February 07 2011 11:48AM
Saturday's game between the Flames and Kings at the Scotiabank Saddledome was a lot of fun and gave us a good preview of the type of hockey Calgary might be in for down the stretch. It was two teams with very little seperating them going shot for shot, and it took seven rounds of a shootout to finish it. It's on Calgary to duplicate their effort tonight when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks for the third time this year (7:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
The reason things were so fun on Saturday was because of two words: competition and urgency. The competitive level was very high, with both teams playing the type of hockey which has got them playing a whole lot better of late. And both the Flames and Kings upped their intensity level, creating a palpable playoff atmosphere on an early February night. Who knows what Chicago brings to the 'Dome, but if Calgary can put forth a similar effort tonight, they'll once again be in a position to walk away with two points.
Just some subtle line tweaks for the Flames tonight, as they look to extend their point streak to eight games. It's funny, the main topic today was Alex Tanguay and the resurgence he's seen in terms of points this season. Tanguay was always a good pickup in my eyes, signing at a bargain annual salary and not having a ton of expecations on him. As Robert has correctly pointed out, two things go into his increased point total after his dismal season in Tampa: better linemates and better conditioning. The latter is self explanatory, but the former is interesting to point out. Tanguay spent a lot of time with Vincent Lecavalier last season, which can really sink a guy trying to come back from a serious shoulder injury.
In terms of lines, it'll be a slight change, with the struggling Rene Bourque bumped down to the third line, elevating Curtis Glencross to the flank of Olli Jokinen and David Moss. That's encouraging news in two forms. First, Glencross and Moss can absolutely kill it together, and it's also good to see the coaching staff make Bourque accountable for his poor play of late. Niklas Hagman remains out of the lineup, but did skate this morning, however Lance Bouma looks to play his second straight game. 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-Lance Bouma
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Morrison is riding quite the hot streak, similar to the one he rode early in the season. Brendan has points in seven straight games, accumulating ten in that span. He's been a nice addition to the top line, giving the Flames comfortable and smart minutes between Tanguay and Iginla. And as Kent pointed out Saturday, Iginla was out of his mind against the Kings, and will need to be again tonight.
Chicago enters play tonight two points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, sitting with a 27-21-4 record and 58 points. They've started to find a little more consistency in their results as of late, after having a heck of a time doing anything good with regularity during the first half of the season. Even with a tough loss in Vancouver Friday, the Hawks still have points in seven of their last ten, with six being wins.
Special teams are a big part of the Chicago story this year, with that number one powerplay clicking at 24.9% of the time. However, the picture isn't nearly as rosy when the Hawks are down a man, with the NHL's 26th ranked penalty kill, operating at just 78.2% efficiency. In fact, both were on display last time they met Calgary, with Chicago scoring four powerplay goals in a 4-2 win, yet still allowing two powerplay markers of their own.
Thanks to the off season departures of so many important players, the Hawks have become a very top heavy team. However, that top heavy team can absolutely run things when their big gunners on the ice. Patrick Sharp leads the way in scoring with 47 points, while the possession numbers of the Jonathan Toews line are extremely high, as expected. The ES story this year with the Hawks sees them get a high amount of shots, not allowing a ton themselves (seventh in both categories), and sometimes being let down by some shoddy goaltending.
Corey Crawford's numbers have come around a little, with a .919 save percentage and a modest .927 five-on-five. It's Marty Turco who continues to struggle, with a goals against north of three and a paltry .896 save percentage. Turco got the start in Vancouver so it'll be Crawford going tonight, in a game with plenty on the line for the visitors. Here are lines and pairings:
Troy Brouwer-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Tomas Kopecky-Patrick Sharp-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-David Bolland-Fernando Pisani
Viktor Stalberg-Jake Dowell-Jacki Skille
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Nick Boynton
Head Coach Joel Quenneville absolutely buries that third line, with the entire trio seeing offensive zone starts less than 40 percent of the time. In fact, Bolland's offensive zone start number at 33.3%, while Bickell and Pisani aren't much higher. They don't do overly awful as a result, and are obviously going to be on the ice for a ton of shots against. However, using that line as he does, Quenneville is able to load up the offensive starts for guys like Kane (66.3%), Sharp (65.6%) and Toews (56.3%).
The two teams are seperated by just one point heading in, and with one game remaining between them following tonight, the story is pretty easy to come up with. Calgary needs to stop Chicago's powerplay, which scored four times against them in their last meeting. However, the Flames took a 7-2 win in their first meeting at the Dome. Should be fun tonight!