FGD: Make it Nine

The Calgary Flames are once again on the outside looking in for a Western Conference playoff spot as they got next to no help from surrounding teams over the weekend.  Following a 4-2 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night, the Flames get set for another division rival tonight, in the form of the Colorado Avalanche (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).  The Avs are slumping in a large way, and as the Flames hope to snap a small skid of their own, they can make it nine straight losses for the team in Denver.

The Flames played a fairly strong game on Saturday, yet were unable to come out of BC with anything to show for it.  That’s the first time in a while the Flames have played well and not earned anything, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to it.  If they continue on playing the type of hockey they’ve been playing, they probably come away with a win over Colorado.  If they take a step back, well, then all bets are off.

The Lineup

You can welcome Alex Tanguay back to the Flames lineup tonight, as Roger Millions of Sportsnet is reporting the forward has been cleared to play after missing three games with a neck strain.  Lance Bouma was skating on the top line at morning skate, which at first was a bit of a surprise, but the news of Tanguay returning cleared that all up, so it’s a pretty safe bet Bouma will be the healthy scratch tonight.  Tanguay’s return will obviously be a boost, as we know how important he is to the offence of this team.

Still, the team is needing more from some of their forwards down the depth chart..  Rene Bourque, Niklas Hagman, and to a lesser extent, Matt Stajan all need to give this team more on a regular basis.  Bourque has been noticeably absent for about three months now, while Hagman has been a rather large disappointment all season.  Stajan has been better of late, but the last couple games has been far too passive.  Here are projected lines and pairings tonight, at least to start:

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

Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios

The good news would be Sutter keeping that second line together, as they’ve been the best trio when together over the last few games.  Glencross did a solid job of elevating his play when up with Iginla and Morrison Saturday night, scoring the go-ahead goal in the second period after a nice shift all round from that group.  If things don’t necessarily work with Bouma on the top unit, it’s probably an easy switch to put Glencross back up there.

We’re expecting Miikka Kiprusoff to get the start in net for the Flames, and we’re probably expecting #34 to get the call much more often than not down the stretch.  I still think you need to get Henrik Karlsson in at some point, and this might be the game to do it, as  he tends to play fairly well on the road.  You’re playing a reeling Avalanche team, maybe this is the right time…but you can also understand why you’d want to roll with your number one.

The Opponent

Well wait just a second.  It didn’t take very long, but the Peter Forsberg story has already come to an end, and he hadn’t even made his home re-debut with the Avalanche.  Foppa has retired from the game of hockey, presumably for good, after another failed comeback to the NHL.  He played two games on the road after signing a one year contract with Colorado last week.  Overall, he was -4 with no points and three shots on goal and removing him from the lineup means the Avs are even shorter on forwards.

The team will bring Chris Stewart back into the lineup tonight after he was a healthy scratch Saturday in Nashville; he’s been unimpressive upon his return from injury in 11 games.  The team is also without two regular top six guys, as T.J. Galiardi is out indefinitely after having wrist surgery while Tomas Fleischmann is done for the season after blood clots were discovered in both lungs.  The Avs have also been without Peter Mueller the entire season as he recovers from a concussion.

The Avalanche enter tonight in complete free fall mode, losing their last eight games, and doing it fairly convincingly for the most part.  There are a number of reasons for it, and one of them is a team finally starting to come back down to Earth.  But there’s more to it than that, as the team has had to deal with some fairly serious injury issues while also being without the top end goaltending they had the year before.  As a result, you have an Avalanche team way down in the standings, now nine points back of a playoff spot.

This isn’t a great team at even strength, and the underlying numbers speak to that.  Head Coach Joe Sacco has found a very reliable trio on his third line, with Ryan O’Reilly centering Kevin Porter and Daniel Winnick.  The possession numbers of the top two lines haven’t been great, however, which plays to two factors: it’s not like the lines are blessed with a ton of established two way players, but they also haven’t been paired with the greatest blueliners, limiting the effectiveness of their five man units.  Chris Stewart, who was a healthy scratch on Saturday, has struggled since returning to the lineup, which has also been an issue.  Here are projected lines and pairings:

David Jones-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk
Brandon Yip-Paul Stastny-Chris Stewart
Daniel Winnik-Ryan O’Reilly-Kevin Porter
David Koci-Phillippe Dupuis-Cody McLeod

John-Michael Liles-Ryan O’Byrne
Ryan Wilson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Cameron Gaunce-Matt Hunwick

Colorado is down a couple regular defencemen, with Adam Foote questionable for tonight, listed day-to-day with a leg injury while Kyle Cumiskey is out indefinitely with a head injury suffered Wednesday.  The Avs have also been without Kyle Quincey on the blueline since mid-December with a shoulder injury, and he’ll miss the rest of the season.

Craig Anderson returns to the Avs lineup tonight nowhere near the goalie he was a year ago.  His .911 ES save percentage is actually lower than that of backup Peter Budaj’s, who has a not great .914 number.  Compare .911 to the .926 stat of a year ago, and you can tell how Anderson’s play has been at a lower level over a long span of time.  That being said, it will be Budaj getting the start tonight.

The Story

It’s a pretty simple story to write for the Avalanche: the Avs will hope to be energized and they’ll hope to snap a massive skid.  For Calgary, it’s a little different, because they’re right in the thick of this.  The Flames can’t afford a ton of losses to teams below them in the standings, because inevitably, they will lose some of the games against teams they’re in the trenches with.  If they play the way they did Saturday in Vancouver, they probably win…so lets see if they do after having their point streak snapped at ten.