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.
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.
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
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.
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.