After a disappointing outing Friday night in Buffalo, the Calgary Flames finish off a three game road trip tonight in Colorado for their second meeting with the Avalanche (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). Thanks in part to an injury and some disappointing play, David Moss, Brendan Morrison and Cory Sarich will all sit this one out, giving us new looks up and down the lineup.
The first time these two teams met, the Flames were scored on first but were able to control the first two periods before holding off a furious Avalanche push in the final frame en route to a 4-2 win. These are important games for many different reasons, first and foremost being a division meeting. But I also think Colorado is going to be one of those teams sticking around in the playoff picture later in the season, so the Flames need to do what they can to get their points against them.
Moss will miss the game after blocking a shot against the Sabres Friday night, and while it doesn’t seem too serious, it sounds like the Flames are doing this as much for precautionary reasons as anything else. Morrison was benched for the entire third period against Buffalo, and I haven’t been overly impressed with his play since returning to the lineup, especially the last couple games. He was one of the Flames who was not strong against Detroit and he struggled for 40 minutes against the Sabres as well. These are lines that make sense but may not be how the Flames start the game against the Avalanche, as it was an optional skate this morning in Denver:
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Rene Bourque
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond-Tom Kostopoulos-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Derek Smith
Scott Hannan-Anton Babchuk
Hagman needs to do very much the same what Stajan has done since returning to the lineup, and that is play simple, effective, consistent hockey. Stajan hasn’t been great or in line with his $3.5 million annual hit, but he’s been decent centering the fourth line, which is really all you can ask for from him. Hagman needs to do the same or else he’s going to find himself back in the press box in fairly short order. I can’t say much about Letourneau-Leblond because, well, he’s not going to play much.
I don’t mind seeing Sarich sit, as he’s struggled the last couple games and was especially suspect against the Sabres. Smith has been fine in his time so far, and while he’s slotted into the top four on that grid above, I think you’ll see the pairings juggled as the night goes along. Babchuk had his best game of the season in Buffalo, as he attempted seven shots, getting two of them on net. He is what he is defensively, but when he’s being a factor offensively, he’s a whole lot more effective.
After Henrik Karlsson put in stellar work in a losing effort one game prior, Miikka Kiprusoff gets back in net for the Flames tonight.
After a fairly decent start to the season, the team has had their relative struggles since. Colorado was 6-2 off the hop, but have gone 1-3-1 since and have not been able to get anything positive going on home ice. While the Avalanche have put together a nice 6-1-1 road record, they’re just 1-4 at the Pepsi Center. It’s something the team has addressed many times, and while it’ll likely balance out as the season goes on, it’s something that has hampered the team early.
The last time the Flames played this team, it was with leading scorer Matt Duchene firmly in Head Coach Joe Sacco’s doghouse. He’s gotten himself out of there with some production since the Flames loss, with six points in his last four games, including a four point outing in a wild affair against Dallas two nights ago. The Avalanche lost that game 7-6 in overtime but were helped along by Duchene’s first career hat trick.
Matt Duchene-Paul Stastny-Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O’Reilly-Daniel Winnik
Joakim Lindstrom-T.J. Galiardi-David Jones
Cody McLeod-Jay McClement-Chuck Kobasew
Jan Hejda-Ryan O’Byrne
Kyle Quincey-Shane O’Brien
Ryan Wilson-Erik Johnson
That second line was without question Colorado’s best trio against in their first meeting with the Flames, and they’ve been crushing possession with offensive zone starts south of 45%; O’Reilly and Winnik are under 40%. They’ll take difficult matchups too and have combined for 23 points combined so far, which paints a pretty nice production picture. O’Reilly is tied with Duchene for the team lead in scoring with ten points.
This team lives and dies with it’s league-best powerplay, which is clicking at 27.9% early on this season, more than two points higher than the second ranked Ottawa man advantage. There is no doubting how offensively potent this Colorado team is, as was witnessed in the third period against the Flames last time out. However, they also are prone to some circus-like shifts in their own end and can be worn down effectively with a tough forecheck. They’re better than last year, but still have a lot of last year in them.
After being lit up for seven goals on Friday night, it’ll be Semyon Varlamov back in net for the Avalanche tonight.
Regardless of the numerous Calgary lineup changes, the Flames have a very simple blueprint. It was executed for three periods Thursday against Detroit and it ended up earning them a 4-1 victory. The night after, that same script wasn’t followed and they lost to Buffalo. Hey, the Flames know how to beat the Avalanche and staying with what they need to do will likely earn them some good results tonight. However, whether or not they do it is the largest question heading into seemingly every game this Calgary team plays.