FGD: Just Do It

The Calgary Flames have no other choice to win a hockey game tonight, and in dire need of a win to snap a three game losing skid, they get the best tonic to do…the Colorado Avalanche (7 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).  The Avs are almost a joke of a hockey team at this point, with losses in 21 of of their last 23 games and right in the race for a lottery pick in June.  If the Flames lose this game, you can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Quite seriously, this is one of the four remaining games the Flames simply cannot allow an inferior team to come away with two points.  I don’t care if the Flames need to go to 15 rounds of the shootout to get the win, but coming away with the full compliment of points is the only focus tonight, and if Calgary plays even an average hockey game they’ll do just that.  The last time these teams played?  A 9-1 Flames thrashing that was illegal in some countries.

The Lineup

An optional skate for the Flames this morning, after a full on practice the day before.  We do know it’ll be Miikka Kiprusoff going in net for Calgary, after what I thought was a fairly strong performance against the Coyotes on Tuesday.  I know he let in four goals, but you can’t really fault him on any, and Kiprusoff also had to make a number of high quality saves.

As the Flames enter the final ten games of the season, I’m going to start posting Calgary’s elimination number.  The way it works right now, the team with the most possibility for points in eighth spot is Anaheim, with a possibility of 105.  Nashville is next at 104, while Calgary can only get to 101 at the most.  Therefore, using the Ducks as the eliminator, we can come up with a number…

Elimination Number: 10

That takes into account Calgary losses and Anaheim wins; an overtime or shootout loss for either team is worth half a game.  The Ducks knocked Calgary out of the playoffs last night, taking a 2-1 win over St. Louis, and they still hold a pair of games in hand on the Flames.  Those two games, including Sunday’s meeting in Cali, are going to prove massive in the Western Conference standings.

In terms of lines, it’s tough to see who’s going to play where with an optional skate.  We do know Ales Kotalik will play, after joining the team at practice yesterday.  I’d imagine he’d slot in somewhere on the the third line, but we won’t know the lines until warmup, or maybe not till game time.  Here’s my best guess:

Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Ales Kotalik-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Lance Bouma-Niklas Hagman

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

Calgary’s big guns were noticeably absent on Tuesday night against Phoenix, so names like Iginla, Tanguay, Bouwmeester and Regehr have to make the impact they’re capable of making down the stretch here.  In a game against these opponents, the Flames can afford a few mistakes.

The Opponent

These guys are f’ing terrible.  Quite honestly, the Colorado Avalanche boast a few very promising players, especially up front.  Riding favorable bounces, a sky high PDO, and ridiculous goaltending got them into the playoffs last year…and had them near the top of the Northwest Division during the early part of this season.  But, inevitably it all comes crashing down, and the regression to reality has been cruel and unkind to Colorado.  They got Matt Duchene at the draft prior to last season, and he helped them make a miracle run to the playoffs…maybe Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can do the same next year.

There’s really not a whole lot to tell when it comes to this team.  Almost everybody has a poor possession rate, because the Avs very rarely have the puck.  Last night, Colorado jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Vancouver, and you had to imagine not one Canucks fan was sweating it, and for good reason.  Van answered back with four goals en route to a 4-2 win, and ensured the Avalanche will finish no better than 28th in the NHL this season.  The Avs also lost Adam Foote with a lower body injury after he blocked a second period shot, and whether he plays tonight or not is unknown.  Regardless if he plays, Foote is entering the final few games of his career, as it’s almost certain he’ll retire follow this season.

Colorado also welcomed back two key pieces last night in John-Michael Liles and Paul Stastny, and they’ll both play again tonight.  Remember the -6 Liles had hung on him in Denver last time out against the Flames?  That was funny.  I don’t know if anyone cares about lines, and Head Coach Joe Sacco likes to mess with them on a daily basis because his lineup is ever changing, but here’s a good idea of what to expect tonight:

Kevin Porter-Paul Stastny-David Jones
Daniel Winnik-Matt Duchene-Ryan O’Reilly
Cody McLeod-Jay McClement-Brandon Yip
David Koci-Phillipe Dupuis

Erik Johnson-Ryan O’Byrne
John-Michael Liles-Adam Foote
Matt Hunwick-Ryan Wilson
Jonos Holos

That’s what the Avs went with last night, with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, but with Foote questionable, you might see former Flames prospect David Van Der Gulik slot into the lineup.  Brian Elliott got the start in Vancouver, so it sounds like Peter Budaj will start tonight.

The Story

There really isn’t a story in this one.  If the Avs were a playoff team, the 9-1 thrashing might actually have some merit as a storyline coming in.  However, Colorado loses to everybody, and the Flames need to ensure they are just another better team tonight.  Quite honestly, if Calgary loses tonight, it will be because they played drastically below what they’re capable of, which would be simply unacceptable.  The four remaining games against Colorado and Edmonton are games the Flames must win to have a shot at the dance…they really can’t afford to piss away even one.

  • CitizenFlame

    While I would agree that the four games against Edm and Col are important, if the Flames win the two against Anaheim they cancel out the Ducks game-in-hand advantage. To me those two games are the most important games going into this final stretch. If Calgary wins those 6 games then they should be good with only winning one more against LA, SJ, and Van. Thats doable. GFG!

  • Super_Gio

    The boys need to put together a good effort and pound the Avs. This would bode well for the SoCal trip as a little confidence with the scoring touch will do wonders. Win…. but win with a 5 – 1, 6 – 2 score would be better.

    • This is a game where, theoretically, guys like Stajan and Hagman should hammer their opposition. Seriously. The Avalanche have decent players near the top of the depth chart…but are pretty thin as you move further down, even with a qualitly player like Jay McClement.

  • Stastny and Duchene are the guys to look out for. Winnik, O’Reilly and McClemment are decent middle-tier guys who are good in terms of possession. After that, there’s nothing.

    And the blueline is a train wreck after Johnson.

  • Gange

    “I’m getting a black cat, Friday the thirteenth kinda feeling about this one”

    My eternal respect to whoever can name the movie without google.

    That said, it’s true for me.

      • Gange

        Close enough. Grosse Ponit Blank.

        I expect Kotalik to look a little better to be honest. He seems to only perform when people have zero expectations of him. He sucks if you have negative or positive expectations of him

        If this is the Calgary team of the last couple of years, they may lay an egg tonight and sink themselves.

        I’m crossing my fingers.

  • everton fc

    Great game for those slumping to get some confidence back in their games. Stajan, Hagman… Kotalik… Jackman has been steady, but unrewarded on the scoresheet, of late. Even Bouma has an opportunity to break out and establish something here.

    They need to pole-ax the Avs. Get back on track. Show some superiority. Again, may be a perfect opportunity for the aforementioned also-rans who need to step it up now. Down the stretch. And into the playoffs.

    Through this run, they have managed to beat teams like this, Ottawa… Edmonton… I think they’ll get back on track. In a big way.

  • Vintage Flame

    This has to be a total statement game for the Flames. Score soon and score often. I seriously would expect to see Calgary up 4-0 after the 1st period. No shell game tonight just play the Av’s and beat them like they owe them money!

    I have a sort of Black Cat feeling tonight too. I think Kotalik is going to get 3 pts tonight.

    As for Hagman and/or Stajan. I could see Hags getting a couple points maybe even a goal. As for Stajan, he should just be happy if he finishes with a positive +/-. Seriously.. What a tool!

  • everton fc

    One could argue that Kotalik’s knee injury cost him the season. Not to mention confidence.

    He looked good in pre-season. I have always felt if he had come out of the gate healthy, he would have done okay.

    Regardless… He can redeem him self now. If he has the character Playfair seems to believe he has… And I don’t doubt he does… Then he’ll be ready to go this evening.

    • The pre-season is always filled with scoring champs that never emerge again. Dustin Boyd led the Flames in pre-season scoring one year.

      That said, Kotalik isn’t as bad as he seemed during his 20 game stretch here. He was mediocre overall, but the percentages sunk him to “pathetic” levels. He can’t possibly that bad forever.

      • CitizenFlame

        Well Kotalik was decent and put up a couple of points. Good for him. I actually hold the same opinion as Everton FC so I’m happy to see Kotalik come back and hopefully play well.

        Kent you sure took a beating over on ON for that article. Wow, they are sensitive over there.