Not since game one of the season has the Battle of Alberta held so much importance, even if the seperation between the two teams is rather large. As the Flames and Oilers meet for the fifth time this year (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960), the stakes are rather high for Calgary, with a loss ending their season for all intents and purposes. Because of that fact, a rather inept Oilers team might just come to play.
Yeah, things are still very, very dire for the Calgary Flames, but they’re not completely dead in the water…yet. The good news is, since their 6-3 loss on Wednesday, a certain number hasn’t moved…
Elimination Number: 5
So, all Calgary can do tonight is not subtract from this number by their own doing. With Anaheim playing Chicago and Dallas taking on Nashville, the number could go down regardless, depending on what happens in those games. With a number of different permutations, look back in the postgame to find out where it sits for the Flames.
It doesn’t look like much is going to change for the Flames tonight, with Miikka Kiprusoff getting the start in net. I’d expect him to start every game that means something down the stretch, and then maybe Head Coach Brent Sutter would think of giving the ball to Henrik Karlsson if indeed the team is eliminated prior to April 9th. The goaltending was just one of the areas well below the grade on Wednesday, and I’m still trying to figure out what Kiprusoff was doing on the Logan Couture marker in the third period.
Daymond Langkow continues to skate, and continues to progress, but he won’t be playing tonight. It seems as if the player wants to return to the lineup, as you’d imagine he would after a year out of the game, but the Flames have some other things to take into consideration. Even with retro LTIR situations, it may still be difficult to get Langkow in the lineup, and it might mean re-assigning someone to the American Hockey League. While that would be easy in, say, January, it’s not so easy right now. The Flames have only one more recall left, as they’ve already burned four since the trade deadline, and it makes more sense to keep players up right now in the event of the postseason.
So, that means we’ll probably see the same line combinations the Flames have been going with the last little while, which are subject to change numerous times during the game. Here’s what they’ll probably start with…
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
The line combos have a much better chance of staying together tonight, playing against AHL opposition. The Sharks and what they throw at you can sometimes force a coach to look at different ways to limit the damage, which isn’t so much the case with the Oilers. We should also see a bounce back game from Bouwmeester, who was AWFUL on Wednesday.
Some things change, and some things stay the same. Sure, the Oilers are coming off their first ever first overall pick in Jnue’s draft, and sure they even found a full on potential superstar, but here’s what doesn’t change: Edmonton can’t stay healthy, and Edmonton is going to finish 30th in the NHL. This is not a good team to start with, and they’d probably be fighting for, um, 24th in the NHL if they weren’t so damn beat up. But look at this list of injuries:
Ryan Whitney, ankle injury, done for the season
Taylor Hall, ankle injury, done for the season
Ales Hemsky, shoulder injury, done for the season
Sam Gagner, hand injury, done for the season
Shawn Horcoff, ankle injury, out till late March
Gilbert Brule, concussion, indefinite
For a bad team, adding those injuries is going to absolutely sewer you, and that’s exactly what has happened. The Oilers have lost eight straight games, and they’ve scored seven times in those games. You can kind of understand why they haven’t scored, when you look at this lineup:
Ryan Jones-Andrew Cogliano-Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi-Liam Reddox-Linus Omark
JF Jacques-Colin Fraser-Teemu Hartikainen
Steve MacIntyre-Ryan O’Marra-Chris Vande Velde
Tom Gilbert-Ladislav Smid
Jeff Petry-Jim Vandermeer
Theo Peckham-Jason Strudwick
Not surprisinly, the Oilers are the worst or close to the worst in every single category that matters in the NHL. They’re powerplay is a league worst, clicking at just over 13%, but I guess you can sort of give credit…they’re 30th ranked penalty kill has actually climbed to 28th, as they’ve been able to improve in that greatly over the last few months. It’s actually a significant accomplishment, as they were SO bad at some points during the season.
Devan Dubnyk will get the start in net for Edmonton.
There’s no way, under any circumstance, the Calgary Flames can leave Edmonton without two points. The Oilers may very well come out with their very best possible game, and it still can not, and should not, be good enough. At this point, I don’t think Flames fans care if they win in a shootout or get ten lucky bounces and win…but whatever happens, Calgary must win tonight, or their season will be over, even for the most optimistic thinkers.