After a win in Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Montreal Canadiens, the Flames play their second consecutive Northeast Division opponent tonight, taking on the Boston Bruins for the only time this season (Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). Calgary enters action tied for fifth in the Western Conference, and they just keep on winning hockey games.
This game against Boston is the last one before Calgary goes on a run against Western Conference opponents, and opponents the Flames are fighting tooth and nail with for a playoff spot. The next 8 opponents for Calgary is quite the gauntlet, with the Sharks, Blues, Blues, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Predators, Stars and Coyotes all on tap in that order. Their opponent tonight is no slouch either, as the Bruins continue to try and lock down a division crown.
Nothing changes for the Flames when it comes to their lineup, as they’ll roll with the same crew they’ve been going with the past couple weeks. That means Miikka Kiprusoff gets his 14th straight start in between the Calgary pipes, which I got a lot of response to on Twitter this morning. Where things are in the schedule, I don’t really see a problem with it, as the Flames are playing three games in nine days, so Kiprusoff gets a ton of time to get his rest in. When Calgary hits that back-to-back stretch to beging March, I anticipate the debate having much stronger legs.
Niklas Hagman will play tonight even after clearing waivers this morning at ten, and Head Coach Brent Sutter says his player is just fine with what’s going on. For me, it was a move made purely out of flexibility, knowing the team has 30 days to re-assign Hagman to the AHL if that’s in fact what they want to do. If Calgary wants to add salary at the trade deadline, it means they’ll be able to free up space by sending Hagman to the AHL…but as Kent has written on, I don’t think that’s going to happen myself. Hagman will play in his regular fourth line slot:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Rene Bourque-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Niklas Hagman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
Bourque is coming off one his best games of the season in Sunday’s Heritage Classic, firing a game high 11 shots on net and scoring twice. We all know he’s a guy who can affect the play, and we know he’s a very tough player to contain when on, so hopefully Sunday was the start of something and not just a misnomer in a relatively mediocre season.
Boston enters action with a four point edge on the Montreal Canadiens for top spot in the Northeast, and they’ve done it with some of the best goaltending in the National Hockey League. The ridiculous numbers sported by Tim Thomas really do make you think something is wrong, yet he’s done it over a 42 game stretch, not a 12 game stretch. Among regular goalies, the .942 save percentage sported by Thomas is number one, as is his .938 save percentage overall. And even though goals against is as much of a team metric as an individual stat, ranking first in both categories to such a dramatic degree is no fluke. Unless something goes south in a hurry, I don’t see how Thomas doesn’t win the Vezina. The fact that Boston gives up the second most shots against in the NHL makes the whole thing even more incredible. His backup, Tuukka Rask, is no slouch either coming off back-to-back wins. It looks like Thomas starts in net tonight.
The Bruins have been a busy group over the last while, adding a number of players in three seperate deals. The biggest of the deals saw Boston acquire defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who played in his first game on Friday. The much-hyped former Maple Leaf saw the Bruins give up Calgary based prospect Joe Colbourne along with a couple picks. The immediate aftermath of that saw Boston ship out blueliner Mark Stuart and winger Blake Wheeler to Atlanta in exchange for forward Rich Peverley and hulking defenceman Boris Valabik.
The first deal that Boston made saw them ship a second round pick to Ottawa in exchange for forward Chris Kelly, a guy who slots in immediately as a very solid third line centre. Even thought I’m not huge on the Kaberle deal, you can’t argue that this team is pretty deep and can play some pretty solid hockey. Kaberle helps the powerplay immediately, and he’s just fine on the second pairing…I just don’t know if the asking price was as high as it should have been. Or, more accurately, if the Bruins should have paid it. Here’s what you can expect in terms of lines and pairings tonight:
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Michael Ryder-Chris Kelly-Tyler Seguin
Rich Peverley-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Steve Kampfer
Tomas Kaberle-Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ferrence-Adam McQuaid
The most important player in the forward ranks is Patrice Bergeron, bar none. His line is the shutdown line more often than not, and when in that capacity, they do an incredible job. Bergeron’s zone start numbers are drastically low at 42.7% and yet his possession rate is mind blowing, with an 11.43 Corsi number. No one should be surprised by this, as he’s been doing it for years, but that’s the reason why he was picked to play on Team Canada. The top line is very capable offensively, and Kelly is very good in the faceoff dot and gives the Bruins a second option to deploy in the defensive end.
We all know Boston is without Marc Savard down the middle, and will be that way for the rest of the season, but his concussion is the only injury affecting the Bruins at the moment. It looks like Johnny Boychuk will be a healthy scratch for a second straight game, while Daniel Paille will make way for Peverley in his first game with the B’s.
Boston will be a tough opponent for Calgary, as they employ a strong, physical forecheck designed to force turnovers in the offensive zone. The Bruins are deep and have added to their roster in recent days, which makes them a better team now then they’ve been at any point this season. That being said, Calgary talked about not changing the way they’ve been playing and sticking with what has got them to where they are currently. And hey, they’ve lost four times in 2011…why make it five now?