March 24 2013 02:34PM
The Calgary Flames return home to the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome to host the St. Louis Blues tonight. Game time is 6pm on Fan 960 and Sportsnet West.
The Flames are in must-win territory, having lost six of their last eight games, assuming they have any shot at the playoffs at all. Oddly enough, though, they've won six in a row at home and gone winless in nine on the road. The home wins have mostly come against good teams, and that home cooking will need to continue if they're to have any hope of a playoff berth or a respectable finish down the stretch.
A loss will put the Flames four games below .500, a position they haven't been since November 2011 (for a single game).
The coaching staff has shuffled the deck a bit prior to tonight's game. Via Roger Millions' Twitter (@rogmillions), here are probable line combinations for the Flames.
- Tanguay – Cammalleri – Comeau
- Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak
- Hudler – Backlund – Iginla
- McGrattan – Begin – Jackman
- Brodie – Bouwmeester
- Giordano – Wideman
- Butler – Sarich
Kiprusoff's starting his fourth in a row, despite losing three straight and posting a .866 save percentage – easily the lowest of the NHL's regular starting goalies. But it's a must-win game, so he'll get starts in these situations until the team is officially out of it. Cervenka and Smith take a seat tonight, while Backlund makes his way back in. He'll skate with Iginla and Hudler on the third line.
Note that the excellent second line has been kept together, as has the fourth line, which has been quietly effective for the Flames. Curtis Glencross has scored a point in five straight games (and seven of his last eight), and has scored 11 of his 13 goals this season on home ice.
The Blues are doing well. They're ninth-best in the NHL with a 17-11-2 record, mostly due to the fact they have given up the fewest shots against in the entire league. The Blues beat Edmonton 3-0 last night in the Hockey Night in Canada late game, so are on the second night of a B2B (like so many of the Flames home opponents this year).
Here are their probable line combinations, based on how they lined up last night.
- Backes – Steen – Stewart
- McDonald – Berglund – Oshie
- Tarasenko – Sobotka – Perron
- Schwartz – Nichol – Porter
- Jackman – Pietrangelo
- Russell – Polak
- Redden – Shattenkirk
I'm guessing that Halak gets another start after winning last night, but they may throw Jake Allen back in. The Blues are carrying three goalies right now and Allen has the most wins and best save percentage, beating both Halak and Brian Elliott.
The Blues depth is readily apparent, with a strong top six, a couple good rookies in Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and a very strong defensive group. Chris Stewart has been in and out of Ken Hitchcock's doghouse since the former Dallas bench boss arrived, but the big winger is nevertheless one of the hottest scorers in the league right now having managed six goals in his last five games. Stewart is a guy who can run hot and cold and is generally a libility when the puck isn't going in the net, but a handful for the defense when things are going his way. Stewart is also currently skating with David Backes - the Blues best all around player - so the Flames will have to be aware of him tonight.
SUM IT UP
The Flames have been losing of late, it's true, but their great home streak is keeping them afloat. A loss tonight drops them to four games below .500 with 18 games to go. Suddenly, a losing stretch would threaten to become a free-fall.
They cannot afford to let that happen and still have a hope at a post-season berth. If they lose, expect some major changes. Actually even if they win, expect some major changes.