October 13 2011 11:30AM
The Calgary Flames roll into Montreal for one of two meetings with the Canadiens this season, and after two lackluster defeats, the Flames hope to get on the winning side for the first time (5:30 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960). Calgary started their three game road trip with a 5-2 loss in St. Louis on Monday, one of the worst outings we've seen from the Flames in a while.
It was just an overall poor outing Monday afternoon, with the team showing next to no punch offensively to go along with poor transition play and shoddy defensive work. As Kent wrote earlier this week, no team is this bad and things will get better. However, knowing how competitive the Western Conference is going to be this season, making things get better much sooner rather than later is the biggest key right now.
It looks like the same lineup for the Flames tonight that they put out against the Blues, save for the goaltender. Calgary will go back to Miikka Kiprusoff after Henrik Karlsson allowed a five spot in his first start of the season. Even though the decision to start their backup was a little surprising on Monday, the defeat can't be pinned soley on him. Karlsson wasn't overly strong, in fact he was pretty shaky throughout, but the Flames weren't winning with Kiprusoff in net either.
No line combinations at morning skate in Montreal, so it leaves many wondering if Brent Sutter is going to try something new to try and shake up his listless squad, or if he'll stick with the same groupings as the previous two games. It's been tough to pick out consistent strong performances from the forward group thus far, as the team hasn't been very good. Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay have been the two sticking out for me. Here were lines and pairings the last couple games:
Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman-Roman Horak-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-Derek Smith
It sounds like Anton Babchuk will sit out his second consecutive game as a healthy scratch, as he's been anything but impressive since the start of training camp. He was skating late after practice, an indication he will be the odd man out on the blueline. There will be a lot of focus on the pairing of Bouwmeester and Butler, as they've both really struggled through the opening two games. If Sutter is going to use that duo against the top talent on the other side, they're going to have to improve, and in a hurry.
Montreal is off to a decent start to the season. Having lost their opener in Toronto, the Habs rolled into Winnipeg for a massive event and spanked the Jets 5-1 in their franchise opener. Tonight, Montreal plays their home opener after three days off and they're beat up in the process.
The Canadiens lost Mike Cammalleri against the Jets thanks to a freak accident, as he was clipped by the skate of teammate Yannick Weber in the first period. It's gone down as a leg laceration and he'll miss ten days to two weeks, which is good news when you saw the initial injury. Up front, the Habs are also without former Hitmen standout Ryan White who has yet to be cleared from a groin injury. After missing training camp thanks to offseason shoulder surgery, Lars Eller will return to the lineup tonight.
It's also a beat up blueline in Montreal, losing Jaroslav Spacek to an upper body injury in Sunday's affair. Spacek joins Andrei Markov (knee) and Chris Campoli (torn hamstring) on the injured list, as once again the Habs are seeing their defence corps stretched very thin. Last year it was Markov and Josh Gorges missing significant time, leading to an increased role for P.K. Subban. Well, it's different injured defencemen this time, but it doesn't diminish how important Subban is going to be for this team in the early stages of the season.
Subban's possession numbers were extremely strong last year, even with a 48.5% offensive zone start. Put into tough situations against very good opposition, the exciting blueliner thrived and took some major steps in his rookie season. I was very surprised at how quickly he came along, knowing how much of a circus he was at times during Montreal's 2010 playoff run.
Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta
Travis Moen-Tomas Plekanec-Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche-David Desharnais-Andrei Kostitsyn
Lars Eller-Andreas Engqvist-Aaron Palushaj
Hal Gill-P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges-Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin-Yannick Weber
Carey Price will get the start in net, coming off a couple solid performances to start the season.
That's a verrrrrrrrry supsect blueline for the Habs, so the Flames need to take advantage. There are matchups to exploit virtually every time the Flames are on the ice, save for the Gill-Subban pairing. Depending on how Sutter rolls the lines, if Calgary is going, they can wreak some havoc in the Montreal end. Whatever the Flames do, though, getting off to the same start they did last time out in Montreal is not the best idea. The Habs went up 4-0 at home last February before Calgary battled back to tie things; Subban won the game in overtime.