February 11 2012 11:45AM
The Calgary Flames return home tonight after a 1-0-2 road trip through the Pacific Division; they'll play their fourth game in six nights against the red hot Vancouver Canucks (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet 960). Entering action two points back of the final West playoff spot, the Flames also sit 12th in the Conference with 27 games remaining this season. Hopefully a busy week of hockey doesn't play a factor in tonight's meeting for Calgary.
The last time Calgary played Vancouver, it was one of their better efforts of the season, as the Flames came away with a 3-1 victory at Rogers Arena. Calgary has scored wins over high end opponents this year, with two against the Red Wings, a pair against the Blackhawks and singles over the Blues to go along with that December 23rd performance in Vancouver.
More bad news for the Calgary Flames, as they've seemingly lost Blair Jones for the near future after the newly acquired center injured his ankle blocking a shot against the Coyotes on Thursday night. As a result, it's the return of Roman Horak to the team after being recalled from the Abbotsford Heat late on Friday. That leaves Calgary with quite the, um, interesting group of centermen heading into action against an elite opponent.
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Mike Cammalleri-Mikael Backlund-Blake Comeau
Krys Kolanos-Roman Horak-Lance Bouma
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
The loss of Jones is an interesting one, as he had been deployed in a checking-centric role over the last couple weeks, allowing Brent Sutter to free up the Jokinen trio for softer matchups and more frequent offensive starts. We'll see if Backlund is used in a similar role tonight, or if Sutter decides to roll four lines in a more conventional way. Either or, the situation isn't pretty, with names like Moss, Glencross, and Stempniak still at least a few weeks away from returning.
Leland Irving did very well in net on Thursday night, and he also did well to give Miikka Kiprusoff a well deserved rest. It'll be the 300 game winner back between the pipes tonight for the Flames.
Well, if you ask the Vancouver Canucks, they'll say they're happy with the results, but not neccesarily the way they've played over the last two weeks or so. The defending Western Conference champs are 6-0-1 over their last seven contests, including an impressive 5-2 triumph over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Talking to Ryan Kesler on Friday afternoon, the feeling is the team is capable of more than what they've shown of late, even though they have points in seven straight.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Byron Bitz
Alex Burrows-Ryan Kesler-David Booth
Mason Raymond-Manny Malhotra-Jannik Hansen
Maxim Lapierre-Cody Hodgson-Mike Duco
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler-Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts-Aaron Rome
The story gets old when writing about the utilization of certain players by Head Coach Alain Vigneault, but it almost needs to be said each and every time, because it seemingly gets more extreme every time you look at it. Manny Malhotra starts in his own zone 87.9% of the time (!!) and is still only -10 on the season, something that takes his number from last year and cuts it in half. In fact, our Justin Azevedo calculated a grand total of one (ONE) offensive start in the month of January for Malhotra. Vigneault throws dirt on his bottom six and allows his top three the highest of the high ground, which is the true definition of putting players in a spot to succeed.
Roberto Luongo seemingly does nothing but win against the Calgary Flames, which is kind of the overall way this matchup has gone that last two plus years. The Canucks are 10-1-2 in their last 13 with the Flames including six straight victories at the Scotiabank Saddledome; Luongo has been in net for a good number of those wins.
It's one of Calgary's top rivals, so the game has some meaning and buzz regardless. But two factors make this one even more intriguing for me. First, the Flames are in a tooth and nail playoff race, falling position once again on Friday night thanks to points earned by Dallas and Colorado on the out of town scoreboard. Second, the last time these two teams met, it was the Flames earning a rare regulation victory; I'll be very intrigued to see how both teams use that as motivation for tonight's affair.