March 15 2011 11:37AM
The Calgary Flames have swept two Western Conference teams this season, in the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators. Yet they've also had some extreme difficult with a few conference foes this season, and the Flames hope to avoid a season series sweep against one of them tonight. For the final time this season, Calgary plays host to the Phoenix Coyotes in another crucial conference matchup (7:30 pm, TSN and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
This is game 72 for the Calgary Flames, which continues to be the highest number in the league. If 96 points is the magic number for the Flames to claim a playoff spot, they'd need a run of 7-3-1 in their final 11 games to hit that total. It's certainly not unrealistic, but it's also not a guarantee either. I've done a little rough math, and I've got Calgary's elimination number at 11.5 as it stands right now, factoring in Nashville as the probable eighth place team. A Flames overtime or shootout loss would be worth the half number, while a regulation loss would knock off a full number (thanks tips).
The big news of yesterday surrounded Flames forward David Moss, who left practice very early on in a lot of pain with what looked to be a lower body injury. The situation was updated today by Head Coach Brent Sutter, who classified the injury as "indefinite, certainly not day-to-day." That, coupled with the confirmed news that the Flames have placed Ales Kotalik on re-entry waivers seems to point to the fact that Moss won't be back any time soon. Suffice to say, that's really not good news; for Moss or the team.
The three other players who missed practice yesterday were all on the ice for an optional skate this morning, with Curtis Glencross in good spirits after the birth of his first child. He'll play tonight as will Olli Jokinen, who doesn't anticipate being moved up to the top line with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. Freddy Modin also took the optional skate, but wasn't able to say whether he'd play tonight after already missing one game due to "maintenance".
Because it was an optional skate, and because the injury situation is so up in the air, and because the coach won't say who's moving up to the top line, it's almost silly to speculate on lines at this point. Follow along on Twitter at around 7 pm and I'll post the lines from pregame warmup, which might give us a better indication as to who's going to be playing with whom. I will say that Rene Bourque popped up to the top line yesterday during practice with Tanguay and Iginla, but that may mean nothing.
If Modin can't play tonight, it will be a scenario where the team goes with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, because they have to. In that case, it's likely Brett Carson would get into the lineup for his second game with the team. Brendan Mikkelson seems to have been pushed to eighth on the depth chart. Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net.
Once again, the Phoenix Coyotes enter action tonight in a playoff spot, sitting fifth in the West and 13 games above the .500 mark. Their last game against Calgary wasn't anything impressive, it was just a good all round show of why this team wins hockey games. They were opportunistic offensively, they were strong in collapsing in front of the net, and they put their faith in a strong goaltending performance from Ilya Byrzgalov. Yep, that's pretty much the formula for Phoenix success, and they're a playoff team right now because of it.
The Yotes are a little healthier tonight than they were on Thursday, albeit only slightly. Forward Martin Hanzal remains out of the lineup, which is a significant loss with the type of minutes he's asked to play on any given night. That being said, Phoenix has done a nice job without him in the lineup at both ends of the ice. In the long run, they won't have much success without him, and some think his lower body injury may be a little longer team than first thought. On the positive side up front, Ray Whitney returned Sunday against Anaheim and added an assist, so he'll be in tonight as well. Here are lines and pairings:
Lauri Korpikoski-Eric Belanger-Shane Doan
Mikkel Boedker-Kyle Turris-Brett MacLean
Taylor Pyatt-Vernon Fiddler-Lee Stempniak
Ray Whitney-Andrew Ebbet-Radim Vrbata
Keith Yandle-Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Adrian Aucoin
Michal Roszival-David Schlemko
The Coyotes blueline is still a little beat up, missing a pair of top six guys. They won't be getting Ed Jovanovski back from a facial injury until late in the season, if then. Rostislav Klesla remains day-to-day after taking a puck to the face, and he's missed the last two games himself. Klesla was the big Phoenix pickup at the trade deadline, as they parted with Sami Lepisto and Scottie Upshall to bring him in from Columbus.
After a 38 save shutout against the Flames on Thursday, it's Bryzgalov back in the Yotes net tonight. It's the final meeting between the teams, so it means I get to use this video clip. It makes me smile.
The Flames have battled adversity in a number of different ways over the past little bit. They've been a 14th place with the season all but written off, and they've had some injury issues to deal with off the start of the season. The most important this is how crucial this game is for both teams, so injuries or not, Calgary needs to come with an effort capable of getting a win. The Coyotes aren't a team with a ton of high end talent, so an injury depleted Flames team may still be able to get their first win of the season against them.