Hey, give the Calgary Flames credit. After Friday’s 3-2 win in Ottawa, they’ve accomplished their goal of winning two of three games in three consecutive three game segments. That’s a lot of numbers, but the basic math is there…they have 12 points in nine games, which means they’re play .666 hockey, which is exactly what everyone said they needed to do. A new three game segment starts tonight in Toronto against the suddenly better Maple Leafs (5 pm, CBC and The FAN 960).
It’s F’in Game Day, and for the final time this season, the Leafs and Flames hook up, this time at the Air Canada Centre. Calgary took a 5-2 win at the Saddledome on December 16th, thanks to a run of three quick goals in the second period. Things sure do change quickly for the Flames, as they were riding a four game losing streak heading into last night, and now they’re suddenly on a three game point streak. Ah the joys of a 14th place team.
Miikka Kiprusoff returns to the Calgary goal tonight after Henrik Karlsson picked up the win in Ottawa. Because Kiprusoff has three shaky starts under his belt, there was talk that maybe the right call would be to go with Karlsson on back to back nights. I didn’t buy it myself, as Karlsson is the backup goaltender, and even though he’s played well in that role, it’s nowhere near the point where you should be departing from the regular management of your number one. Kiprusoff is the number one goaltender on this team, plain and simple. Karlsson would have started one of these weekend games, so the Flames are sticking with their plan, regardless of Kiprusoff’s prior few outings. All of that doesn’t overshadow the importance of a strong game from him tonight, however.
Robyn Regehr will miss his second consecutive game with a sore knee, so the D pairings will looks the same as they did last night. Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester saw virtually all of the important minutes against the Sens, and to be quite honest, didn’t do an overly great job against them, especially if you look at Kent’s scoring chances. However, I’ll attribute more of that to the five man unit as a whole, as the top line seemed to really struggle for most of the game last night. It was Adam Pardy and Cory Sarich who took up a lot of the minutes without Regehr, with Pardy seeing a season high with over 23 minutes. Both played some solid hockey, even against cupcake opposition, and both will need to do the same tonight.
Give the trio of Curtis Glencross, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman credit, as they played a second strong game in a row, after doing some all right things against the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Calgary is in need of secondary scoring right now, and while these guys didn’t get on the scoresheet last night, they did a nice job moving the play north with frequent defensive assignments. As Kent points out, Glencross was out for six defensive zone draws and none at the other end. Here are 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-Adam Pardy
Anton Babchuk-Brendan Mikkelson
Of course, it’s the homecoming for a pair of Flames forwards, with Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman returning to the ACC for the first time since the trade on January 31st, 2010.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is back in net for the Maple Leafs tonight, who look to bounce back after a rough loss to finish off an impressive road trip. Thursday’s 5-1 loss in Phoenix snapped a four game winning streak for Toronto, a streak that saw them take impressive wins in LA and San Jose and also included a 9-3 thumping of Atlanta. However, most of those wins came with AHL callup James Reimer in net, and he fared well. The former Red Deer Rebels product was assigned back to the Marlies yesterday.
Toronto will be without a number of regular forwards tonight, including Mike Brown who will serve the first game of a three game suspension. The punishment stems from a hit on Coyotes defenceman Ed Jovanovski Thursday, a hit Brown felt was just fine. He’ll join Kris Versteeg, John Mitchell, and former Flames forward Fredrik Sjostrom on the sidelines for the game tonight. Versteeg will miss his second straight game with an upper body injury while Sjostrom sits out with a thigh injury; he also missed the game against the Coyotes. Mitchell’s injury is a little more long term, as he’ll miss four to six weeks with a knee injury.
With the injury situation, the Leafs are stretched mighty thin on the forward ranks, moving Brett Lebda up from his blueline spot and recalling Marcel Mueller (who?) from the Marlies today. Yeah, when you’re playing a defenceman at forward and calling up some other guy (by the way, Mueller has 20 points in 39 games with the Marlies), you’re obviously hurting a little bit. Here are projected lines and pairings for Toronto:
Clarke MacArthur-Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin
Joey Crabb-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Marcel Mueller-Darryl Boyce-Colby Armstrong
Brett Lebda-Tim Brent-Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf-Francois Beauchemin
Luke Schenn-Tomas Kaberle
Mike Komisarek-Carl Gunnarsson
Yikes, I thought those forward ranks were thin…then I typed out the lines, and thin may not even begin to cover it. Obviously, the top line is where all the offence comes from, and the trio has been pretty productive, with MacArthur leading the way with 36 points. You can expect Head Coach Ron Wilson to deploy them in a lot of situations, as he has all year. They’ve actually done a lot of good work, with MacArthur and Grabovski doing much of the heavy lifting.
Defensively, Phaneuf and Beauchemin have formed an all right duo, while Komisarek tends to be the guy deployed in a lot of the defensive situations. And for a guy who cost a pair of first round draft picks, Phil Kessel sure hasn’t done a whole lot, even with 52.4% of his starts in the offensive zone. He’s the most expensive forward they have, both in salary and what it cost to acquire him, and he hasn’t given Toronto the type of returns they expected.
Oh yeah, and Phaneuf used to play for the Flames.
Well, for the Flames, they’ve got two straight opponents with little depth on the forward ranks, although it’s fair to see Toronto has a much stronger blueline than Ottawa. The Senators were hot garbage for most of the game last night, and had a lot of trouble getting out of their own way. The Leafs are feeling it a little more and playing with a little more confidence, and we’ll see how they come out on home ice after a road trip. But with how Toronto’s forwards set up, it would be a disappointment if guys like Glencross, Moss and Hagman didn’t have a field day.
The Flames want to win two out of three from here on out. It may be totally unrealistic, but it’s what they’re going with, and they’ve been successful so far. A new three game set starts tonight.