With just four games remaining this season, and things looking very bleak for the Calgary Flames, many believe these final contests are just a formality. While there is very little hope of the Flames being postseason bound, they aren’t mathematically eliminated at this point, which means there’s no excuse for them to play like a team going through the motions. Tonight, they play game 79 against a St. Louis Blues team relishing their role as spoiler (6 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
Regulation losses from Los Angeles and Dallas last night were helpful for the Flames, as neither were able to gain any ground on Calgary. Heading into tonight, things look like this…
Elimination Number: 2.5
The other team that can affect that number is also in action tonight, with the eighth place Chicago Blackhawks on the road in Columbus. Calgary can only take care of their own business, but a Hawks loss might be nice for fans still keeping the faith.
The biggest story for this game comes up front for the Flames, as Daymond Langkow returns to the game and returns to the team after more than a year away. The neck injury Langkow suffered in March of 2010 was one of the scariest moments I can remember watching hockey, and there was a time during that delay when I literally felt sick to my stomach. All of his teammates were out on the ice and it looked like as serious an injury as you can possibly suffer in hockey; his subsequent recovery has been nothing short of incredible, and it’s been good to see him back skating. It’ll be even better to see him back in game action, likely in a limited role.
Langkow will start the night on a line with Greg Nemiz and Lance Bouma, and it’s totally unrealistic for fans to expect him to make an immediate large impact on this team. As Kent wrote earlier today, Daymond has been one of the most important players on this Flames team over the last number of seasons, and he has given them their only true head-to-head threat. He obviously won’t be deployed like that off the hop tonight, and may not be for the rest of the season, but seeing him back in game action for the final four games will be good for him heading into next year.
No one is shedding any tears with Langkow replacing Ales Kotalik in the lineup. Kotalik returned to his rather useless form upon returning to the team from Abbotsford of the American Hockey League; after a good first game back, he became invisible and showed nothing to justify why he was making three million dollars per season. Count me as one of the thousands not surprised by this turn of events.
The only other lineup change tonight sees Brett Carson find his way into the lineup in place of Steve Staios. You have to imagine it’s an opportunity for Carson to show what he’s got, after seeing very little time since being claimed off waivers at the end of February. He’s appeared in two games with the Flames after playing just 13 with the Hurricanes this season, so you’d imagine Calgary is hoping to see what they have, as he’s a restricted free agent come July 1st. Here are lines and pairings tonight…
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma-Daymond Langkow-Greg Nemisz
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Brett Carson
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after another shaky outing against the Ducks on Wednesday night. I’d like to see Henrik Karlsson at least one more time this season, maybe twice, so we’ll see how the Flames decide to manage their backup in the final four here.
This is a Blues team that has been riddled with injuries and bad luck this season, and it’s obviously hurt their record. St. Louis isn’t going to the playoffs, but you wouldn’t know from some of the scores they’re put up lately. Most recently, it was a 10-3 (!) win over the Detroit Red Wings; a shocking result, especially with the game being played in Motown. Overall, the Blues have points in four straight games, and even with this season going down as a disappointment, they’ve played Calgary tight in every game, and they’re still dangerous.
St. Louis has had their injury issues this season, and even late this season, they’re missing some key members of their lineup. The most significant loss has been Barret Jackman on the blueline, but the Blues get some good news in his return tonight. Jackman has been out since March 10th with a broken index finger, and getting his defensive presence back in the lineup will be huge.
Up front, Alex Steen remains out of the lineup with a lower body injury; an injury that will likely keep him out the remainder of the season as well. Steen is a valuable player who does a nice job in the offensive zone agianst depth opposition, which obviously has it’s impact on a hockey game. It’s easy to forget David Perron, who’s been out since November with a concussion and won’t be back until next year; his worth is high, and the team has certainly missed his two way play. So once again, the forward depth has been tested.
Chris Stewart has certainly pulled his weight for the Blues offensively since arriving with the team, with 14 goals and 20 points in 21 games to this point. No one can deny his offensive gifts, and they’ve been on full display to this point; moving him away from the David Backes line certainly helps him, as he isn’t saddled with the same matchup responsiblity of a top line winger. Backes remains the most important forward on this team, with a solid possession rate despite his tough, tough matchups on a nightly basis. After missing two games as disipline for over sleeping and missing practice, T.J. Oshie also returns to the lineup tonight. Here are lines and pairings for the Blues…
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Matt D’Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Chris Porter-T.J. Oshie-B.J. Crombeen
Ryan Reaves-Phil McRae-Cam Janssen
Kevin Shattenkirk-Barret Jackman
Roman Polak-Nikita Nikitin
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
It hasn’t been a great season for Jaroslav Halak, who was touted as the answer to the Blues goaltending questions when he was acquired during the summer. He’ll get the start tonight, and his numbers are merely average, at best, and while injuries have played into it, he hasn’t played at the insanely high level he did during Montreal’s playoff run of 2010. He’s still a better option than Ty Conklin, who’s well…Ty Conklin. And because it’s the last time I’m going to mention Ty Conklin this year, here’s a great memory of Ty Conklin.
Ty Conklin. Ty Conklin. Ty Conklin.
What Calgary Flames team shows up will be very interesting to me. While they’ve said all the right things about not giving up and pressing to the end, we’ve seen plenty of teams this season have some major letdown games following tough losses. Wednesday’s home loss to Anaheim certainly falls in the "tough loss" category, as it took their playoff chances below one percent…we want to see them keep pushing, and we want to see them finish this season strong, so hopefully the further that tonight.