The Calgary Flames have won all three of their previous games with the Nashville Predators this season, in all three different ways. There was the 1-0 overtime win in October; the 3-1 regulation with at home back in January; and of course the 3-2 shootout win the Flames took to kick off February. Now Calgary can choose any one of those three options tonight and still get the same result: a season sweep over the Preds (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
Obviously the Flames would prefer a regulation win over the Preds tonight, after Calgary dropped to seventh in the Western Conference thanks to Dallas and Phoenix wins last night. A Nashville win tonight would push Calgary to eighth in the conference, while another regulation victory would have the Flames back into fifth. Such is life in this stupidly tight playoff race.
No surprise to see the Flames take part in an optional skate this morning, and it looks like they’ll be back to a conventional 12 forwards for the game this evening. After being a late scratch with the flu on Friday night, Mikael Backlund will return to the lineup in his regular spot centering the fourth line. Backlund joined Brendan Morrison as regulars out of the lineup in Calgary’s 4-3 win over Columbus two nights ago, however Morrison will not play once again tonight after suffering a knee injury against the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
It sounds like we’ll see a little bit of a tweak to Calgary’s lines in comparison to the ones they would have gone with Friday had they had 12 forwards. David Moss will move to the top line centering Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay while Rene Bourque will move down to play with Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen. Putting Moss with the two big guns might be the best thing for them, becuase regardless of points, Tanguay and Iginla haven’t been at their best the past five games or so. Moss, on the other hand, has been out of his mind for about three straight weeks, and in my eyes, he’s been Calgary’s best forward over about a three month span. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Freddy Modin
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
Give that third pairing credit. They’ve done their job fairly consistently, and Babchuk has added something to the powerplay. Anyone who reads this site knows neither Babchuk nor Staios are playing against anyone of real consequence, but that’s a given…if you manage your third pairing correctly and they don’t hurt you at even strength, good for them. If you can turn one of them into a real factor on the powerplay, you’re coming out ahead in this one, and that’s where I come in on Babchuk. I didn’t expect his time in Calgary to be as successful as it’s been. As for Sarich, well…Friday wasn’t his best night.
Miikka Kiprusoff makes it lucky number 20 tonight, as in consecutive starts in net.
It’s the same old story for the Predators. Opportunistic scoring, good team defence, in the mix for a playoff spot, and strong goaltending. The final check on that list is probably the largest reason the Preds are where they are at this point, challenging for a playoff spot heading into the final stretch. Pekka Rinne, who will start in net tonight, is coming off a 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks and is giving the Preds arguably their best goaltending in team history. His .931even strength save percentage is very good, as is his .929 overall number…but that .919 mark when Nashville is shorthanded is particularly impressive.
The big roster move cem prior to the trade deadline for the Predators, when they gave up some sizeable assets to bring in Mike Fisher from the Ottawa Senators. Head Coach Barry Trotz immediately put him on the second line, where he’s been ever since. Fisher is still a quality player, despite his awful underlying numbers…it’s going to be tough to have anything special when playing with the horrendously bad Sens.
It’s an injury plagued forward group in Nashville, with Marcel Goc joining the crew in mid-February. He’s done for the season with a seperated shoulder, joining important players like Cal O’Reilly (broken leg), Matthew Lombardi (concussion) and Steve Sullivan (groin) on the injured list for an indefinite period of time. Jordin Tootoo did return to the team recently after going through the league’s substance abuse program.
Even with the injuries, the Preds still boast a number of quality forwards, starting with David Legwand. While he may never have put up the most impressive scoring stats, he’s been a hugely important player for this team for years, playing in all situations and playing them all pretty well. He and his two linemates tonight, Joel Ward and Martin Erat, all display pretty good possession numbers despite offensive zone start marks south of 50%. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Martin Erat-David Legwand-Joel Ward
Sergei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson-Jerred Smithson-Matt Halishuck
Nick Spaling-Blake Geoffrion-Jordin Tootoo
Shea Weber-Ryan Suter
Cody Franson-Shane O’Brien
Kevin Klein-Jonathan Blum
The Preds are still without Francis Bouillion on the back end, as he’s been out for more than two months now with what’s recently been diagnosed with a concussion. He and Cody Franson play well together, but Bouillion’s injury is going to keep him out of action a while longer. And of course you can’t write an article about this team without talking about the top pariing, because Ryan Suter and Shea Weber run things out there and are the most important two skaters on the team. Fact.
Calgary has lost just six times in regulation in the calendar year of 2011, and yet they’re playoff homes are tenuous at best. No one knows more than Flames fans the fact Calgary is giving up games to everyone in the conference, and while that may even itself out over the next three weeks, it doesn’t change the central push: Calgary has to keep winning games. They’ve won games they’ve been mediocre in, so maybe tonight a return to form might be in order,