FGD: Road Trip

The month of October is a curious one for the Calgary Flames, as they opened their season Saturday against a non-conference opponent and follow that with three games on the road, two more against teams from the East.  Following that, Calgary spends the rest of the tenth month at the Saddledome, with a six game homestand carrying them past All Saints Day.  This afternoon, the Flames start a three game trip in St. Louis (12 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).

Calgary lost their season opener Saturday for the eighth time in nine tries, as the Pittsburgh Penguins ran their show for the middle stages of the hockey game, building up a 4-1 lead before eventually triumphing 5-3.  We spoke of "every game matters" for the Flames prior to the weekend, and while the team came out in a good fashion, they made far too many mistakes in the second period, making their third period comeback all for not.  Consistency is needed from Calgary this season; not just game to game, but from period to period.

The Lineup

As it stands right now, the Flames will ice the same lineup they did against Pittsburgh at the ‘Dome.  While it wasn’t a banner game for the team, there were some good performances, both up front and on the back end.  Curtis Glencross was very strong, doing a nice job driving his line at times while also setting the physical tone for periods of the game.  Lee Stempniak certainly showed he can be dangerous offensively, while Mark Giordano played at a high level at both ends of the ice.

Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman-Roman Horak-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Cory Sarich-Derek Smith

It’ll be Smith’s first game of the season, as he impressed the coaching staff in the preseason.  Smith will play in place of Anton Babchuk, who has not been good so far.

Tanguay had a strong night as well, and I thought he was the best player on his line, while Iginla certainly struggled in his first game, having missed the entire preseason with a back ailment.  In his own words, Iginla was "not very good" on Saturday, but I think can be cut a little slack knowing the circumstances.  Horak seemed just fine to me, as I never saw him overmatched in his matchups against more experienced NHLers.  He may not have dominated at the other end, but did just fine overall, which is all you can really ask in a first game scenario.

I know there were some critics of Chris Butler’s first game with the Flames, as it came up a few times on Overtime and has also appeared here at FlamesNation.  Maybe it was my vantage point high up, or maybe I just didn’t see things the same way, but I didn’t come away overly down on his play.  I know there were a few mistakes made, but who didn’t make mistakes in that second period?  I do know Butler has never played a full 82 game season in the NHL, mainly because he’s never been consistent enough to stay in the lineup.

Henrik Karlsson gets the start in net for the Flames, his first of the season.

The Opponent

Like the Flames, the Blues are coming off a season opening loss, falling 4-2 at the hands of the Nashville Predators.  It seems like the largest questions coming out of that game are centered on goaltender Jaroslav Halak.  A prized offseason acquisition one year ago, Halak had his ups and downs in his first season with the Blues, and struggled in the preseason by some accounts.  He allowed three goals on 15 shots to the Preds on Saturday, and he’ll get the start in net against Calgary.

St. Louis is a team many look to to take a step in the Western Conference this season, and you can understand why.  They have decent depth at forward and will look to a few players to take some more steps this season.  After being named captain this summer, there’s no question David Backes is their most important forward, seeing consistent tough assignments against the top end on the other side.  Names like Sobotka, Berglund and Steen provide solid depth down the lineup.

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Jamie Langenbrunner
T.J. Oshie-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Matt D’Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak

Colaiacovo suffered an upper body injury against the Preds and is doubtful for this afternoon, which means we’ll likely see Kent Huskins slot into the lineup as his replacement.  If so, it might also mean a pairing of Polak and Jackman, who were the main tough minutes blueliners on this squad one season ago.

Up front, B.J. Crombeen remains out of the lineup indefinetely with a broken left shoulder while David Perron’s recovery from a major concussion continues to be positive.  After being knocked out early last season, Perron hasn’t suffered any setbacks while ramping up his training, which is good news for both he and the Blues; Perron is a quality hockey player.

The Story

I know it’s only game two for both teams, but this game intrigues me for one main reason.  If the Flames are going to find a way back into the postseason, they have to do themselves some favors against the Western Conference opponents they’ll be battling with.  St. Louis is one of the teams who I believe will be in the mix for a playoff spot this year, so Calgary needs to get the job done in a head-to-head situation like this.