FGD: Gagnez s’il vous plaît

The Calgary Flames roll into Montreal for one of two meetings with the Canadiens this season, and after two lackluster defeats, the Flames hope to get on the winning side for the first time (5:30 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).  Calgary started their three game road trip with a 5-2 loss in St. Louis on Monday, one of the worst outings we’ve seen from the Flames in a while.

It was just an overall poor outing Monday afternoon, with the team showing next to no punch offensively to go along with poor transition play and shoddy defensive work.  As Kent wrote earlier this week, no team is this bad and things will get better.  However, knowing how competitive the Western Conference is going to be this season, making things get better much sooner rather than later is the biggest key right now.

The Lineup

It looks like the same lineup for the Flames tonight that they put out against the Blues, save for the goaltender.  Calgary will go back to Miikka Kiprusoff after Henrik Karlsson allowed a five spot in his first start of the season.  Even though the decision to start their backup was a little surprising on Monday, the defeat can’t be pinned soley on him.  Karlsson wasn’t overly strong, in fact he was pretty shaky throughout, but the Flames weren’t winning with Kiprusoff in net either.

No line combinations at morning skate in Montreal, so it leaves many wondering if Brent Sutter is going to try something new to try and shake up his listless squad, or if he’ll stick with the same groupings as the previous two games.  It’s been tough to pick out consistent strong performances from the forward group thus far, as the team hasn’t been very good.  Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay have been the two sticking out for me.  Here were lines and pairings the last couple games:

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

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

It sounds like Anton Babchuk will sit out his second consecutive game as a healthy scratch, as he’s been anything but impressive since the start of training camp.  He was skating late after practice, an indication he will be the odd man out on the blueline.  There will be a lot of focus on the pairing of Bouwmeester and Butler, as they’ve both really struggled through the opening two games.  If Sutter is going to use that duo against the top talent on the other side, they’re going to have to improve, and in a hurry.

The Opponent

Montreal is off to a decent start to the season.  Having lost their opener in Toronto, the Habs rolled into Winnipeg for a massive event and spanked the Jets 5-1 in their franchise opener.  Tonight, Montreal plays their home opener after three days off and they’re beat up in the process.

The Canadiens lost Mike Cammalleri against the Jets thanks to a freak accident, as he was clipped by the skate of teammate Yannick Weber in the first period.  It’s gone down as a leg laceration and he’ll miss ten days to two weeks, which is good news when you saw the initial injury.  Up front, the Habs are also without former Hitmen standout Ryan White who has yet to be cleared from a groin injury.  After missing training camp thanks to offseason shoulder surgery, Lars Eller will return to the lineup tonight.

It’s also a beat up blueline in Montreal, losing Jaroslav Spacek to an upper body injury in Sunday’s affair.  Spacek joins Andrei Markov (knee) and Chris Campoli (torn hamstring) on the injured list, as once again the Habs are seeing their defence corps stretched very thin.  Last year it was Markov and Josh Gorges missing significant time, leading to an increased role for P.K. Subban.  Well, it’s different injured defencemen this time, but it doesn’t diminish how important Subban is going to be for this team in the early stages of the season.

Subban’s possession numbers were extremely strong last year, even with a 48.5% offensive zone start.  Put into tough situations against very good opposition, the exciting blueliner thrived and took some major steps in his rookie season.  I was very surprised at how quickly he came along, knowing how much of a circus he was at times during Montreal’s 2010 playoff run.

Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta
Travis Moen-Tomas Plekanec-Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche-David Desharnais-Andrei Kostitsyn
Lars Eller-Andreas Engqvist-Aaron Palushaj

Hal Gill-P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges-Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin-Yannick Weber

Carey Price will get the start in net, coming off a couple solid performances to start the season.

The Story

That’s a verrrrrrrrry supsect blueline for the Habs, so the Flames need to take advantage.  There are matchups to exploit virtually every time the Flames are on the ice, save for the Gill-Subban pairing.  Depending on how Sutter rolls the lines, if Calgary is going, they can wreak some havoc in the Montreal end.  Whatever the Flames do, though, getting off to the same start they did last time out in Montreal is not the best idea.  The Habs went up 4-0 at home last February before Calgary battled back to tie things; Subban won the game in overtime.

  • RKD

    The Flames will be in tough tonight. I would play Babchuk, he’s a PP specialist. I’m sure Tanguay has some extra motivation against his old team. Hope the loss of Cammy and Spacek is too much for the Habs to overcome. Last season, the Flames were a pretty solid road team.

    • BobB

      Well… we all knew this was coming, because Babs is a horrible defender.

      Which certainly makes your question a good one.

      Which begs the question “Why did we re-sign him?”

      Which only furthers the imbalance of our “D” core, because Babs at least could be a 2 steps forward, 3 back kinda difference maker.

      I feel like we just have a 1 step back replacement in his spot.

      Montreal is a very fast team, so I sure hope Kipper is ready to be bombarded tonight.

  • icedawg_42

    I’ll one-up you Pat, Babchuck has not looked good since he first donned the Flaming C. Im not surprised he’s a healthy scratch. I AM surprised he’s being paid 2.5 mil. Anywhooo….the Flames “shoulda” pounced on a shaky Halak the other day too. Lets hope they not only come out strong, but put together more than 20 mins of decent hockey.

  • Super_Gio

    Bab’s is out again? Man…I get he hasn’t been good but neither has Buttler or Jbust. I think we need him for the PP! But I guess Sutter’s doghouse is a tough one to get out of.

  • icedawg_42

    in butter we trust. seems like the annointed one has a bit of the jolly ranchers demeanor. guess feastmeister and butta may have differing veiws of babs.

  • Vintage Flame

    I agree with Pat, that the standouts have been Tanguay and Glencross. Good efforts from both guys.

    One other guy that has stood out for me, and not in a good way, is Stempniak. Not sure what it is, but it seems like he isn’t quite skating with the line right. Seems like he out there skating around trying to learn the tendencies of the other guys, especially coming into the offensive zone.

  • xis10ce

    More importantly than why did we resign Badchuk (which I don’t agree with for starters)for a lot more than I figure he’s worth, how the hell did he get a NTC!!!

  • BobB

    @Pat Steinberg

    Karlsson wasn’t overly strong, in fact he was pretty shaky throughout, but the Flames weren’t winning with Kiprusoff in net either.

    I wanted to ask you about this Pat, cause I heard it a few times yesterday on the fan.

    In your eyes, does that mean?

    A. Our goaltending isn’t good enough?
    B. Our team was so inept, no goaltending would win that game?
    C. Give Karlsson a break only No.1 goalies deserve a lot of heat.
    D. Goaltending is irrelevant.

    I agree with the sentiment, as a passing comment, but you’ve said it a few times so I’m wondering if you feel more strongly than…

    “Man, we were so bad we didn’t deserve to win no matter who was in net.”

    I thought Karl was pretty bad, honestly. Close to outcome-changing, bad. I would think Kipper would have been better, but the team was in fact horrible and I really doubt Kipper would have held StL. to one goal.

    Maybe this is what you’re saying.

    • That’s how I see it. Karlsson wasn’t very good, but being outshot 2-1 (and managing 2 shots while trailing in the third) means anything but a herculean effort by a puck stopper would have meant a loss in that game. The goaltending wasn’t good. Neither were the skaters.

    • In your eyes, does that mean?

      A. Our goaltending isn’t good enough? B. Our team was so inept, no goaltending would win that game? C. Give Karlsson a break only No.1 goalies deserve a lot of heat. D. Goaltending is irrelevant.

      Option C my friend. Goaltending was great, but the Flames were awful in front of their tenders, so I’m not sure who would have won that game.

      At this point, I’m not sold either Flames goalie is going to steal games on a regular basis, so the team has to be better in front.

  • icedawg_42

    part of looking like a good goaltender is having your skaters angle guys off to bad shooting angles, clearing bodies out of your way, clearing pucks out of dangerous shooting areas..Karlsson wasn’t good, but the Flames made him look worse.
    Neither Kipper nor Karlsson is going to “steal” 40 games.

  • everton fc

    Perhaps the Flames can leave Babchuk in Montreal via a trade, seeing the Habs blueline is resting in the physio room these days. Perhaps he waives the NTC in order to get some ice time.

    @Vintage Flame
    Agree w/you on Stempniak. He’ll pleasantly surprise us all at some point, me thinks. But he needs the right line mates.

    (What’s with Bourque… Yet again?!)

    • icedawg_42

      LOL…or accidentally just leave him at the airport – or better yet, swap his ticket out for a flight to siberia. –Bork needs to spend a night in the press box.

  • icedawg_42

    there are people in montreal that can make people disappear if ya know what i mean. lol maybe they can take care of anton badcontract. borque is bourque, no different than the last couple of seasons. please refer back to my observations of last december folks.

  • icedawg_42

    Is it just me or is Butter a little off in his goaltending game assignment?

    I get that they want to give Kipper more rest but would it not make more sense to have Karlsson play the games against the EC teams and 1/2 of the B2B’s and use your starter (Who in theory should be the better player) for the WC games where the added value of denying your playoff competition relative points exists?

    I mean that strikes me as the more ideal way to split the time.

  • I don’t get why so many people are perplexed over starting Karlson the second game of the season. Our first game was that saturday night, it was an 8pm start instead of a regular 7pm start because it was a CBC game. It also started later cause of stupid home opening theatrics(Well maybe not stupid, but maybe tell people the game starts at 7:30 so that puck drop is at 8 likes its suppose to be), so the game also ended a lot later than a typical home game. Now the next day they flew into St Louis, not quite a two time zone difference, but damn close, and then the next day they have to play a game at 12pm. The St Louis game for all purposes might as well have been back to back, so it would make sense to start Karlson if thats what people want, him on the second half of back to backs(maybe first half depending on opponent). So that move does not bother me at all.

    Fact is, doesn’t matter who was playing in net that game, if the flames play like that infront of any they are gonna lose.

    Lets hope for a better effort tonight.

    And I agree with the trade calls for babchuk, if you are not gonna play him, what the hell is the point of him on the roster, not playing him at all already destroys his trade value.

  • icedawg_42

    Martin prefers to do hard-line matchups based on power versus power. Even more so when he’s using Moen (a defensive specialist) with one of the top two centers.

    Expect Moen-Plekanec-Cole to be matched against Iginla and Tanguay with Gill-Subban on defense.

    Gomez’s line would probably be the most dangerous for Calgary, the three of them are absolute monsters on possession together (As a result Pacioretty lead the league in Corsi amongst forwards with more than 30 games). All three have elite speed and its probably one of the fastest lines in the entire NHL. They get the second matchup so probably will face Jokinen’s unit.

    Desharnias’s unit will get more sheltering. He and Darche are stellar against AHLers and 4th liners but are unproven against 3rd liners. Kostitsyn is solidly 2nd line material though and can be expected to somewhat carry the unit.

    4th line won’t see much ice with a pair of AHLers and Eller who is just back after missing the entire summer due to injury. If he plays well though, I wouldn’t be surprise to see Eller move up to the third line.

    Emelin and Diaz have shown a lot of promise since coming to NA but haven’t entirely adapted to smaller ice and the demands of a Martin system. No one really knows what to expect from them at this point.

    Montreal’s style is more heavily dependant on the score than most teams. Agressive speed and puckmoving game when behind, passive defensive-interception and counter-attack when behind.

    Special teams:
    2nd and 3rd lines form the forward groups on the power play, with Cole maybe replacing Darche. Plekanec-Subban and Diaz-Weber on the points. Not as deadly as they usually are without Cammaleri and Markov. Subban and Pacioretty are probably the most dangerous man advantage players remaining, although Desharnais and Darche were surprisingly potent there last season.

    Penalty kill is Moen-Plekanec Gorges-Gill for the first unit which is world class. 2nd unit is mis-mash of strong talent and yet unproven players with Engqvist-Gionta Emelin/Diaz-Subban.

      • @Kent Wilson
        Diaz was an emerging star in the Swiss NLA, one of the top defensemen there last season and was signed at the world championships. Was expected to start in Hamilton this season to adjust to NA but injuries and relatively good pre-season play earned him a spot. So far he’s played ahead of both Emelin and Weber on the defensive depth chart.

        Very good puckmoving and mobility skills and decent shot. Defensive positioning isn’t quite at Canadiens standards (Habs staff emphasis this above all ice for blueliners) but that’s probably a ice-size transition issue. Not a lot of physical play but Montreal doesn’t tend to emphasis that unless you have to mobility to use it and not be caught out of position (Subban’s excellent skating gives him free reign here).

        NHLE had him at around 9 goals and 30 points last season. If he sticks in the lineup and on the second unit powerplay (which tends to have plenty of talent in Montreal) he might approach that this year. But once healthy competition will be stiff for Montreal defensemen, having 9 guys that could reasonably be expected to play NHL minutes. Subban, Markov and Gorges are the only ones absolutely guaranteed ice-time when healthy.

  • Les Flamers? Non merci.

    Actually I would like to see them put together a better performance than what they’ve done thus far. If for no reason other than to find buyers for some of the hockey tickets I have yet to sell.

  • Le centre Bell is going to be jacked up tonight for sure, very important for the Flames to get off to a good start to try and take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. If Babs is already in Sutter’s doghouse, why on earth did they give him 2.5 million bucks with a NTC? Puzzling for sure. It would be nice to see the Flames pull off a win tonight, especially on the Hab’s home opener.