Time is an odd concept; in this context, it refers to a tangible number of games for the Calgary Flames, as they just don’t have very many left to get to an amount of points needed to earn a playoff spot. The Flames play game number 76 of the season tonight against the San Jose Sharks, a game Calgary really does need to win (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
Once again, the Flames got very little help out of town on Tuesday night, with both Nashville and Phoenix winning their games over Edmonton and St. Louis respectively. That vaults the Preds to 88 points and the Coyotes to 91, making their playoff futures even rosier than they were before. For Calgary, trying to reel back in the San Jose Sharks shouldn’t be the focus…all the focus needs to be is avoiding regulation losses like the plague at this point.
Elimination Number: 7
That number will be down to at least 6.5 regardless of the result in Calgary’s game, as the three teams controlling their fate all play tonight in Dallas, Anaheim and Chicago. The Ducks and Stars play eachother, so if that game turns into a three point game, the situation gets even worse. So, there’s your grim reaper update for the day.
Calgary’s injury situation continues to be clouded, with another regular forward joining the crew already on the shelf. You can add Niklas Hagman to David Moss and Brendan Morrison, as Hagman has returned to Calgary with concussion-like symptoms. He was injured following a partial breakaway in the first period of Monday’s game in LA and didn’t return, which prompted the recall of Greg Nemisz from the American Hockey League.
Nemisz will likely play tonight, unlike the first time he was recalled prior to the trade deadline where he was up for about 24 hours and then returned to Abbotsford. With Hagman not on the roster, it’s the perfect time for Nemisz to play, but it also highlights how many remaining recalls the team has. The Flames made a paper re-assign/recall transaction with Mikael Backlund on trade deadline day, and they’ve now also brough up Nemisz, Ales Kotalik and Lance Bouma, meaning they have just one more call up remaining. It doesn’t sound like any of the four recalls were for emergency reasons.
With no Hagman, things will be all over the place when it comes to line combos for the Flames. Here’s what they’re looking like tonight…
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Tom Kostopoulos-Curtis Glencross-Rene Bourque
Ales Kotalik-Olli Jokinen-Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Greg Nemisz
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start in net for the Flames, coming off a strong performance against the Kings. With seven games to go, I don’t see Kiprusoff getting another night off…or at least, not another planned night off. Unless of course this team is no longer in playoff contention.
The test Calgary has in front of them is a large one, as the San Jose Sharks continue their torrid pace from the end of January. They’ve risen to third in the conference and first in the Pacific Division, which is right about where everyone had them pegged at the beginning of the season. The Sharks haven’t played since Saturday, a 5-3 win over St. Louis, and they’ll be getting an important member of their roster back in the lineup.
Dany Heatley was suspended two games for the above elbow delivered to Dallas’s Steve Ott last week, and San Jose didn’t really suffer without him, winning both the games while he sat out. Heatley returns which means the line combinations go back to normal, which isn’t good news for the Flames or any other Sharks opponent. No team in this league can boast the depth San Jose has down the middle, and even with a few "who’s that" cameo players on the fourth line, they just keep winning. Here’s what to look for tonight:
Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe-Logan Couture-Dany Heatley
Torrey Mitchell-Joe Pavelski-Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager-Andrew Desjardins-Jamal Mayers
Doug Murray-Dan Boyle
Ian White-Jason Demers
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Marleau and Pavelski continue to run the show at even strength, doing a solid job driving the lines they’re playing on. For Marleau, having the very solid Clowe on his flank helps, and he’s having a career season for a reason. Pavelski is a little more impressive, playing with Eager and Mitchell and still doing an impressive job affecting the play north. That shouldn’t really surprise anyone at this point though. The top line is just fine too, and even though Thornton sees slightly more offensive situations than Marleau and Pavelski, he’s still an extremely dangerous player. Adding Couture on his left side is even scarier, because the Sharks have themselves a real player on their hands.
Pretty by the numbers stuff on the blueline, as Murray and Boyle see the top opposition on the most regular basis. Boyle didn’t play the last time out against Calgary, but has recently returned to the lineup. A popular blog mate of FlamesNation is eagerly awaiting the status of Sharks defenceman Niclas Wallin, who’s missed the last two games with an upper body injury.
It sounds like the Sharks will be going with their workhorse in Antti Niemi in net tonight.
All the Flames can do is make it difficult for teams to eliminate them right now. The more Calgary can scratch and claw for wins and points, the larger chance they’ll still be able to have something to play for on April 9th becomes. At this point, Calgary can only do one thing, and that’s win as much as possible…and then do a really good job of crossing their fingers too.