The Anaheim Ducks and the Calgary Flames are two of the hottest teams in the NHL, and they’ve been going about their business in different ways. While the Ducks have somehow managed to stay in the playoff picture all year, it’s been a run of 15-3-3 for the Flames that has got them within just one point of seventh place Anaheim. Tonight, the two teams meet for the second time this season, and for the first time at the ‘Dome (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
Picture courtesy stubbornboys.com.
The Flames continue to win hockey games, and they did it once again on Wednesday, taking a 5-2 win over the dismal Ottawa Senators. Even though parts of the hockey game were unimpressive on the Flames side, they locked things down in the final 40 minutes, displaying the type of consistent hockey that’s gotten them back into the race. That game didn’t have the implications that this one does, however. Anahiem sits as the seven seed, Calgary sits as the eight seed, and just one point seperates them. Can the amazing Flames roll continue?
Steady Steve is back on the blueline! After getting into a game as a forward in Atlanta, Steve Staios returns to the lineup as a defenceman for the first time since December 10th. Funny enough, that was the last time the Flames took on the Ducks. That’s the only lineup change for the team, and it’ll be interesting to see how Staios fares on a pairing with Anton Babchuk. Babchuk has been a shot blocking force the last two games, with six blocks in each of the contests…he’s also coming off a three point game Wednesday against Ottawa.
Up front, Alex Tanguay will miss his second straight game with what’s being called a neck strain. Tanguay didn’t play Monday either, which means Rene Bourque will take his spot for the second straight game on the top line. That unit wasn’t strong against the Sens, and didn’t see a ton of the Spezza line either, yet still found themsleves down in the scoring chance count. Overall, Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrison have been pretty strong of late, so maybe it’ll help raise Bourque’s struggling game in a second try.
The only other change in the forward ranks would see Niklas Hagman bump up to the third line, switching spots with Tom Kostopoulos. Hagman had a decent enough game against Ottawa, getting an assist on Calgary’s opening goal when he took a nice pass from Robyn Regehr before wiring a real nice shot on net; Tim Jackman would tip the puck home. Here are lines and pairings:
Rene Bourque-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
Miikka Kiprusoff once again gets the start in net, his ninth straight, and there’s no question the Flames are riding a hot hand. In an extremely important four point game, you can understand why Kipper would go here, but there are some wondering when Henrik Karlsson will get his next start. Would it be next week? Tomorrow in Vancouver? We shall see.
To say the Ducks are a possession team would be a lie. Put the Anaheim Ducks in the same category as teams like Dallas and Atlanta, in that they’ve relied on their goaltending far too much. Anaheim allows the most shots against in the league while not doing much better at the other end of the ice, sitting 27th in shots for. They give up a ton of zone time and that’s where a true Vezina Trohpy candidate comes into play.
Jonas Hiller’s .932 ES save percentage puts him into the same realm as goalies like Tim Thomas, Ondrej Pavelec, Roberto Luongo and Kari Lehtonen; all players who deserve serious consideration for top honors at their position. Only Cam Ward and Carey Price have seen more game action than Hiller’s 47 games played, and neither have them have stopped the puck with the same striking regularity as the Swiss all star. In just a few short years in the NHL, Hiller has elevated himself to one of the best goalies in the game. At this point, it’s unsure whether Hiller or former Flames goalie Curtis McElhinney will get the start.
The forward corps has some pretty nice talent, and Head Coach Randy Carlyle isn’t afraid to utilize his heavy hitters in all situations. Names like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Teemu Selanne all have offensive zone starts well under 50%, which speaks to a couple of things. First, Carlyle has a ton of confidence in his guys. But second, and maybe more telling, is that the Ducks just don’t have a ton of good depth beyond their top two lines. Lines centered by Maxim Lappierre and Kyle Chipchura aren’t going to inspire as much confidence in tough spots, so Carlyle has had to use his big guns instead.
Perry leads the team in scoring with 57 points in 55 games, while his linemate Getzlaf will play just his second game back after missing a number of games with a nasty facial injury. He was on a pretty good pace before the injury, and he’d be right with Perry atop the team in scoring had he not missed those 14 games. Selanne is still scoring, adding the biggest threat from the second line, and Ryan adds a nice compliment to the top unit. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Jason Blake-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Brandon McMillan-Maxim Lapierre-Dan Sexton
Todd Marchant-Kyle Chipchura-George Parros
Lubomir Visnovsky-Toni Lydman
Cam Fowler-Francois Beauchemin
Andreas Lilja-Luca Sbisa
Visnovsky seems to be putting together a pretty nice season. His 44 points have him tied with Niklas Lidstrom for second in league scoring among defenceman, trailing only the 46 points of Keith Yandle in Phoenix. The former Oiler and King has a zone start number of 41.9% and has himself fairly close to treading water, even with that. The guy can still be a bit of a circus in his own end, but overall, he’s having himself a solid year.
It’s also the first game for Francois Beauchemin since being acquired by the Ducks earlier this week. He was playing a ton of shutdown minutes with the Leafs, and while that’s no easy job to do in Toronto, looking at some scoring chance data earlier from TheLeafsNation.com, he’s done a decent job. I think it’s a good pickup for Anaheim.
It’s a huge game, but we all know that. Calgary needs to stay patient against a Ducks team that gives up a lot of zone time and allows a lot of shots on net. The Flames were the much better team in their first meeting, and yet still lost the game thanks to the outstanding goaltending of Jonas Hiller. A similar game tonight needs to be on tap.