FGD: Desert Date

Oh, wait…is it desert or dessert? I can’t think of two words in the English dictionary I get mixed up most, so I’m just inter-changing them for fun.  The Calgary Flames look for a fourth straight win tonight when they take on the Phoenix Coyotes in the…desert…or dessert (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).  It’s the third meeting between the teams this season, and once again, it’s a four point game in the Western Conference standings.

The Flames enter tied for fourth in the conference after a 4-3 shootout win in Dallas last night, and they’re just two points up on the Yotes.  Calgary has lost both their previous meetings with Phoenix, so their streak of season series sweeps will end tonight, but the Flames can move into sole possession of fourth in the West with a win.  After an eighth shootout win in Dallas, the more regulation wins the better at this point.

The Lineup

The counter stops at 21 when it comes to consecutive starts for Miikka Kiprusoff, as Henrik Karlsson will start in net for the Flames tonight.  It’s Karlsson’s first game since January 21st, when Calgary staked him to a 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars.  It may be Karlsson’s only start from here on out, but while I thought next Thursday’s game against Colorado might be the best time to get him in, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the decision.  At least once here Kiprusoff needs a game night off, so I’m fine with Karlsson going tonight.

Otherwise, why change anything if you’re the Flames heading into another crucial conference matchup?  The team scored three goals on eight shots in the first period last night and staked themselves to an early lead, a lead they didn’t hold but also didn’t completely give up.  Through some bounces, good goaltending, and an improved third period, Calgary was able to stem the tide and keep things a tie game, allowing them to win another game in a shootout.  So, really, nothing else changes tonight.

The line of Rene Bourque, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross was Calgary’s best last night, and were deployed frequently against Brad Richards et al in Dallas.  The assignment for them becomes a little easier when talking about a matchup against Phoenix, as the Coyotes are not a top heavy team…this is a real opportunity for this trio to do some damage.  Bourque has been better, while Jokinen and Glencross continue their very consistent play.  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

Some interesting conversation on yesterday’s postgame surrounding Babchuk, as there’s a lot of love for the Flames defenceman.  You can’t deny what Babchuk has done in a Flames uniform, and he’s done his job…but with a strapped salary cap, signing the guy for a whole lot much more than what he’s making right now doesn’t make sense.  That being said, he’s been an important part of a Flames powerplay, a powerplay that has been a big part of this run.

The Opponent

Phoenix enters sixth in the West, and they are doing the same things this year as they did last season.  They’re winning hockey games with a deep lineup, and getting some solid enough goaltending.  Ilya Bryzgalov is right around the same pace he set last year in between the Coyotes pipes, and while he may not be in the upper echelon of NHL goalies, he’s still solid and gives the team a chance to win.  He’s expected to start tonight.

The largest strength of this team is their depth down the lineup, especially in the forward ranks, but that depth is being tested all over the rink.  Phoenix may have five important regulars out of the lineup tonight, including Martin Hanzal, perhaps the most important forward on the team.  His decent Corsi rate is made a little more impressive when taking into consideration his 46.5% offensive zone start.  Hanzal is out with a lower body injury, while fellow forward Ray Whitney will most likely miss tonight, also with a lower body injury.  Here are lines and pairings for tonight, subject to change:

Lauri Korpikoski-Eric Belanger-Shane Doan
Mikkel Boedker-Kyle Turris-Radim Vrbata
Taylor Pyatt-Vernon Fiddler-Lee Stempniak
Paul Bissonnette-Andrew Ebbett-Brett MacLean

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Adrian Aucoin
Michal Roszival-Keith Yandle
David Schlemko-Chris Summers

Summers is an emergency recall, and boy do the Yotes need it.  Phoenix will most likely be without three of their top six defenders tonight, with Ed Jovanovski likely done for the rest of the regular season with a broken orbital bone suffered last week.  That’s a hefty enough loss, but when you factor in day-to-day statuses on Derek Morris (lower body) and newly acquired Rostislav Klesla (face), you start to get pretty thin.  Morris is a game time decision, while most of the other injuries are questionable at best for tonight.

Phoenix is a deep team when healthy, albeit missing a high end comparable to most of the Western Conference.  You take away a lot of their depth, and this team turns into one ripe for the picking.  They’re scratching and clawing for points though, so don’t ever discount a Dave Tippet coached team.

The Story

It’s interesting to note the remaining schedule for the Flames.  With 13 games to go, seven of them come against teams removed from the stupidly tight battle for playoff spots.  Two games against Vancouver fall into that seven, while the Flames also play a pair against both Edmonton and Colorado and have one more against St. Louis.  With five games against the bottom three teams in the West, Calgary needs to look at those as must-have points.  You get ten points from those, you’re looking at five points in the other eight games…definetely a realistic prospect.