It’s Henrik Time tonight in Columbus as the Calgary Flames finish off a three game road trip in the Ohio state capitol (5 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960). It’s the much anticipated debut of Flames backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson, or as some of started calling him, The Calgary Tower. Great nickname…and let’s hope the team plays better in front of him than they have in front of past backup goalies.
The Flames enter tonight’s action back the .500 mark at 3-3, falling Thursday in Detroit by a 4-2 score. It was a game where Calgary did a number of things right, but were unable to carry momentum forward from a strong first period. It was also a game where key mistakes bit them in the behind, and their top players were not just that. It all added up to their first loss in Detroit since the 2008-09 season.
So, after Miika Kiprusoff got the start Thursday in Detroit, the Flames turn to the 6’5 Karlsson against the Blue Jackets. Karlsson enters after a perfect preseason, posting a 3-0 record along with a .962 save percentage and a 0.75 goals against. Okay, so those are preseason numbers, what do they mean? Nothing. But, watching the guy play, there are certainly some things to feel positive about. Much like Kiprusoff, Karlsson has the same "never quit" quality on a play, meaning he has the tendency to make saves he has no business making.
The first question is the easy one. How does Karlsson perform in his first NHL regular season start? But the second question is the more intriguing one. How do the Flames play in front of him? We all remember a certain fellow named Curtis McElhinney (who won on Thursday) and some of the dismal efforts his mates put out in front of him. Now, I’ll be the last person to defend McElhinney’s play here, but his lack of success was certainly not helped by his teammates. But a couple efforts in front of Vesa Toskala late last season (one in particular in Denver) do show the Flames can play well, regardless of the netminder.
As for other changes, it’s the Flames debut of Brendan Mikkelson, as he’ll take the place of Steve Staios in the lineup. Here are probable lines and pairings for tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Matt Stajan-Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman-Olli Jokinen-Brendan Morrison
Curtis Glencross-Mikael Backlund-Rene Bourque
Craig Conroy-Stefan Meyer-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Ian White
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Jay Bouwmeester-Brendan Mikkelson
I like the addition of Mikkelson to the lineup, because Staios hasn’t been good, and there’s nothing to lose. As for that "third line", it better be utilized as the "second line".
Here’s Ken’ts preview on the Jackets for the game. Columbus enters tonight with a 3-2 record and rode a strong Steve Mason performance in net to take a 3-1 win over Anaheim on Wednesday night. That win came in front of a whopping 9,803 fans, a sure sign the status quo in Columbus is no longer acceptable. With just one playoff showing in their history, fans are clearly restless…or worse, apathetic. A 14th place finish last year didn’t help matters, and neither did the utter lack of changes the Jackets made this summer. Their one significant addition came in the form of Ethan Moreau, who will not play tonight after being put on injured reserve with a broken hand.
The numbers are good for the Blue Jackets against Calgary however, going 2-1-1 against the Flames last season. One of those games prompted a fiery speach from Head Coach Brent Sutter following. On top of that, the Jackets have dominated Calgary at Nationwide Arena, going 7-1-1 in their last nine meetings. Overall, Calgary has won just five times in Ohio, with the Jackets owning a 13-3-2 all time record in their barn.
Kristian Huselius leads this team in scoring, with five point in as many games to start the season. R.J. Umberger is next with four points while franchise player Rick Nash has three points to start his season. Steve Mason has started four games this season, posting a 2-2 record with a .919 save percentage and a 2.76 goals against.
Calgary enters tonight after being let down by their top offensive threats the night previous, especially on the powerplay. The lack of production on the man advantage is troubling, albeit only six games into the season. The Flames have yet to score a powerplay goal on the road, and sit 2/24 overall, clicking at a paltry 8.3%. In a close game like the one in Detroit, an 0/5 mark isn’t going to cut it, especially with Detroit scoring a man-up goal themselves.
Mikael Backlund provided all the offence at Joe Louis, with his line being Calgary’s best on the night. It’s clear…if Glencross-Backlund-Morrison/Bourque are going to be deployed as a "third line", the top six forwards have got to be a whole lot better. Can you imagine how effective this combo could be if they got some support from the lines ahead of them on the depth chart? Glencross especially thrives in this situation, dominating depth opponents when lines stacked with Iginla, Jokinen and others are facing tougher opposition. Glencross has been great, but the "bottom six" guys need some help.
Columbus boasts four former Flames on their roster, including leading scorer Huselius who suited up in Calgary between 2005 and 2008. Mike Commodore (2002-2004), Anton Stralman (2010) and Chris Clark (1999-2004) have also spent time with the Flames. On the other side, both Glencross (2006-2008) and Tim Jackman (2003-2004) are former members of the Jackets.
This game will finish off a three game Central Division road trip for the Flames. They return home Sunday to take on the San Jose Sharks at the ‘Dome.