg Zanon
Cam Barker-Jared Spurgeon
The guess is Niklas Backstrom gets the start in net after Anton Khudobin started last night in Edmonton. He's allowed just one goal in Minnesota's last six periods of hockey, but Backstrom is back and healthy after missing three weeks with a hip injury suffered on New Years Eve.
The Flames were beaten by a combined score of 7-2 in December's home-and-home series with the Wild, and the stakes on this one are going to be high, as they tend to be these days in Calgary. The Wild have been on their biggest roll of the season, and are finding ways to win hockey games. As a result, they've put some space between themselves and the Flames, so it's a team Calgary needs to chase down. With six teams to leapfrog, you can't let any of them earn points on you, and so Calgary needs a regulation two at home tonight.
PS...there's no way I'm not using that picture when I had the chance. No way. I feel a sense of accomplishment.