January 03 2012 11:00AM
Depending on how you look at it, the Calgary Flames are either 2-2-1 or 1-2-1 on their season-long, World Junior road string. The former record includes the win over Vancouver before Christmas while the latter reflects the actual roadtrip portion of the stretch. Nonetheless, Calgary needs wins over Washington and Boston to guarantee finishing above .500 looking at either a record, a tall task that starts tonight in DC (5 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).
I guess when you lose three games in a row where the team looked not-so-good, the Head Coach is going to juggle some lines. Other than the top trio centered by Olli Jokinen, everything is different for tonight against the Capitals, including a move to the middle for Blake Comeau. The duo of Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos has also been broken up, as the team tries to spark something.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Blake Comeau-Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
Brendan Morrison-Roman Horak-Tom Kostopoulos
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Anton Babchuk-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
It's interesting to see Backlund centering Jackman tonight, as they had some nice chemistry in the early stages of last season. Comeau moving to the middle is also interesting, but more interesting is the switch to the wing for Morrison. The veteran center hasn't really been all that great down the middle, so it may be in an effort to make him more effective. No changes on the defense pairings, however, as we wait to see when Clay Wilson will play his first game with the Flames.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net.
After a scorching start to the regular season where the Capitals opened 6-0, the team has limped to a sub-500 record since then, currently sitting 20-15-2 and ninth in the Eastern Conference. New Head Coach Dale Hunter seems to finally have the team playing a little more like the team we know they are, with wins in three straight games and his most important players producing as such over the last week or so. It's about time for a team that really had no excuse to be wallowing where they were.
Alexander Ovechkin-Brooks Laich-Troy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera-Jeff Halpern-Joel Ward
Matt Hendriks-Matthieu Perrault-Jay Beagle
Jeff Schultz-Roman Hamrlik
John Carlson-Karl Alzner
Dennis Wideman-Dmitri Orlov
You'll see an interesting name at the bottom of the defense pairings, as the Calgary kid is back. Playing in only eight games this season thanks to a groin injury, Mike Green is going to make his return to the Washington lineup tonight as the team will go with seven defenseman. There's no word who will come out of the lineup, but you can bet it'll either be Beagle or Perreault. Alex Semin won't play tonight with a cut on his arm while a groin injury has veteran Tom Poti on the sidelines, an injury that is expected to keep him out all season.
With six points over his last three games (including four goals), Alexander Ovechkin is producing the most he has since the beginning of the season. It's not like 31 points is a bad total, but for a guy who once threatened to run away with the scoring title every year, it's a litlte surprising. It's Backstrom leading the team in scoring with 39 points and Semin lagging way back with just 20; he's been in and out of the doghouse of two seperate coaches.
Looking to rebound from a down season, Tomas Vokoun is kind of right around where he was with Florida last year. His .918 save percentage at even strength is right around where it was last season, which is way down from the consistent 93% plus we'd seen from him for a good three season span prior. Vokoun hasn't been bad by any stretch, however, something backup Michal Neuvirth has been for too much of this season. Vokoun gets the start.
The lesser opposition is behind the Calgary Flames, and with losses to Nashville, Ottawa, and the Islanders, Calgary is now riding a three game skid to start the new year. While Washington is technically not a playoff team right now, I think it's fair to say they've grossly underachieved so far this year, so lets hope that they arent' a team that is set to get red hot, using the Flames as a step along the way.