November 01 2011 11:37AM
Seeing the Calgary Flames start the month of November with a .500 record isn't overly surprising, knowing what expectations were heading into the season. Seeing the Vancouver Canucks also at .500 after the first month of the season is slightly more surprising, knowing how annoyingly elite they were last season. Tonight, for the first time this season, the two bitter rivals hook up at the Saddledome (7:30 pm, TSN and Sportsnet 960).
For the first time this season, the Flames enter a game riding a win streak, albeit a modest one at two games. Their win over Colorado on Wednesday was impressive for the most part while their 3-1 victory over St. Louis on Friday was slightly less so. Regardless, they were both wins and go Calgary back to .500, a mark they had yet to achieve this season.
After two games going with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, the Flames will return to the tradition six and 12 look. Matt Stajan will re-enter the lineup after missing the last couple games as a healthy scratch, which is what I kind of thought Brent Sutter was hinting at yesterday. He was talking about how different teams present different matchup scenarios and mentioned Anton Babchuk by name. Babchuk comes out of the lineup, which makes sense, because against Vancouver you don't want that guy on the ice very much.
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Rene Bourque-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-Derek Smith
We need to see more from that top line as they have combined for a grand total of three goals through nine games this year. Morrison has only played in five contests thus far, so that plays a part, but the facts are clear: Calgary's top offensive weapons have to be just that. Right now they're not doing that. Morrison has had value in the faceoff circle however, sitting second in the NHL with a 61.4% efficiency rate.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after another strong outing against the Blues on Friday night. He kept his team in that game as St. Louis did a decent job of generating full strength and certainly racked up the chances on the powerplay. Since his first game, Kiprusoff has been very strong.
The Vancouver Canucks enter tonight after a disappointing first month of the season, sitting 5-5-1 and outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. It has been a start that hasn't sat well among the faithful on the west coast, and it seems like it's even worse when it comes to their goaltender. Roberto Luongo will get the start for Vancouver tonight after a ghastly start to the season. Lu has started 3-3-1 thus far with an uncharacteristically low .888 even strength save percentage, and he's had some really awful outings along the way.
Tonight will be David Booth's fourth game with the Canucks with one point to this point since joining the team in a deal with the Florida Panthers. Booth has played almost exclusively with Ryan Kesler on Vancouver's second line and says he's feeling more comfortable every game. Playing on the flank of last year's Selke Trophy winner gives Booth the opportunity to put up some decent numbers, so even with his slow start I'm still fairly wary of what Booth will be able to do.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
David Booth-Ryan Kesler-Cody Hodgson
Chris Higgins-Manny Malhotra-Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti-Maxim Lapierre-Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler- Sami Salo
Keith Ballard-Alexander Sulzer
It's a fairly healthy Canucks team right now, with the only forward injury to Mason Raymond, who remains out of the lineup with the back injury he suffered in the Cup final in June. He's back skating but is out indefinitely and will obviously be a welcome addition upon his return. Higgins was moved to the third line with Malhotra in the second period of Vancouver's 7-4 win over Washington on Saturday, as he returned to his natural wing and scored a pair of goals in the process. Hodgson was moved up as a result and it looks like he'll stay there for the time being.
The Sedin line continues to get the extreme high ground from Head Coach Alain Vigneault, as both brothers and Burrows are above 75% on their offensive zone start. A large part of that is thanks to Malhotra and Hansen, who have been buried once again by Vigneault.
Aaron Rome is close to returning on the Vancouver blueline after recovering from a broken finger, and this might sound silly, but he'll also likely be a welcome addition. Keith Ballard is a league worst -9, even though that figure is a tad inflated with some seeming bad percentages working against him. That said, Ballard would be the odd man out if Rome were to return tonight.
Vancouver remains an elite team in the West, regardless of what their record says. If they do things the they're supposed to, the Flames will have trouble staying with them. That said, the way Calgary plays, they can keep things close with most teams in this league on the scoreboard, especially with the way Kiprusoff is playing early on. A win for the Flames will make them 4-1-1 on their season long home stand, which will have turned it into the opportunity they wanted it to be.