February 27 2011 12:13PM
The old home and home series is one of the lost arts in the NHL, and the Calgary Flames open up one tonight, taking on the St. Louis Blues at the 'Dome (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). The stakes are self explanatory, with the Flames playing the the first of their three remaining games with St. Louis and only holding a six point edge in the Western Conference standings.
Calgary was pushed to eighth in the standings on Saturday with both Dallas and Los Angeles winning their games; luckily, the Stars tilt with Nashville didn't go to extra time and turn into a three point game. While it's true the Flames are giving up games to everyone at this point, the focal point remains winning hockey games, something Calgary hasn't done in a week, falling in their last two games to Boston and San Jose.
An optional skate this morning for the Flames, and it's relatively good news all around for the Flames on the injury front. After being injured in a fight with Ryane Clowe on Friday night, Tim Jackman will play this evening, meaning whatever happened during the tilt wasn't as serious as first thought. That's good news, with Jackman being an important player on the Flames, fitting in very nicely either on the third or fourth line.
Photo courtesy Calgary Flames Twitter
It was also a pleasant surprise to see Daymond Langkow taking part in optional skate for Calgary, after we found out yesterday his stall is back in the locker room, and he's been cleared to start doing light workouts. Now, all of us huge Langkow fans (myself included) can't get to excited, but after seeing what happened 11 months ago in Minnesota, seeing him out on the Saddledome ice is very refreshing. There's still no saying if he'll ever be able to return to NHL action, as an optional skate with a green "no contact" jersey is very different from the high impact world of a regular season game. Nonetheless, it's certainly encouraging for the well being of Langkow as a whole.
Niklas Hagman did not skate this morning, nor did he practice on Saturday after coming down with a case of the flu. Hagman is questionable for tonight, and if he can't go, he'll be replaced by newly called up Greg Nemisz on the fourth line. Nemisz is making strides in his first pro season after winning back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires; the 20 year old forward has 27 points in 59 games with Abbotsford, the second lowest scoring team in the American Hockey League. Heat Head Coach Jim Playfair has been very complimentary of Nemisz and the work he's done to become a viable pro, and he'll be expected to fight for a spot on the big team next season. Here are lines and pairings, assuming that Hagman does play tonight:
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
The top line is coming off one of their worst performances since being put together, and Friday's game against the Sharks was one of the worst games in recent memory for Jarome Iginla. The only time I can remember him being such a detrimental factor this season was that loss in Phoenix, which was early on in November.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets his 16th straight start in net.
The Blues enter tonight trying to stay in the Western Conference playoff race, but needing to string some wins together in short order for that to happen. If it doesn't, they'll fall into Colorado territory, where they're just playing out the stretch and being forced to embrace the role of spoiler. The one positive about the play of St. Louis of late is they're playing like a competitive team, they're just not getting the results to go along with it.
Change is the best word to describe this team in the past few weeks, with the Blues making two very significant moves in recent memory, the biggest of which sent some shockwaves through the league. St. Louis dealt defenceman Erik Johnson, forward Jay McClement and a first round pick to Colorado in exchange for forward Chris Stewart, defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and a second round selection. While I don't like the move longterm for the Blues, you can't argue with the results thus far, especially from Stewart who has six goals in five games.
That wasn't the only large deal done by St. Louis, as they also sent Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay in exchange for prospect forward Brock Beukeboom and a third round pick. That's two deals drastically changing the Blues blueline, thrusting more responsibility on defensive specialists Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes
T.J. Oshie-Patrick Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Vladimir Sobotka-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Matt D'Agostini-Cam Janssen
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Tyson Strachan
Kevin Shattenkirk-Alex Pietrangelo
Losing McClement hurts the Blues, as he was an important player used in a frequent shutdown role. Sobotka's line has been the one being placed in a defensive role more often than not as of late, while Backes has the ability to go head-to-head with the best lines in the NHL.
Jaroslav Halak remains on injured reserve with a hand injury, and he will not play tonight, but likely will be back in Monday in the second half of this doubleheader. Ben Bishop gets the start in net, coming off his first career shutout Friday in Edmonton where he made 39 saves. Bishop is a big, big goaltender standing 6'7, but he's inexperienced.
This is a game with massive importance for both teams, but more importantly, this is a two game set that's extremely crucial for both clubs. With the Blues and Flames playing three more games against one another, including tonight, taking two of three in regulation for either side could really see a big swing. The Flames played well against Boston and lost, then didn't play as well against San Jose and earned a point; fact is, Calgary has played a certain brand of hockey in 2011, and will need to do so agains tonight.