It’s been a busy and eventful last 48 hours or so for the Calgary Flames, as they’ve mad six roster changes over that span preparing for their game tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks (6:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). The Flames will welcome three new faces to the lineup tonight, including Mikael Backlund who will play his first game of the season between Calgary’s two leading scorers.
While I don’t think the rash of moves made by the Flames since Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Minnesota come as a direct result from that single game, it was a third time the team had fallen back below the .500 mark after working to get back to even the game before. There’s been a lot of talk about Calgary not being accountable enough to their young players in the system. Tonight, with two new members in the lineup, that’s not the case.
We’ll start with Backlund, who returns after missing the last 14 games with a broken finger suffered during training camp. He takes the spot between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay and there’s no denying he’s the best (and possibly only) fit between the two top scorers on the team. Backlund took some huge strides with the team last year, proving to us that he can play top six minutes against good players and not get pushed around.
His activation off IR meant a roster spot had to be opened, which it was when the Flames assigned Niklas Hagman to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League; he was put on waivers Thursday morning. There really is no fit for Hagman on the team, and I really haven’t been all that thrilled with his play this year, even though many point to his counting numbers as reason why he should stay on the big team. He accomplishes very little on the ice, plain and simple.
Speaking of IR, the Flames placed defenceman Anton Babchuk there on Wednesday with a broken left hand while forward Brendan Morrison was moved there the day after thanks to "inadequate rehabilitation from ACL knee surgery". That opened up two new spots on the roster which were filled by T.J. Brodie and Paul Byron respectively. Both will play tonight.
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-David Moss-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-T.J. Brodie
I’m not sure I’m totally on board with Matt Stajan being out of the lineup, as he’s been relatively decent since returning to the lineup, in his role. Again, he counts $3.5 million against the cap, so we want more from him than a bottom six guy, but the last number of games I’ve felt he’s been okay. That said, if the team is hoping to serve some youth, having Horak, Backlund, and Byron play will make a lot of people happy.
Brodie will play third pairing even strength minutes, which is what will give him the best chance to succeed early on here. What I’ll really be looking for is his play on the powerplay, where he will see some time tonight. Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight against Chicago while things remain up in the air for Saturday’s game in Colorado, although I think there’s a chance #34 goes in Denver as well.
Good news for Flames fans might be in the works tonight, as it looks like there’s a good chance David Bolland will miss his second consecutive game with a leg bruise he suffered when blocking a shot on Tuesday. When Bolland isn’t in the lineup, other teams have a better chance at winning, plain and simple as he’s that good at what he does. There are very few tough minutes centres in this league who are as effective at both ends of the ice as he is.
Chicago’s coming off a 6-3 win over the 1992 Ottawa Senators, also sometimes referred to as the current Columbus Blue Jackets. There’s not a better way to snap a losing skid than the bunch in Columbus, and they did their part to help a three game losing streak for the Hawks. That said, Chicago has lost three of four and seem to have come back a little from their scorching 8-2-3 start; they’re now 9-4-3 and sitting on top of the Central Division.
Patrick Kane leads the team in scoring and has been extremely effective since his move to centre at the beginning of the year; he scored a pretty breakaway goal against Columbus last night. Because of guys like Bolland and Marcus Kruger, along with Chicago’s strong possession ability, Head Coach Joel Quenneville is able to give the high ground on a regular basis to his top two lines. Kane’s group is up over 60% on thier offensive zone start while the line centered by Jonathan Toews is all over 55%.
Dan Carcillo-Patrick Kane-Patrick Sharp
Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Marcus Kruger-Mikael Frolik
Rostislav Olesz-Jamal Mayers-Andrew Brunnette
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy-Niklas Hjalmarsson
John Scott-Steve Montador
Neither Hawks goaltender has been overly good thus far, but tonight we’ll see number one Corey Crawford take a rest while Ray Emery will get the start in net.
This game worries me for a number of reasons, chiefly the 28th ranked Chicago powerplay. There is too much talent on that group for that number to be so low, and they potted a pair last night against Columbus. It’s been something worked on for the last number of games, and the Hawks are determined to turn their man advantage into a similar threat that finished 4th in the NHL last season. Calgary’s penalty kill cannot be as porous as it’s been the last 10 games, where it’s been under 80%.