October 26 2011 11:25AM
After three games of their season high six game home stand, the Calgary Flames have had very average results. They sit 1-1-1 on the trip after opening with a comeback win over the Edmonton Oilers last Tuesday night. Now, looking to snap a two game losing skid, the Flames welcome the Northwest Division leading Colorado Avalanche to the Saddledome for their first meeting of the season, looking to get this home stretch back on a positive track (8 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary's last game came Saturday afternoon, when they fell 2-0 at the hands of the Nashville Predators in a game that was frustrating for those playing as much for those watching. After playing two fairly decent games overall, the Flames have just one point to show for it, coming in their overtime loss to the Rangers last week. The worry now is that frustration taking hold and leading to play outside of what is desired, which we know can be a very bad thing for this group.
The one thing I will say, however, is how impressed I've been with the demeanor of the team since Saturday's loss. It's still an upbeat group with a good perspective on what needs to happen, and comparing it to one year ago, I'd say there's a whole lot more of a chance of this Flames group getting back on track. We'll see if it starts tonight.
With an optional skate, it's not certain who exactly who is playing tonight, but it's a good bet Anton Babchuk will return to the Flames lineup after missing the last three contests as a healthy scratch. He'll enter in place of Derek Smith it looks like, who's done a fairly decent job himself on the third pairing. The one thing about Babchuk we all know is he can help the powerplay, but so far this season he hasn't done much of anything there. He saw some second unit time at practice yesterday, so we'll see if he's able to do anything tonight.
Curtis Glencross took morning skate after missing most of Monday's practice and all of yesterday with what the team is calling "lower body soreness". He'll be a gametime decision tonight, but all signs point to him remaining in the lineup, which is good news as he's been one of Calgary's best forwards thus far. He'll be reunited with Olli Jokinen and David Moss, arguably the most effective Flames line during their second half surge last year.
Because of optional skate, we'll go with the lines Calgary went with on Monday morning, the last time the full compliment was on the ice.
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Rene Bourque-Matt Stajan-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-Anton Babchuk
That'd make Niklas Hagman the odd man out, and the current crop of Flames forwards makes for some interesting coaching decisions. Right now Hagman is the guy who will sit, but I wonder if we see that end up being rotation with a few of the other bottom six forwards. Or there's always all those rumours out there about a potential trade...
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight.
Here's a question we've asked far too many times over the past few seasons: just who are the Colorado Avalanche? Looking back at the past two seasons, we can now formulate a pretty good response. The Avs were not a very good team who rode some very favourable percentages to a playoff berth two seasons ago, and continued to ride those bounces for the first half of last year. Then the wheels came off and things balanced out in a large, and somewhat cruel way. But that's for the last two seasons; this rendition of the team makes it difficult to answer the question once again.
First and foremost, Colorado General Manager Greg Sherman has improved his team in the last eight months or so. The trade that netted the team Erik Johnson and Jay McClement was a good one, and I still firmly believe they were the winning side on the deal. Johnson still has the chops to be a top pairing defenceman and McClement is one of the most unheralded tough minutes centres in the NHL.
Sherman also made it his mission to upgrade his blueline this summer, signing Jan Hejda to a lucrative contract while also brining Shane O'Brien into the fold to join what was already there. Add in the return of Kyle Quincey, who missed a large majority of last season, and the Avalanche blueline is a whole lot better than it was last year. Compare it to the group that we saw for most of last year, and it's far and away superior.
David Jones-Paul Stastny-Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Daniel Winnik
Joakim Lindstrom-Matt Duchene-Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod-T.J. Galiardi-Jay McClement
Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson
Shane O'Brien-Kyle Quincey
Ryan Wilson-Ryan O'Byrne
Up front, it's been Duchene in the doghouse early on, having been demoted to the fourth line for a game before being bumped up to third unit yesterday in practice. His points haven't been there and he's still very suspect in his own end, something he continues to work on. The two guys that really stick out to me, however, are O'Reilly and Winnik. They've both been put in a lot of defensive spots, and Winnik especially has a history of doing a decent job with slanted minutes in a third line role. They're a big reason for the great start for second overall pick Gabriel Landeskog, who has four goals already this season.
Many gasped when Colorado gave up what they did to acquire goaltender Semyon Varlamov on July 1st, but he's done the job so far, posting respectable numbers in his six starts thus far. There's no word who starts in net for the Avs tonight, as Varlamov was off the ice first, but some are pointing to Jean-Sebastien Giguere getting the start.
This six game stint at home needs to be used as an opportunity to make hay in the Western Conference, and so far, it hasn't been used as such. That said with three games remaining on it, it still can, and there's still a chance for four wins out of six. The Avalanche are a division opponent riding high, but they're beatable if their opponent wears them down.