FGD: Bonjour Montreal

The Calgary Flames look to finish off a four game road trip on a strong note when they take on the Montreal Canadiens for the first time this season (5:30 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960).  The Flames took wins in Ottawa and Toronto over the weekend and are playing their best hockey of the season, sitting 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.

It’s the first of two meetings between Calgary and Montreal, and the situation hasn’t changed a lick for the Flames.  They enter action seven points back of the final Western Conference playoff spot and needing to play at or around the same clip they’ve played over their last ten games.  Overall, the Flames have made this Eastern Conference road trip a successful one, earning at least five of a possible eight points.  However, where the Flames are, seven is better than five.

The Lineup

Things for the Calgary Flames look to remain the same from Saturday’s shootout win over Toronto, with the one possible exception of Robyn Regehr.  After missing two games with a sore knee, the Flames defenceman is a game time decision after taking part of today’s morning skate.  With some meh opposition, Regehr wasn’t really missed, with Cory Sarich and Adam Pardy both seeing large increases to their ice time, and doing just fine with it.  If Regehr does play, Brendan Mikkelson will be scratched to make room.

Up front, not a whole lot of reason to change what worked against the Leafs.  Brent Sutter did a little juggling before and during that game, sliding Brendan Morrison up to the top line while dropping Olli Jokinen to a second line.  The best trio had Matt Stajan centering Curtis Glencross and Niklas Hagman, which is one of the biggest positives from this road trip.  All three of those players have been next-to-invisible for much of the last two months, so seeing them play some good hockey over the last few games is encouraging.  Stajan snapped a 12 game goal-less drought on Saturday while Glencross has been strong for a number of games now.

If the lines stay the way they did against Toronto, they’ll look like this:

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

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

We saw those pairings mixed up at times on Saturday, with Pardy seeing time with Bouwmeester and Giordano playing with his regular partner Sarich.  However, as things got tighter late in the game, it was back to the combo with the bottom pairing seeing very limited work.

Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after bouncing back against Toronto on Saturday.  Three mediocre performances from Calgary’s number one goalie had many wondering what was up, and if Henrik Karlsson should start both games over the weekend.  That didn’t happen, for good reason, and Kiprusoff looked very good against the Leafs.

The Opponent

Montreal is in a dog fight for positioning, not only in the Eastern Conference, but also in the Northeast Division.  The Habs and Boston Bruins are the only two playoff teams in the division right now, and they continue to jockey for position, with Boston sitting on top with 55 points, two up on Montreal.  It’s a Canadiens team with some quality players, including a young goalie who’s bounced back from a rough season; but it’s also a team with some injuries affecting them, specifically on the back end.

Montreal’s blueline is without two of their top minute eaters, as they’ve lost both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges for the season.  Markov hasn’t played since November 13th when he was injured in a collision with Carolina’s Eric Staal, suffering a knee injury which required surgery in early December.  He’s started the rehab process and should be back for training camp in September.  As for Gorges, his string of 150 straight games was snapped on Boxing Day when he locked up his knee, aggravating an injury he’d been playing with since 2004.  Both guys average a ton of ice time, with Markov getting more than 22 minutes a game and Gorges just north of 21 minutes.

So, knowing they were stretched a little thing, the Habs brought in James Wisniewski in late December, sending a second and fifth round draft pick to the New York Islanders.  Wisniewski has played well upon his arrival, with nine points in his first eight games, and he’s Montreal’s number one defenceman, playing on the top pairing with Roman Hamrilk.  The blueline also features an electrifying, but limited, defenceman in the name of P.K. Subban, but overall, the team could certainly use their two injured players.

Up front, the Habs are lead by Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec, who offer quality minutes at even strength and they’re overall depth isn’t bad.  Plekanec leads them in scoring with 35 points, with former Flames forward Mike Cammalleri sitting second with 29.  Cammalleri, who gets a lot of offensive zone time, returned to action in Montreal’s win over the Rangers on Saturday after missing two games with illness; he occupies the left side on their top line centered by Plekanec. 

Both Wisniewski and Benoit Pouliot missed practice this morning with the flue, they’re both game time decisions.  If they do play, here are lines and pairings for:

Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec-Lars Eller
Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot-David Desharnais-Mathieu Darche
Andrei Kostitsyn-Jeff Halpern-Travis Moen

Roman Hamrlik-James Wisniewski
Hal Gill-P.K. Subban
Jaroslav Spacek-Yannick Weber

It looks like Alex Auld gets the start in net for the Habs tonight, as Carey Price will get the night off.  He actually boasts pretty impressive numbers for a backup goaltender, sitting 3-2 with a 1.74 goals against and a .941 save percentage.  Does this mean the Flames are getting back-upped again?

The Story

Well, even with a four game point streak and a 6-2-2 record over their last ten games, the Flames remain nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  They play their best opponent on this road trip, so the winning efforts against Ottawa and Toronto will have to improved upon.  Still, they’re doing enough to win right now, so let’s see if they can do enough to beat the Habs on the road.

  • icedawg_42

    Eller is on the top line? Thought he was a depth guy. How did you guys like Morrison with Iggy and Tanguay the other night? That line was mostly invisible again.

  • PrairieStew

    You’ve got Iggy listed twice there – first and third line – you mean Glencross.

    This is what I’d like to see :

    Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla

    Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-David Moss

    Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Curtis Glencross

    Ales Kotalik-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman

    Moss deserves more ice time; as does Backlund. Against a smallish crew in Montreal we could use Backlunds quickness on the ice for 17 minutes instead of 7.

  • The revolving door of centreman for Iggy continues, why not move Tanguay yo the middle, and Glennie on the wing, or Moss with the two.Iggy is supposed to be a world class star, yet there hasn’t been a centre to play on his line?

  • Dotfras wrote: Don’t understand why Backlund has to rot on the 4th line.

    I don’t believe that Backlund has proven he deserves more since he was recalled. He, like others, has been invisible for the most part. For a young guy trying to earn a spot he doesn’t make the best of his chances. We saw him a few time early in the T.O. game get out hustled to pucks and he continues to chip the puck in instead of trying to make room and/ or plays. I know that his ice time has been, lets say minimal, but you think there would be more insentive to show the bosses you can play. It seems to me that we may have a kid with potential but easily thrown off by adversity.

    • icedawg_42

      Jim Hughson’s comment on Saturday night regarding backlund may hold true. He stated that Backlund may now be a projected number 2 or 3 centre not a number one guy. Interesting observation, and may be bang on.

      • Yah but Hughson is a homer, either for Vancouver or Toronto, not as bad as craig simpson…

        He might be just saying that just to avoid discussing the leafs. If the kid plays on the 4 line how could he ever reach a top line player? He appears to be the only one on this team being punished for each mistake, is that how you coach a guy who doesn’t react well to adversity?? I’m sure Kipper would agree, he loves being called out.

        He has the potential to be a #1, but is being deveolped into a #2, its certainly not his fault at this point.

  • Vintage Flame

    I’d like to see Moss or Backlund on the top line too. I think Morrison actually plays better with Glencross and Bourque.

    Just listening to the fan now.. Here we go again with the Jarome trade talks??

    I can’t believe I actually agreed with Eric Francis on HNiC. I think if the BIG trade is coming, it is better to deal Kipper over Iggy. I agree that Iggy would be the guy that you want to lead a bunch of new prospects and rookies.

    Plus if you deal Kipper, you KNOW this team will not be making the playoffs and will most likely be drafting top 5.

    That being said… If Iggy wants to win now and does not want to be part of a rebuild, I can respect that and would explore the possibilities.. As long as they will greatly benefit the future of this club.

    • PrairieStew

      Trading of Kipper doesn’t have to mean you are giving up on this season. The Flames are currently 26th in the league in save percentage. Could what we acquire be much worse ?

      We know, as other teams do that Kipper could get hot – especially if given enough rest – so there might be a team willing to take a chance. We might get a goalie back that could, for now be almost as effective as Kipper. Look a Bobrovsky’s stats, Varlamov, one of either Niemi or Nittimaki. Shoot even Chicago, you think they really want to have Corey Crawford be the guy to defend the Cup? All these guys have better stats than Kipper does this season- but for a contender the value is in the proven commodity. If you can get a decent goalie coming back and a prospect and or pick and some limited cap relief, you could begin the reload without giving up short term competitiveness.

      • Vintage Flame

        I don’t dispute that. There are a lot of goalies that have better numbers than Kipper, and yeah I agree, you want a proven goalie to be a true contender. You never know, lightening could strike twice! No one thought Kipper would be what he developed into when we first got him from SJ as a third string goalie.

        I would think that if the Flames did deal Kipper, that they would want more in the way of prospects or draft picks, rather than a replacement goalie. That being said, could we still get those AND land someone like Crawford or Nittimaki?? If we could, it would make the sting of losing Kipper a little more bearable.

        • I would Think the flames at this point should go for more picks and prospects, but that being said, getting a niitmaki for the remainder of the year would be good. I don’t think there is anyway Crawford is moving, he is their goalie of the future, would love that trade though!

          I think either phili (leighton or boucher), tampa (we take back roloson? smith?), SJ (niitimaki) are the likliest of all trades, although I think that the impact will be greater greater felt if Kipper would leave. This team plays lousy defense because they have kipper making unbelievable saves night in night out. This team gives up really good scoring chances each night, which Kipper saves most, the avg goal might only save some. If we bring in someone else, we will need to score 4-5 a night to compete.

  • icedawg_42

    Make Iggy the center, put Joker on the wing and tell him to staple his A$$ to the boards and only move up and down the wall. There the “no center for Iggy” problem is solved. Just kidding…seriously tho 😉

  • icedawg_42

    Going off-topic here, but I have really been enjoying watching the flames play at 5-6 oclock, rather than 7-8 start time. Makes me almost want to start watching more canadiens or leafs games…. almost.

  • Brilliant obsservation by Francis, trade your starting goalie one considered by many to be a top 5 in the world, rather than a 30 plus goal guy. Well, ya, with no proven NHL goalie in the system the team tanks.Besides Iggy is visible, Kipper is a private person and not the so called face. Francis really walked the tightrope there.

  • icedawg_42

    Doubt if Hughson was speaking anti Flames, or avoiding the Leafs. He was making an observation and suggesting maybe Backlund isn’t the projected player many believe he is. As for the broadcast crew, maybe he was talking just so Healy won’t ramble on about himself. Man, Healy has to be the most annoying guy in broadcasting, next to Hrudey.

    • Vintage Flame

      Your probably right, only time will tell at this point. A new coach next year will probably approach things a bit differently too.

      Last year mid season I started to watch the CBC games on mute, with the Fan960 playing the game because I couldn’t stand listening to those guys. PJ Stock has a larger role this year, and he is annoying as hell. They put all the crap guys to do the “late” games in the west.

  • I totally agree, but atleast I can laugh at his stupidity. The stupidity of the CBC and some TSN guys is just down right annoying.

    Hopefully with the summer overall, when brent and feaster leave, lourbadias can go too, millions and simmer would be decent enough for a trial i think.

    I enjoy listening to Ray Ferraro, the way he calls the games is more unbiased, and usually just focused on the game, good or bad on both sides.

  • Vintage Flame

    I can’t stand listening to Hughson.. ESPECIALLY when he does a Van game! I want to throw my remote through my TV everytime he says Kevin Biiieeeeksaa! [insert vomit].
    Plus I don’t think he knows the first thing about what he talks about.

  • everton fc

    “Jim Hughson’s comment on Saturday night regarding backlund may hold true. He stated that Backlund may now be a projected number 2 or 3 centre not a number one guy. Interesting observation, and may be bang on”

    I think he is bang-on. This is where Backlund “fits”.

    As for Kipper being moved… And that meaning we won’t make the playoffs… On the surface, this makes total sense. It’s logical. But I find myself wondering… Could Karlsson get us there, with Irving as the #2 guy? I might want to see this… What do we have to lose? Kipper’s 34. And Iggy can still score 30, even with no decent centre to line up with.

  • On projecting Backlund: it’s tough thing to do with any player, but Mikael’s results in every pro league he’s played in so far suggests he doesn’t really have that high a ceiling offense-wise.

    Frankly, the Flames have such problems developing any kind of NHL player at all that if Backlund becomes a regular 2nd or 3rd line player, the org should consider it a win.

  • icedawg_42

    I may well be proven wrong, but I just dont think anything big is coming. The Flames set their own mandate of garnering 4 out of every 6 points down the stretch, and in the last 10 or so, they’ve done that and more. I see Feaster standing pat until it’s too late – that said, I still see Glencross being moved for 3 reasons:
    1. Upcoming UFA.
    2. Butts heads with and is always in the doghouse of Brent Sutter
    3. Because I like him, and want him to stay.

    • This is isn’t directed at you because everyone is talking about it, but the fact that the Flames have gone .667 over their last 10 games is probably meaningless. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if every team in the league has at least one 10 game segment per season where they manage a pretty good clip of .650 or better.

      Now, if the Flames had been playing materially better hockey over the last 10 games I might be more optimistic. But it’s mostly been the same stuff they were playing earlier in the year, but losing. It’s been one-goal games (and SOW) over some pretty marginal teams recently.

      Basically, there’s no evidence the Flames have turned any kind of corner and are going to rattle off a 65% point rate for the rest of the season. If they do, well I’ll be surprised and of course there won’t be a sell off. If they fall back to earth, though, I’m guessing it’ll be more than Glencross that goes at the deadline.

  • icedawg_42

    Oh I agree. I may have misrepresented my point a bit – I dont think they can go .667 from here on out – I’ve looked at the rest of the Flames schedule, and I dont see too many more segments of 3 games the flames can reasonably expect to win 2 of. My point was more that the trade deadline is only ~40 days off, (so they only have to go near .650 for another month or so) and I’m thinking that it’s close to being ‘too late’ for Feaster to scramble to make anything sweeping happen. Though it does seem that there is a log jam in the middle of the standings, so maybe there will be a glut of teams looking to make a big splash…we’ll see, but a big part of me thinks Feaster will continue to wait as long as the team continues to get points – even loser points.

    • PrairieStew

      Lots of deals get done very close to the deadline in order for the acquiring team to mitigate the cap hit. So unless in 40 days they have closed the gap to 5 points or less…..