March 02 2011 12:08PM
It's true, the Calgary Flames have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks twice this season on home ice. And it's also true the Flames are coming off consecutive shutout wins over the St. Louis Blues. All that doesn't change the fact that Calgary hasn't won in Chicago in almost three years, and tonight, they play a Hawks team on their longest win streak of the season (7 pm, Sportsnet West JIP and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
The Flames have climbed their way up to fifth in the Western Conference after taking a 6-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, a score that looks a whole lot more lopsided than the game itself. Calgary's wasn't at their best against the Blues, and yet found a way to carry a lead into the third, and put their foot on the throat of a vulnerable opponent, pumping five third period goals past them in the process. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks should be a different story tonight.
Not much changes for the Flames tonight, and why should it? They're coming off back-to-back shutouts over St. Louis, a feat the team has never been able to accomplish, blanking the same team in consecutive games. While neither game saw Calgary as the dominant team (despite a 6-0 win last night), they've done enough to win both games, and there's no real reason to see a ton of change in the lineup.
It would be kind of silly to mess with a goaltender coming off two straight shutouts, and three in his last five games, so Miikka Kiprusoff likely gets his 18th straight start in net tonight. While the Blues made life a little easier than they should have on the Flames tender last night, he still made some key saves, adding to the frustration of the opponent. He's doing more than enough to help the team win hockey games at this point, and it's not like he hasn't gone on a stretch like this before.
Calgary's top line exploded in St. Louis, combining for nine points, most coming in the third period. While they were underwater in terms of possession and scoring chances, the group did what they needed when they had their opportunities. That being said, Kent made a good point last night...they're going to need to make more of an impact tonight, as they were kind of invisible for the opening two periods. Here are lines and pairings 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
Can anyone argue David Moss being Calgary's most consistent forward over the last three months? I certainly can't, because to me, it's fact. The way he's affected the play at both ends of the ice is nothing new, and he's been an absolute beast on the penalty kill as well. The guy will probably score 20 goals, but I feel it needs to be pointed out...he's not having a "bounce back season". The numbers weren't there last year, but his influence on the game and his importance to the team was the exact same.
The Hawks are finally starting to resemble the team that won hockey's biggest prize one season ago, riding a five game win streak heading into tonight. This has been a team plagued with inconsistency, bad bounces, and mediocre goaltending in different stretches this season. But in the past month, Chicago has started to find a groove, going 8-3-2 in the month of February, thanks in large part to their captain.
Jonathan Toews is the NHL's first star of the month, and for good reason. With 21 points in 13 games, Toews put the team on his back, and he's lead them back into a playoff spot and has turned this game with Calgary into a massive affair. If he hasn't surpassed Marian Hossa as Chicago's primary heavy lifter already, he is dangerously close to doing so, something the Hawks would have no problem seeing, as Hossa continues to be a huge part of their plan.
Toews leads the team in scoring, and is a key cog in their league leading powerplay. Chicago continues to score at an alarming rate when a man up, and they show no signs of stopping, as they boast a 24.6% efficiency rate. Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa have all provided fairly consistent scoring as well, even with Hossa missing time earlier in the year. Here are lines pairings tonight:
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa
Michael Frolik-Jake Dowell-Troy Brouwer
Viktor Stalberg-Ryan Johnson-Tomas Kopecky
Duncan Keith-Nick Leddy
Brent Seabrook-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brian Campbell-Chris Campoli
Campoli makes his Hawks debut tonight after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators before Monday's NHL trade deadline. With Jordan Hendry sidelined longterm with a knee injury, the team had a need for a solid defenceman, and Campoli can fill that void.
Chicago is a strong possession team, with top ten numbers in both shots for and shots against, but they've been prone to some untimely mistakes, bad luck...and they've had some issues in between the pipes. Those issues have corrected themselves, and there's no question who the number one guy is now...Corey Crawford. With a solid .932 save percentage at even strength, Crawford has provided solid, not spectacular, work in net; something Marty Turco hasn't been able to do. Crawford gets the start in net tonight.
Calgary has had historic troubles on the second half of a back-to-back set, and it's also important to realize how much better an opponent Chicago is than St. Louis. The Blues played Calgary tough for five straight periods, but were unable to score on numerous quality chances...and they folded in the third period last night. However, if Calgary plays the way they did in the opening 40 last night, the Blackhawks will take advantage. That being said...the Flames have done a nice job getting things back on the rails after a poor period or a subpar outing, so you can be confident they'll do the same tonight.