March 03 2013 01:49PM
The weather outside is frightful, but there's a chance that the game tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome could be anything but delightful for the Calgary Flames as they host the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames organization has had a terrible week, between losing out on Ryan O'Reilly, the RFA waivers fiasco and, most importantly, a series of blown leads in 2-1 and 5-4 losses to the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. The club has had time to lick its wounds and hopefully let any distractions blow over, but another "L" tonight would mean another black eye for team that has already been thoroughly worked over.
If the Flames can put togehter a strong, focused performance, the Canucks are beatable – Vancouver played the Los Angeles Kings at home on Saturday night, went to the airport to fly to Calgary and got sent home because of the storm here in Alberta. It will likely be a hectic, stressful and snow-filled trip to YYC for the Vancouver Canucks. If the Flames are on their game, they can win, get back to .500 and keep their dimming playoff hopes alive.
That is, if the game isn't cancelled outright.
The Flames have been one step forward, one step back all season. Currently sitting at a game under .500, they're about to see their roughest stretch of games so far this year – Vancouver tonight, San Jose on Wednesday, then on the road to visit Anaheim for one and Los Angeles for two. It's not inconceivable that they could lose all five games. That's why this contest is critically important to win, because they're facing a travel-weary, tired Canucks team.
Brian McGrattan – wearing #16 – could return to the line-up tonight. He was described by Bob Hartley earlier this week as a game-time decision. McGrattan is big and can drop the gloves, but not much else. Toughness continues to be an on-going concern with the lclub (amongst other things) so we'll see if he adds anything. Either way, he'll play four minutes a game if he does play at all. Akim Aliu has been banished back to Abbotsford.
The other news this week regards injuries. Miikka Kiprusoff has been practicing and should return sometime in the next 7 days. That means Danny Taylor's expected start tonight could be his last of the year for Calgary – assuming no more injuries, of course. Consider tonight an audition for future employment for “The Impaler.”
Mikael Backlund is back skating alone with the yellow caution jersey. He's not with the group yet, but it's an encouraging sign for a guy that was great before he went down with a MCL injury, not to mention a team with the fewest natural centers in the NHL as things stand.
Here are the team's new lines courtesy Sportsnet's Pat Steinberg.
- Tanguay – Stajan – Stempniak
- Hudler – Cervenka – Iginla
- Glencross – Cammalleri – Baertschi
- Begin – Comeau - McGrattan
- Giordano – Bouwmeester
- Brodie – Wideman
- Butler - Smith
Danny Taylor starts after MacDonald's implosion agains the Avs.
The Canucks prevailed over the Kings last night by a 5-2 score. They're at the top of the Northwest Division and are always a tough game for the Flames. Calgary got a point from their two games in Vancouver, but overall have been out-scored 7-3 by Canucks. Leland Irving was not great in a 5-1 loss the last time these teams met on February 9.
As usual, the magical Sedin twins drive the bus, offensively, for the Canucks. They each have a point-per-game or more. Nobody else on that team is really all that close, except for maybe Ryan Kesler who is fortunately injured again.
The Canucks are dealing with a goaltending “controversy,” in that they have both Cory Schneider (6-4-1, 2.65 GAA, .910 S%) and Roberto Luongo (5-1-3, 2.11 GAA, .916 S%) on their roster and basically flip a coin to see which good goalie will start.
Here are last night's lines.
- D.Sedin – H.Sedin – Burrows
- Booth – Lapierre – Kassian
- Higgins – Raymond – Hansen
- Sestito – Schroeder – Weise
- Edler – Bieksa
- Hamhuis – Garrison
- Alberts - Tanev
The coin-toss came up heads, so Roberto Luongo will likely start. Oh, and also because Schneider played last night.
SUM IT UP
The Flames have had a rough week and are entering a difficult stretch of games beginning tonight. Facing a tired Canucks team, this is about as easy at it gets for awhile.
This evening's contest is as close to a must-win game as they're going to have this early in the season. With the probable playoff threshold at about 55 points in the West, Calgary can only afford to lose about 9 more games in regulation for the rest of the season. That is a steep hill to climb as it is and grows ever steeper with every new loss.