January 13 2014 12:20PM
The Calgary Flames (15-24-6) hit the road again for another quick two-game jaunt, this time well out East. Things kick off for them tonight as they attempt not to fall 10 full games under .500 on the season when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes (19-17-9). The puck drops at 5pm MT on Sportsnet West and The Fan 960.
Much like every other NHL team, the Hurricanes have been much better than Calgary over their last 10 games (going 5-3-2), and they sit 11 points up on the Flames having played just as many games. But with the Flames having had a pretty decent showing, all things considered, against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, perhaps the local boys have gotten a bit of a confidence boost. Considering their sub-par road record the past two seasons, the Flames need all the confidence they can get.
News broke early this morning that Mike Cammalleri suffered a suspected concussion in the third period via a check from Tanner Glass. You may recall that Cammalleri took a pretty blatant cross-checking penalty right after that, but at least now we can figure out why he was so mad about things.
Lines, via Daily Faceoff:
Hudler – Backlund – Stempniak
Colborne – Monahan – Byron
Galiardi – Stajan – Bouma
Westgarth – Street – McGrattan
Giordano – Brodie
Smid – Wideman
O'Brien – Butler
New lines a-plenty, as Cammalleri's absence results in a lot of shuffling. After getting victimized on both Penguins goals on Saturday, Wideman and O'Brien are broken up on defense, as well. Once again, despite injuries, these lines look okay, although you could argue Calgary now has three third/fourth lines and one second line. Depth is a concern, obviously.
The Flames PP, which has struggled, may struggle even more with Cammalleri's absence. Then again, the unit's tendency to revert to “pass it to Cammy” mode – to predictably load up for his one-timer – may mean they get a bit more creative. That said, the PP unit is desperately missing Kris Russell, who may be the best puck distributor on the team. But necessity is the mother of invention, and having a two-game span without #13 may force the PP unit to try out new things. What they've been trying of late certainly hasn't worked.
And the goalie rotation continues, as Karri Ramo gets back in. In his last start against St. Louis, he gave up five goals. But he was sharp in Calgary's last win in Denver, and he wasn't really to blame against the Blues.
While the Flames continue to get bad injury news, the Hurricanes got some good news, as three regulars return tonight. Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Riley Nash are all back in. That's probably not great news for the Flames.
Skinner – E. Staal – Semin
Gerbe – J. Staal – Dwyer
Tlusty – Nash – Dvorak
Lindholm – Malhotra – Ruutu
Sekera – Faulk
Hainsey – Bellmore
Liles – Murphy
The Hurricanes aren't world-beaters - their defensive group isn't all that much better than Calgary's, and their star goalie is injured. That said, they have some good top-six depth – with Skinner, two Staals, Semin and Gerbe – and the bottom six is also quite strong. Khudobin has been game this year, going 6-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a strong .936 save percentage. His save rate is unsustainably high, but he's done a great job in relief of Cam Ward (and Justin Peters).
Fun Fact: Fourth-liner Elias Lindholm, with 10 points in 23 games, was drafted a spot ahead of Flames center Sean Monahan, who has 18 points in 38 games.
SUM IT UP
Despite losing arguably their best player in Cam Ward, the Hurricanes have slogged along just fine in the NHL's most disappointing new division – the Metropolitan. With a hot young goalie and a roster that's getting healthier, the Flames would be facing a tall order even without being in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey (results-and-scoring-wise) in years.
But even with the deck stacked against them, the Flames have some positive energy to bring forward from the Pittsburgh game, and a strong showing tonight – even without a W – would go a long way towards repairing this group's frayed nerves and shattered confidence.