I had no choice but to use the Coke Christmas polar bears, as we get closer to the festive season; but also because a date with the Blue Jackets must feel just like Christmas for a lot of NHL teams. After beating the league’s top team on Friday night, the Calgary Flames start a four game road trip tonight against the league worst Blue Jackets (5 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Whether you want to hold Friday’s 5-2 win over Chicago up as Calgary’s best effort this year or point to their 4-1 win in Detroit earlier this month, I’m fine either way. Both were good examples of what can happen when this Flames team executes their blueprint: they’ll stay competitive and maybe even pull out a win or two against some pretty darn good opponents. Against THIS opponent tonight, they darn well better win if they do the same!
Return of the Mo tonight in Columbus! It looks like Brendan Morrison will return to the Flames lineup tonight, officially a game time decision. Morrison hasn’t played since Calgary’s November 4th loss in Buffalo, missing games as a healthy scratch and most recently as an IR casualty. If he does return, it’ll be in place of Matt Stajan on the fourth line between Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos.
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman
Chris Butler-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
T.J. Brodie- Scott Hannan
With Morrison on the active roster, David Moss will move to the IR with an injury suffered earlier this month. Moss hasn’t played since Calgary’s 4-3 win over Colorado more than a week ago and isn’t on this four game trip, meaning the earliest he’ll likely return would be a week from tomorrow at home to Nashville.
The Jokinen trio was at their very best on Friday night I felt, going shift-for-shift with Chicago’s only consistently effective unit centred by Jonathan Toews. All three of them finished at least even on the night in terms of 5-on-5 scoring chances, which is saying something knowing how many opportunities Toews and Marian Hossa had early on. The job that line is doing, specifically the duo fo Glencross and Jokinen, has allowed that matchups to be much easier on Iginla et al on a fairly regular basis.
It looks like Henrik Karlsson will get the start in net for the Flames, taking on the team that helped him earn his first win of his NHL career. Miikka Kiprusoff, who has been stellar to start the season, will likely see the remaining three games on this trip in Detroit, St. Louis, and Minnesota.
Ah yes, the 4-13-2 Columbus Blue Jackets: this season’s version of the 1992 Ottawa Senators. Honestly, knowing the lineup assembled by Columbus, there is no excuse for this group. Should Jackets fans have expected a Minnesota Wild esque start? No, of course not. But with additions of Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, and a couple key re-signings, the pieces were in place for at least an improved group.
Well, that hasn’t come to pass yet, although the team is playing much more competitive hockey over the last couple weeks. One thing they haven’t gotten is NHL level goaltending on anything close to a regular basis, with Curtis Sanford getting the start in net. He’s elevated himself with some decent, yet limited work thus far. He starts tonight as much because Steve Mason was injured during morning skate, taking a puck in practice and leaving.
Vaclav Prospal-Jeff Carter-Rick Nash
Antoine Vermette-Samuel Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett
R.J. Umberger-Mark Letestu-Ryan Johansen
Cody Bass-Derek MacKenzie-Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin-Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot-James Wisniewski
John Moore-Grant Clitsome
You can see some new faces on this Jackets team, as GM Scott Howson has tried to slowly improve his flailing group, adding Nikitin in a trade with St. Louis while acquiring Letestu from Pittsburgh. Columbus is without Kristian Huselius until the end of the month as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral muscle. They’re a relatively healthy bunch, as Radek Martinek (concussion) is their only other regular on the shelf.
Just don’t lose. This is a Columbus group that, sure, has been playing better as of late. But they’re also a bad hockey team and a group the Flames should beat if they do anything close to the efforts we referenced above. I ask them not to lose as much for my sanity on the call-in show tonight as anything else.