FGD: Capitol City

The Calgary Flames continue a four game road trip tonight as they take on the Ottawa Senators for the first time this season (5:30 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960).  The Flames look to snap a four game skid even with a couple of pretty good outings in shootout losses over their last two games.  The matchup tonight pits the Flames against a team with fewer points, which isn’t a regular occurence these days.

The Senators sit in very much the same position as the Flames do, on the outside looking in for the playoffs, and needing wins to stay relevant.  Calgary continues to scream the "win two of three" rallying cry, and if you do the math, a win over Ottawa would keep that trend going.  The confidence level that will continue doesn’t seem too high, but it’s fair to say the Flames need to believe that, or else the season really is lost.

The Lineup

The Flames will be without Robyn Regehr tonight, who will miss the game with a sore knee.  He took pregame skate this morning for a few minutes, but opted to sit out and the coaching staff made the decision to keep him out.  Regehr has missed one game prior this season, a game the Flames ended up losing.  I know there have been a lot of "he’s old, he’s slow, he’s a relic of the old NHL" but that’s all bunk to me.  Regehr has been one of Calgary’s three best players this season, and they will miss him tonight.

Brendan Mikkelson returns to the lineup in his place, as he was recalled from the American Hockey League prior to the road trip.  Mikkelson hasn’t seen game action with the Flames since Calgary’s 7-2 throttling at the hands of Vancouver on December 1st.  Overall, Mikkelson has appeared in 20 games with the Flames this season with two assists and a -6 rating.

With plenty of debate as to who should start in net for the Flames, the team has opted to go with Henrik Karlsson between the pipes as opposed to the struggling Miikka Kiprusoff.  I think it’s the wrong move personally, as Kiprusoff needs to work his way out of this little funk, and the best way for him to do it is to play.  And as much as we talk about him being exempt from head games, it doesn’t send an overwhelming vote of confidence his way.  As for Karlsson, he’s played well, particularly on the road, but he’s not going to give you a better chance to win overall than 34.  However, I can understand the argument that says "the Flames need wins now, and at this very moment, Karlsson seems to be playing better than Kiprusoff."  So, we’ll see how it plays out…it’s not like the Sens boast a ton of firepower.

Here are projected lines and pairings tonight:

Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Brendan Morrison-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Curtis Glencross
Ales Kotalik-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman

Mark Giordano-Jay Bouwmeester
Cory Sarich-Anton Babchuk
Adam Pardy-Brendan Mikkelson

Calgary’s third line is coming off an effective game, and one of the more effective units we’ve seen from the three individual players in a while.  They’ll need that to continue in a big way tonight, and against a Sens team lacking depth, they have the opportunity to do some good things.

The Opponent

It’s a Senators team that really is the sum of it’s parts at this point.  They’re not a great hockey team and they’re in a similar situation to the Flames.  Ottawa has stuck with the "we’re just a few pieces of getting back to the Cup finals" line of thinking for a bit too long, and it looks like it’ll be two straight years out of the playoffs for them.  Why is that?  Well, would it be too simplistic to say "because they don’t have very many good hockey players"?  Cause that’s kind of what it is.

The problems kind of start in net, as the Sens are one of the few teams in the league who seem totally lost at the goaltending position.  Pascal Leclaire can’t stay healthy, and when he’s playing, he’s okay and is probably Ottawa’s best option.  However, he’s missed ten games with a lower body injury and remains out of the lineup indefinetely.  Brian Elliott has yet to show he can carry the load on a regular basis in the NHL, with a save percentage hovering around .900 and a goals against north of three.  It’s obviously not all on him, thanks to the mediocre team in front of him, but he hasn’t been great.  Swedish World Junior goalie Robin Lehner got the start last night in Ottawa’s 6-4 win over the Islanders.

The blueline has some all right pieces, with second year defenceman Erik Karlsson doing some all right work, but is yet to show he can play real quality NHL minutes.  Sergei Gonchar is getting a lot of minutes in tough situations, and while he hasn’t been perhaps as awful as some would lead you to believe, he probably also hasn’t been worth the fat contract he signed over the summer.  Chris Phillips gives you decent minutes in a defensive role as well, and rounds out the top three on the Sens blueline.

Up front has been a bit of a gong show.  Jason Spezza is out indefinetely with a shoulder injury and he’ll miss his eighth straight game tonight against the Flames.  Losing him is a blow offensively, and when you’re not getting the regular quality even strength minutes you’re used to from the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, you’re going to suffer.  Captain Alfredsson leads the team in scoring with 27 points in 44 games, which shows you the struggles this team has had scoring.  Their depth is being further tested with the loss of Alex Kovalev for the next little bit with a knee injury.  Here are projected lines and pairings tonight:

Milan Michalek-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno-Peter Regin-Jim O’Brien
Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil
Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon

Chris Phillips-Erik Karlsson
Filip Kuba-Sergei Gonchar
Brian Lee-Matt Carkner

It looks like Chris Campoli will miss the game tonight, so Brian Lee will slot in instead.

That third line seems to be the most effective one on an overall basis, at least looking at the underlying numbers.  All three players are under 50% on their offensive zone starts, and their Corsi rates are all in the plus.  Granted, they won’t always be out against top end competition, but when the numbers are as dreadful as they are from the top end guys, you’ll need some help elsewhere.

It looks like Brian Elliott gets the start in net tonight.

The Story

It isn’t often the Flames have an opportunity to take on a team in a spot worse than theirs.  The problem is, the last time they had the opportunity, they did almost nothing with it, falling 5-2 in a poor showing against the New York Islanders.  Calgary has played two pretty strong hockey games, even without earning two points in either contest, so a continuation of that hockey could serve them well tonight.  Calgary fell in Ottawa last season.