When the Calgary Flames played the Dallas Stars on December 23rd, they put forth one of their best efforts of the season and were able to scrape out an impressive 3-2 shootout win. Along the way, Calgary outchanced and outplayed their opponents on the road, and thanks to a late Alex Tanguay equalizer, they were able to earn a well deserved two points. When the Flames and Stars play tonight (7 pm, Sportsnet West and The FAN 960), a duplicate performance may be just what the doctor ordered, especially after what we saw on Wednesday.
It’s gameday at the ‘Dome, and things sure do seem different as opposed to the feeling that seemed to surround the Flames heading into their game against the Wild on Wednesday. At that time, it was positive and optimistic around the team thanks to a five game point streak and a four goal comeback against Montreal. Getting hammered by a division rival at home sure will snuff that out in a hurry. On the bright side, the teams Calgary continues to chase gave them a little help, so…we’ll see what the Flames can do tonight against an interesting opponent.
Henrik Karlsson does indeed get the start tonight for the Flames, as they start the first of a back-to-back (they’re in Vancouver tomorrow night). Karlsson won his last outing, a 3-2 victory in Ottawa, and overall played way more than expected or desired on Calgary’s four game road trip. Karlsson finished games in Carolina and Montreal along with his start against the Sens, with Kiprusoff’s only full game coming in Calgary’s 2-1 shootout over Toronto. The feeling is if Karlssson plays well tonight, he may very well start against the Canucks too.
This will be the final game of a six game suspension for Tom Kostopoulos, as he’ll be eligible to return tomorrow. So, as such, no lineup changes seem planned for the team. You’d expect Kostopoulos to return as soon as he’s able, as he’d been somewhat effective in the games before his suspension. Here are lines and pairings for tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-Ales Kotalik
Curtis Glencross-Matt Stajan-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
An optional skate this morning for the Flames, as they had full on practice both Wednesday and Thursday. It’ll be interesting to see how Karlsson plays at home and against a higher end opponent. He made some big stops in relief against both Carolina and Montreal, and did more than enough to help Calgary win against Ottawa in his last start.
The Dallas Stars continue to play winning hockey, and they continue to stay very much in the conversation for top spot in the conference. After a 4-2 win in Edmonton last night, Dallas moved to 29-13-5 on the seaon, good for 63 points and the third seed overall. The Stars have a formula for winning, but as Robert Cleave points out in his gameday preview, it may not be the formula many would expect to produce positive results.
When we previewed the game between Calgary and Minnesota, we looked at a Wild team that won by doing very specific things. Well, here’s your carbon copy, but just a little bit better. Just like Minny, you can get zone team and generate shots towards the net on a fairly regular basis against Dallas, and we saw the Flames do that on the road earlier this season. Dallas allows more than 31 shots per game (21st in the NHL) while averaging just over 27 shots for themselves (28th in the NHL) and yet they’re having regular success. Why?
Pretty simple really. Mix in a high shooting percentage, opportunistic forwards, a good job of keeping teams on the outside, a little bit of luck, some very good goaltending, and the ability to not panic under pressure, and you’ve got the blueprint for Dallas success. Kari Lehtonen has done a very nice job in net for the Stars, while Andrew Raycroft has put in some admirable work as a backup. The team is getting timely contributions from their best offensive players, lead by Brad Richards and his line with Loui Erksson and James Neal. After a trade that saw Dallas bring back Jamie Langenbrunner, they’ve got two lines that can bite you.
Their back end isn’t stacked, and it’s missing Matt Niskanen, who has missed six games with a cut on his palm. Names like Robidas, Grossman and Daley see a lot of defensive zone time, and do a pretty good job with it. However, things kind of drop off from there. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Loui Eriksson-Brad Richards-James Neal
Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Jamie Langenbrunner
Steve Ott-Jamie Benn-Adam Burish
Krys Barch-Tom Wandell-Brian Sutherby
Stephane Robidas-Nicklas Grossman
Trevor Daley-Karlis Skrastins
Mark Fistric-Jeff Woywitka
While Richards is under 50% when it comes to offensive zone starts, his linemates do get a lot of offensive starts, especially Neal. This is a Stars team feeling it right now, with wins in five straight heading in. They may not wow you, but they’re finding ways to win hockey games on a very regular basis.
The thought is Andrew Raycroft gets the start in net tonight, as Lehtonen posted the win in Edmonton. Nothing confirmed as of yet, so we’ll see…Lehtonen has been known to go on back-to-back nights before.
In talking with Alex Tanguay today, he made a really good point…the loss on Wednesday doesn’t really matter in the long run when it comes to the score. Whether it was 6-0, 3-2, or 12-11 the Flames lost and a team they are chasing got the two points. So, yes, it was a 6-0 loss and yes it stings, especially from a fan perspective, but a win tonight means points in six of seven for Calgary. A loss, and well, 6-0 looks a little worse.