FGD: Too Bad About the Opponent

There’s no question how important tonight’s game is for the Calgary Flames, as they look to build off a 7-4 win over Dallas on Friday night.  The Flames are now six points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and after tonight, they play six of their next eight games at home.  Tonight, they’re on the road with an opportunity to really come close to entering the playoff conversation…the only problem is, they’re on the road against the Western Conference leading Vancouver Canucks (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).

It’s gameday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and it’s the third meeting between the Flames and Canucks this season.  To this point, Calgary has yet to pick up a win, falling 7-2 and 3-1.  Calgary will make a few lineup changes from the one that beat Dallas last night, while Vancouver is going through one of those spans of the season when they’re not playing .650 hockey.

The Lineup

Miikka Kiprusoff returns to the Calgary cage after Henrik Karlsson picked up the win against Dallas.  Even though Karlsson wasn’t overly impressive, the win is a pretty significant one, in that it’s his first on home ice.  All of his other wins came away from the Scotiabank Saddledome.  Kiprusoff is coming off a number of so-so performances, and his struggles have been very well documented.  Wednesday against Minnesota, he was in for all six goals against, although the team in front of him left him turning in the wind far too many times.  However, over his last six games or so, Kiprusoff hasn’t been good enough, and he needs to return to being number one caliber.

Tom Kostopoulos also returns to the Flames lineup, after serving a six game suspension for his hit on Brad Stuart in the Detroit game.  Kostopoulos had actually played somewhat effectively in the games leading up, so I’d assume we’d see him back on a line with Tim Jackman.  Who exits the lineup is up in the air however, as Head Coach Brent Sutter wouldn’t say who was going to be the odd man out.  Ahh yes, we’re back to the same old story from a few weeks ago.

It’s not like there is only one candidate to sit out right now, but the leading one in my eyes would be Ales Kotalik.  The guy continues to contribute almost nothing, and even with a few goals as of late, his performance against the Stars was pretty non-existant.  We’ll find out closer to game time who’s going to sit out, so as of right now, we aren’t quite sure what the line combos are going to look like.  The trio of Alex Tanguay, Brendan Morrison and Jarome Iginla will probably stay together, but that’s about the only grouping that is set in stone.

On the blueline, I got a few calls last night being heavily critical of Robyn Regehr, and I just don’t buy it myself.  He’s a defenceman put in a top pairing role, so yes, there are going to be games where he makes mistakes or is on the ice for a goal.  But overall, the job he and Jay Bouwmeester have done against the very best forwards on the other side is commendable.

The Opponent

Well, this is struggling for the Vancouver Canucks, as they’ve lost four of their last five games.  Yet, they also have points in three of their last four.  Yep, this team is going to be extremely difficult to beat in regulation, as the Minnesota Wild did earlier in the week to a tune of 4-0.  I don’t know how many people saw that one coming, and they’ve lost extra time games to Colorado and San Jose since then.  After a five game road trip, the Canucks are back at Rogers Arena for a four game home stand.

The team is starting to see their fair share of injuries, especially on the blueline.  However, an injury has yet to affect a real significant player to this point, as it’s Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome on the sidelines right now.  Alberts is out two to four weeks with a seperated shoulder while Rome is out with a sprained knee.  The good news comes in the form of Sami Salo, who is close to returning to the Canucks lineup and is now traveling with the team.  Salo suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the off-season, but Vancouver is being rather cautious with his return, as expected.  Up front, Alex Bolduc is out with a dislocated shoulder.

The Canucks have recalled a few players as of late, including Aaron Volpatti who will play tonight on the Canucks second line.  Sergei Shirokov will come out of the lineup as a result.  On the blueline, Vancouver has brought up Chris Tanev to play top six minutes, with the previously mentioned injuries.  However, this is a team able to withstand injuries, with the depth they’ve got in all areas.  Here are lines and pairings for tonight:

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson
Raffi Torres-Manny Malhotra-Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti-Tanner Glass-Jeff Tambellini

Alexander Edler-Christian Ehrhoff
Dan Hamhuis Kevin Bieksa
Chris Tanev-Keith Ballard

We all know how important Kesler is to the Canucks, and we all know that he’s entering the conversation (or is already in it) to be among the very best impact players in the league.  He has gone without a point in three of his last five games, yet in that span, he still has three points.  Stupid Kesler.

Roberto Luongo gets the start in net.

The Story

This is a huge game for Calgary, and a real opportunity.  Depending on what happens elsewhere, a win in Vancouver could move them within four points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  The fact they play six of their next eight games after this at home could set them up to actually gain some real traction.  However, the problem is, Calgary very well could rise to the occasion and play some really good hockey tonight…and it might not be good enough, considering the opponent they’re playing.

  • mikeecho

    Bad mistake putting Kipper in net- he better show up tonight. Here is an idea fot the coaching staff, leave Karlsson in net and pull him if things get ugly.

  • mikeecho

    @ Ryan

    Agreed. So what, Karl was shaky and goes down on his knees alot, the Flames got 2 points. If they are looking to make the playoffs, go with Karl until a loss or pull him after a couple of goals during the game.

  • BobB

    I get a lot of people asking me “Why all the love for Mikael Backlund?”

    I reply, sure, he isn’t pumping in the goals, but he’s defensively responsible, he’s got great vision and he’s a better alternative than Kotalik, for example.

    Me, what I don’t get is “Why all the love for Karlsson?”

    His evsv% is .893, he goes down too early, and for a big guy, he’s pretty small in the net. Also, regardless of the recent stretch there is no way he gives you a better chance to win than Kiprusoff, no matter what you think of Kipper.

    Maybe I’m just the same as the people who ask me about Backlund.

    I don’t see how Karlsson is markedly better than McElhinney was. And technically, he’s probably worse.

    Is it because “he’s a battler?” What does that mean?

    • SmellOfVictory

      Two things about Karlsson, I believe: some people like him because he’s producing better results than McBackup (regardless of sv%), and some people like him because he’ll give the Flames a better chance at tanking than Kipper will.

  • mikeecho

    @ Lawrence

    Without a doubt Kipper is the better goalie hands down. What I am seeing through my Rye and Coke bottle glasses is a team that somehow plays differently in front of Karl. Maybe the forwards think that they will have to score 7 to win because Karl will let in 4 or 5. However, this evening could be a little different trying to pump 7 past Louongo.