The last time the Calgary Flames rolled into Dallas, Texas they were riding a three game losing skid and had fallen four games under the .500 mark. The team was languishing in 14th place, and the talk among the Flames blogren (blog brethren, new term?) at a blogger meetup that night was "our team is worse than yours." Yet, Alex Tanguay scored late in that game to spur on a Calgary 3-2 shootout win and a 20-6-6 run to follow. Tonight, they’re back at the American Airlines Center (7 pm, Sportsnet West JIP and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
Just like the three prior meetings between these teams, the Flames enter action tonight looking up at the Dallas Stars, albeit this time they have the same number of points. Calgary has taken six of a possible six points against Big D this year, and they look for a second consecutive season sweep after winning 3-2 over Nashville on Sunday. If the Preds miss the playoffs, they may have some Christmas cards to send Calgary’s way.
Unfortunately, with the team winning at the clip they have been, not a whole lot is going to change from day to day. We do know Brendan Morrison will miss his third straight game with a knee injury, and his status was updated on Monday. He’ll have to wait another two to three weeks before getting looked at it again, as the swelling needs to go down prior to determining the severity. Morrison talked to the media on Tuesday to update his status.
The interesting thing came from his admission of Hawks players chirping him from the bench as he was trying to get off. Obviously it was something that bugged Morrison, but he also has been in this game long enough, so the stories written afterwards are perhaps being blown out of proportion a little bit. That being said, it was interesting to here a savvy veteran pulling back the curtain like that.
Without Morrison, the Flames have put up 4-3 and 3-2 wins over Columbus and Nashville respectively, and the latter of those games saw line combinations that were pretty set. Friday’s game saw Morrison and Mikael Backlund (flu) miss out, but with Backlund back on Sunday, it gave Head Coach Brent Sutter an opportunity to move David Moss up to the top line to center Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. Moss did just fine up there, and for my money, he’s been Calgary’s best forward for about three months. Here are lines and pairings:
Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Freddy Modin
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
I would guess Brett Carson has leaped past Brendan Mikkelson on the depth chart as the number seven defenceman, and I get that from watching Tuesday’s practice at the ‘Dome. In doing five man forecheck/breakout drills, his decision making is not at the same level as the other d-men on the team.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net for the 21st consecutive time.
This has been a really good year for us advanced stat guys, as the Dallas Stars have followed suit and regressed to their underlying numbers as opposed to the "over their skis" play they exhibited in the first half of the season. The Stars are a group routinely outshot by the opposition, and a group that has relied fairly heavily on their goaltender. Yet, even though the results weren’t really reflecting their play for a time, Dallas can still win hockey games and are probably right where they should be: in the mix in the Western Conference playoff race. They have points in six straight games entering tonight and found a way to be the LA Kings 4-3 in overtime on Monday.
The Stars get some good news with the return of Brad Richards tonight after missing ten games with concussion-like symptoms. It’s a huge boost to the team, as they’ve missed their leading scorer…even with his extended time away, Richards still leads the team with 63 points. Defenceman Niklas Grossman has also missed ten straight games with a hip injury…he’s close to returning, but is doubtful for tonight. Here are lines and pairings:
Jamie Benn-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson
Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Jamie Langenbrunner
Steve Ott-Tom Wandell-Jason Williams
Brian Sutherby-Toby Petersen-Adam Burish
Stephane Robidas-Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley-Jeff Woywitka
Karlis Skrastins-Mark Fistric
Adam Burish missed morning skate today, but is expected to play. Tomas Vincour may slot into the lineup as well, as tonight’s healthy scratch is unknown for the Stars, so those lines are subject to change. It’s almost certain Eriksson will move back to the right side and Benn will move onto the left side of the top line, however.
The loss of Grossman on the back end continues to be a big one, as he and Robidas typically form Dallas’s shutdown pairing. They’re both saddled with low offensive zone start numbers, and they both play against the top end on the other side regularly. Getting Grossman back will be a huge boost to the team.
And don’t forget what Dallas has going on in net, as Kari Lehtonen has silenced a few doubters. Playing a full slate of games this season, he’s definetely proven what farmhand Brent Krahn told me during the offseason…he’s gotten himself into the best shape of his NHL career. Lehtonen’s .931 even strength save percentage puts him right in the mix with the other top guys in the league, comparable with Luongo, Rinne, Hiller and Price. He’ll be in net tonight for a huge game.
The last time Calgary played in Dallas, the majority of poeple point to a Flames win as the biggest turning point of a crazy season. This time, both teams are jockeying for a playoff spot, and the urgency level is going to be high on both sides. Calgary got a little help out of town last night, and regardless of what happens elsewhere, they can deal another severe blow to an opponent’s playoff chances with a win here. The more they hurt playoff chances elsewhere, the better Calgary’s chances of finding their way in become.