February 03 2011 11:56AM
The tone of the Nation comments as of late has been a whole lot more positive, and why not? The Flames are playing their best hockey of the season by far, and they're making things interesting for their fans, riding a five game win streak. Tonight, they return to where it all started: Atlanta, Georgia for their only meeting with the Thrashers this season (5 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
The city of Atlanta was without NHL hockey for 19 years after the Flames moved their operations to some oil city in Alberta, Canada in 1980. The city had this weird tower with an orange and yellow head on top as their landmark, and the weirdest looking shaped arena. But, the NHL has certainly worked in Calgary, and upon it's return to the durrrrrrty south, um, well not so much. The Flames haven't had a lot of success in their former home, but if there is a time to do it, it might be now with the Thrashers playing some of their worst hockey of the season. What was one of the nice stories in the first half of the season has seemingly come back to Earth a little bit, with Atlanta in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Reports surfaced last night that the Flames have recalled Lance Bouma from the American Hockey League, seeming to follow through on Jay Feaster's plan to give Abbotsford Heat players a cameo on the big team. It seemed to point towards a Niklas Hagman injury, as he left Tuesday's game in Nashville in the second period. However, we find out this morning the Flames will have to instead look at Plan B.
Some weather issues prevented Bouma from making the trip to Atlanta, so instead, Ol Steady is being activated off injured reserve and he'll return to Flames active roster tonight, but not on the blueline. Without Hagman, Staios will slot in on the fourth forward line with the defensive pairings staying the same. Staios will play the wing with Mikael Backlund and Tom Kostopoulos while Tim Jackman will get bumped to the third line. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, but I think we can anticipate Staios's two linemates being utilized a little more regularly than him.
I'm very excited to see Jackman on a line with Matt Stajan and Curtis Glencross for a full game, as Jackman has been a very useful player this season on the fourth line. However, if you remember back to the beginning of the season, Jackman was seeing third line duty with Glencross and Mikael Backlund, and it was Kent who remarked early at the impressive job he did at driving possession. Stajan has been playing better of late, and we know what the two wings are capable of...it could be a nice trio.
As for the top line, they've been very meh as of late, but did manage to contribute to an important goal Tuesday night. With Jarome Iginla starting a cycle, the top line forwards all touched the puck down low before Alex Tanguay fed a sneaking Cory Sarich off the point for the tying goal in the third period. They didn't give up a whole lot against the Preds, but weren't really expected to, but they didn't generate a whole lot either. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Curtis Glencross-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Steve Staios
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after another strong performance against Nashville. He was perfect against all three shooters in the shootout to decide the game and made some key saves in a fairly tight game through regulation and overtime.
The Atlanta Thrashers were certainly a feel good story in the first half of the season, but thanks to a few injuries woes and a back-to-reality factor kicking in. Overall, they've won just two of their last ten games, and a team that once sat comfortably in a playoff spot is now fighting for their postseason lives. Atlanta sits eighth with 57 points just one up on the Carolina Hurricanes heading into action tonight.
To say Atlanta isn't a possession hockey team would be a bit of an understatement, as their numbers have not been pretty at all. But, much like Nashville, Anaheim and Dallas, the Thrashers rely on strong goaltending and they've got it in the form of Ondrej Pavelec. His .942 ES save percentage puts him second in the NHL behind Tim Thomas, and he'll be the man in net tonight. Pavelec was already getting the lions share of playing time, and he'll see even more with an injury to Chris Mason. Drew MacIntyre is the backup goalie right now.
Up front, they have some useful pieces, and Atlanta is getting some decent contributions from their top line, lead by Nicklas Bergfors and Andrew Ladd. Bergfors is one of two players on the team with a Corsi number in the plus, and he's done it with a 46.2% offensive zone start. In fact, the regular top line of Bergfors, Ladd and Rich Peverley are well under 50% when it comes to their zone start number. That has allowed Head Coach Craig Ramsay to place players like Evander Kane and Bryan Little in more offensive situations. However, the team is juggling their lines tonight, with Peverley being knocked down to the fourth line and Little being bumped up to the middle of the top trio.
The team is lead in scoring by a pair of defencemen, with 41 points each from Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. With Enstrom battling an injury, the Atlanta offence has taken a hit, as has their powerplay. Ladd is the only forward putting numbers up with any regularity, with 39 points in 52 games. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Nicklas Bergfors
Evander Kane-Nik Antropov-Anthony Stewart
Patrice Cormier-Tim Stapleton-Chris Thorburn
Freddy Modin-Alex Burmistrov-Rich Peverley
Dustin Byfuglien-Johnny Oduya
Zach Bogosian-Ron Hainsey
Freddy Meyer-Brent Sopel
On the injury front, Enstrom's broken finger will keep him out for the next two weeks or so while Mason is on injured reserve and out indefinetely with a knee injury. Atlanta is also without forward Jim Slater who will miss his 11th straigth game recovering from a concussion.
No, Calgary hasn't had the most success when playing in their former home, but that can't really be in their thought process tonight. Right now, the Flames have to take care of their own business, and they've been doing that with impressive regularity in an 11-3-3- stretch. The third period they played against Nashville was a good one, and an effort like that tonight should give the Flames another two points.