January 05 2012 11:39AM
To this point, the Calgary Flames sit 2-3-1 on their season-long seven game absence from the Scotiabank Saddledome, with their latest setback coming Tuesday night at the hands of the Washington Capitals. We all knew the trip was going to finish with a bang, seeing the Flames take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. I think many were hoping the Flames wouldn't need a win over the Boston Bruins just to salvage a .500 trip (5 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Capitals wasn't what you'd call a terrible Flames performance, with the team actually coming away with more scoring chances in a rather low event game. That said, when they trailed for all of about 71 seconds, there's a playing the score affect that comes into it, but I still thought Calgary had a pretty decent effort. Knowing that, and also knowing Washington didn't really ever seem to sweat, I worry a loss like that might be a little deflating. Problem is, against this opponent tonight, you can play another strong game and still lose handily.
The Flames will play yet another game without a suspended Rene Bourque tonight, with the much maligned forward serving the first of a five game suspension for the above elbow delivered to Nicklas Backstrom Tuesday night. While the team didn't like the two gamer Bourque received for his hit from behind on Brent Seabrook last month. Bourque went straight bonehead on this play, adding to a rap sheet that included a holding penalty in the first period leading to an Alexander Ovechkin laser beam. Here's are some statements on the matter:
"We fully understand the decision rendered by Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety in this matter. Both the club and the player understand and appreciate the basis for the ruling, and intend to abide by the decision. We will have no further comment." - Flames GM Jay Feaster
That wasn't the only piece of Calgary roster news from Wednesday, as the team also announced they'd recalled Raitis Ivanans from the American Hockey League. Why? I really can't tell you. I have zero problem with fighting in hockey, but my objection to one dimensional goons in this league grows larger by the day. It has nothing to do with the hidden pacifisit within, but more to do with the fan of well played hockey. The Flames aren't a deep team right now thanks to injuries, so I don't see how having a guy who can't play more than six minutes a game is a good roster addition.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Raitis Ivanans-Brendan Morrison-Tom Kostopoulos
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Anton Babchuk-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
The team also assigned Greg Nemisz and Brett Carson to Abbotsford yesterday, a move that surprised a few. It wasn't surprising because it was thought to be a quesitonable move; moreso because it seems everyone had forgotten Nemisz was still with the big club. I know I certainly had. As for Carson, he's back to the Heat on his second conditioning stint of the season, seemingly having issue returning from a serious offseason back injury.
Leland Irving gets the start in net, his fourth of the season. I think it has less to do with "he played well against Vancouver, so play him against Boston" and more to do with Calgary's travel. The Flames go from Boston to Calgary, a flight just south of six hours in duration, and then play on Saturday night. You need to rest your number one, and you've got a division game at the Saddledome coming up, so this isn't an awful move.
The Bruins have risen to second in the Eastern Conference, just a point back of the New York Rangers, thanks to a 6-1 thumping of the improved New Jersey Devils. Boston now has wins in 22 of 25, a span that makes many simply nod their heads and say "yep, those are the Cup champs". The scary part, however, is this might be a better group right now than the team that made us all squeel in delight in June.
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot-Chris Kelly-Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg-Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference-Adam McQuaid
Burying his fourth line along the way, Head Coach Claude Julien has used his top three centers in tough spots, seemingly confident using any of them in a defensive situation. Bergeron is still the driving force of this forward group, however, seeing the toughest matchups every single night and still crushing fools along the way. With a couple sophomores riding his coat tails, Bergeron continues to be one of the most effective centers in this league. And now he has a Cup.
There isn't one player on this Boston team in the top 30 of NHL scorers, yet they have nine players up above 20 points. To compare, the Flames have four players above that same mark. This may be the deepest group of forwards in the Eastern Conference, and is right up there with Vancouver and St. Louis for tops league wide. For a team like Calgary, they have exactly zero favorable matchups to exploit.
Oh, and it's not like their goaltending has taken a step back. After a season that will go down as one of the best ever put together by an NHL goaltender, Tim Thomas is only slightly behind pace from a year ago. For a guy who turns 38 in April, seeing him stop over 94% of his shots at even strength is astounding, but it's no fluke; he's at .943 this year after finishing last year at .947. Backup Tuukka Rask has taken a large step from one year ago, however, clicking at .953 in 13 games to this point. It'll be Rask going tonight.
Roll the dice boys. That's really all the Flames can do on this night, knowing who they're playing and how well they're playing heading in. Maybe Calgary can catch a break playing a Bruins team on the second night of a back-to-back, or maybe that doesn't happen. All the Flames can do is try and put a decent effort on the table, one similar to Tuesday even, and see if good things happen. They aren't going to find any chinks in the armour that haven't been found already..