March 21 2011 12:10PM
Following a tough overtime loss last night in Anaheim, the Calgary Flames get right back on the horse tonight as they take on the Los Angeles Kings for the final time this season (8:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). The Flames are starting to see their margin for error disappear, and a point last night was big, but they're going to need to rack up some regulation wins in their final eight games if the postseason is to be a reality.
Working in definitives with this team or this NHL season as a whole is probably silly, so to say Calgary's playoff chances would go up in smoke with a loss isn't true. However, losing two games against teams right in the chase is not going to bode well for their chances.
Elimination Number: 7.5
With Calgary only playing five games in the final two weeks of the season, they're going to need to build up some cushion on this road trip ending Saturday, or else those spans of idle play are going to be real tough on the team...and moreso their fans.
Doesn't look like a whole lot changes for the Flames tonight, as Calgary put on a nice show at even strength in the final 40 minutes of their overtime loss in Anaheim. The problem with last night was Calgary's start, as no one was good in the first 18 minutes from the goaltender on out. The first two goals are on the Flames, the third one doesn't look good on Kiprusoff, and as a result, Calgary was in a spot where they needed a furious comeback just to earn a point agaisnt a team they're fighting with.
Kiprusoff goes back in between the pipes tonight, after playing only six minutes yesterday, so it's an easy choice for Head Coach Brent Sutter. Henrik Karlsson has been great in spot relief duty, and should get credit for doing the job he's done to this point. Give Karlsson credit. He's making the decision for next year difficult, and even the faction (myself included) who believes Leland Irving should be the guy for next year as the backup is starting to think twice. That being said, Kiprusoff gives Calgary their best chance to win...he's the only starting goaltender on the team.
The lines got a little bit jumbled up last night, for a few different reasons. Calgary wasn't doing a very good job producing offensively for the first period, which played into it. Lance Bouma took a seat on the bench as the game went along, as Sutter didn't want to use his rookie forward in a tight game. And Mikael Backlund took a seat as well, with just one shift in the third period. Two possible reasons...one, he was out of his league on the Iginla line in a hard match against the Getzlaf line; and two, he got stapled to the boards by Corey Perry, and I wonder how much that played into it. Nonetheless, here were the combinations to start yesterday's game...
Curtis Glencross-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Ales Kotalik
Tom Kostopoulos-Lance Bouma-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
With Bouma and Backlund seeing little to no duty, we saw Stajan playing with Jackman and Kostopoulos at times, with those three guys and Hagman making a bit of a rotation at the bottom end of the depth chart. Sutter also put Jokinen back together with Tanguay and Iginla in the second and third periods.
The Kings enter action with 86 points, tied with Chicago and Nashville for fifth in the conference, and LA has also played some of their best hockey over the last month or so. The Kings really had their struggles in the first half of the season, due to a few different factors...they struggled with consistency, they struggled scoring, and they were getting some very unfortunate bounces. This is a fairly well built team, with some nice depth and solid goaltending...their last two games against Calgary show you they are a team that is tough to play against.
This is one of the teams in the NHL that can rival Calgary's depth in the forward ranks, with head-to-head matchups looking fairly even across the board. It's also a very responsible team, as their fifth ranked penalty kill and second best shots against count speak to rather loudly. Head Coach Terry Murray has a very stingy way of going about things, and their 176 goals against is third best in the Western Conference. What's been the struggle at times is scoring, which is a little curious in looking at some of the talented players they boast.
LA fields a below average powerplay and doesn't do a lot with their offensive zone time, yet because they're so strong defensively, their possession rates come out looking pretty good. In reality, the Kings rank 26th in the NHL in shots for and have just one offensive heavy hitter right now, with Anze Kopitar leading the charge at 72 points in 72 games. As mentioned, this is a fairly deep team though, and here are lines and pairings for tonight:
Dustin Penner-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Ryan Smyth-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Michal Handzus-Wayne Simmonds
Brad Richardson-Trevor Lewis-Kevin Westgarth
Willie Mitchell-Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson-Rob Scuderi
Alex Martinez-Matt Greene
Penner seems to be enjoying his new home, with six points in nine games since the deadline deal that sent him from Edmonton to Hollywood. Murray deploys the Kopitar line as a heavy hitting line, and he'll match them up against anybody, but he also has the Handzus line for matchup work too. Handzus et al get buried with their offensive zone starts, which isn't a surprise becuase that's what he's done his entire career.
No word on who starts in net for the Kings tonight, as Jonathan Quick has started the last two, so it might end up being Jonathan Bernier between the pipes. Neither have put up world beating numbers, but neither really have to on a regular basis because the team plays so well in front of them.
It's all about how Calgary responds to an angering loss in Anaheim. They best be pissed off, but do they let that get to them in a positive or negative way? Let's not forget...a win here and Calgary ties LA with 86 points. A loss and the Flames fall four back. I think they need to go 6-2 to make the playoffs...which means they need to win three games on top of the expected trio of victories over Edmonton and Colorado.