February 25 2011 11:52AM
Coming off a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames are right back at home on Friday as they take on one of the Western Conference's hottest teams in the San Jose Sharks (7 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). San Jose's last month and a half has been extremely impressive, and it's gotten them back to where we all thought they should be...on top of the Pacific Division.
I'm looking forward to this one, as it's F'in Game Day at the 'Dome with the Flames finding themselves in a mix of five teams with 70 points...all tied for sixth or tenth in the conference, with Calgary officially slotting in at the bottom. The Sharks are a very good hockey team with wins in five straight and 14 of 17...a span that has put them on top of their division, six points clear of the Dallas Stars, who were on top for most of the season. It's two teams playing extremely hot hockey, and should make for a great tilt.
The Flames won't do anything special tonight, going with the same lineup they've gone with for the last month or so. It's getting kind of old hat, but with the team finally finding the ability to play similar hockey on a game-to-game basis, there's no real reason to make drastic changes. Kent wrote a real nice article on chemistry earlier this week, and it does a nice job of pointing out the true nature of Calgary's remarkable 2011. However, what can be said with 100% certainty is this: the Flames HAVE played much better, consistent hockey and that is still the biggest reason they've won more hockey games.
it was an optional skate this morning, but nothing really changes. I won't colour you surprised, however, I'll tell you anyway...Miikka Kiprusoff gets his 15th straight start in net for the Flames, and once again, it's the only decision to make. Henrik Karlsson might start in Calgary's back-to-back set next Tuesday and Wednesday in St. Louis and Chicago. Maybe. Here are lines and pairings:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Rene Bourque-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Niklas Hagman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
A couple roster notes to pass along. First off, Ales Kotalik got a ton of buzz on the site when he was placed on re-entry waivers Wednesday. After clearing on Thursday morning, the Flames went through the process of the mandatory recall before re-assigning him to Abbotsford where he will play tonight as the team hosts Providence. Acting GM Jay Feaster went fishing to see if anyone would bite on Kotalik, and not surprisignly, nobody did.
Feaster also updated us on the status of Adam Pardy, who is sidelined with an upper body injury that we know is a shoulder injury. It's a long term situation for Pardy, who is an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. I saw him Wednesday at Calgary's annual poker tournament, and he was wearing a heavy duty sling, so won't be coming back anytime soon.
Here come the San Jose Sharks, playing some incredible hockey, with points in 15 of 17 and wins in 14 of those games, including an overtime win in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. After losing eight in a row to start 2011, the Sharks have surged in an insane way, which speaks to a number of different things...most notably, the fact they were playing well below capability during October, November and December. Most of the time, things do have a way of evening themselves out.
Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley are no longer the most important players on the Sharks, although they still have their value as the two leading scorers on the team. There is no question both guys can still finish and both guys can both put up points, but in watching the Sharks play this season, names like Marleau, Pavelski, Couture and Clowe are the ones doing the most significant work. To me, it starts with Joe Pavelski and his 44.5% offensive zone start, the second lowest among Sharks regulars. He really is the pulse of the hockey team, playing against tough opposition while spending much more time in the offensive zone, and still putting up a solid point total.
Patrick Marleau is still a quality center, and having him, Thornton and Pavelski down the middle is San Jose's largest asset, without question. Logan Couture is having an outstanding rookie season, leading the team with 25 goals, while playing with a large selection of different linemates...he's very impressive to watch. And Ryane Clowe is having a career season, five points shy of his career best totals with 47 points to date. Here are lines tonight:
Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe-Patrick Marleau-Dany Heatley
Ben Eager-Joe Pavelski-Torrey Mitchell
John McCarthy-Kyle Wellwood-Jamal Mayers
It shows you how much Head Coach Todd McLellan thinks of Pavelski to have him in between Eager and Wellwood...no knock on those guys, but that's a lot to carry on his shoulders. Injury-wise, Dan Boyle will not play tonight, as he left practice early and will sit out with an upper body injury. It's unknown who will go in his place, as Kent Huskins is day-do-day with an upper body injury of his own. If Huskins is unable to return tonight, expect Justin Braun to get into the lineup for San Jose.
Goalie Antero Niittymaki is on injured reserve with an undisclosed ailment, leaving Antti Niemi the unquestioned starter. He's started San Jose's last 12 games, and will get the start tonight against Calgary. The Stanley Cup winning goalie from a year ago seems to be getting into a groove, while sporting middle-of-the-road numbers. His .927 ES save percentage is right in the mix, and when the Sharks are right, they don't necessarily need elite end goaltending.
This is the third meeting between the teams this season, with the Flames playing one of their most impressive games of the season against San Jose in their first meeting back in October. That 4-0 win was followed by a Sharks 4-3 win at home about a month later. The same story exists with this game as the previous games surrounding Calgary...if they play their game, they'll have a shot to be close in this hockey game. If they keep playing the way they have, it lends itself to taking advantage of bounces...bounces that have gone in their favour of late.