It depends on who you ask, but some believe Calgary’s 4-1 win in Detroit earlier this month was their finest effort so far this season. That can be argued against Friday’s Chicago win, but one thing is true: the Flames were full marks for their November 3rd win over the Red Wings. Coming off a disappointing effort Monday in Columbus, the Flames could use another one of those efforts when they meet Detroit again tonight (5 pm, TSN and Sportsnet 960).
There’s no doubting how poorly Calgary’s 4-1 loss to Columbus on Monday sat with the Flames faithful, as my three-and-a-half hour call-in show following was evidence of. However, this team has shown an ability in recent years to bounce back the next game after a poor outing, so we’ll see if that’s the case here. Why Calgary cannot put together back-to-back solid efforts is a question no one can answer at this point, but it’s something I’ll explore a little more in-depth later this week.
It really is the return of Brendan Morrison tonight after it was speculated ahead of Monday’s game against the Blue Jackets. As such, Matt Stajan will exit the lineup for the Flames tonight, as Morrison will play between Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos. It’s the only change to the forward group, as the lines look virtually the same as they have the last number of contests.
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-T.J. Brodie
For Morrison, you have to hope he’s a little more with the play than he was prior to him going back on injured reserve. He had really struggled in his return from a knee injury last season, and more often than we would have liked we saw him behind the play. He did help out in the faceoff circle, and to this point is still Calgary’s best centre at taking draws statistically.
It’s the return of Smith to the active lineup as well, after missing the last two games as an unhealthy healthy scratch. Basically the coaching staff wanted to give Smith a little time to rest a few bumps and bruises, so he sat out a pair of games in favor of Cory Sarich.
Henrik Karlsson was decent in his fourth start of the season on Monday, but it’ll be back to Miikka Kiprusoff tonight for the Flames.
The last time Calgary saw Detroit, the Flames were handing them a sixth consecutive loss sending the Joe Louis Arena patrons home in a rather unhappy mood. Well since then, the Red Wings have seemingly righted the ship, winning six of their last eight entering tonight with wins in two consecutive. 11-7-1 Detroit enters action tonight eighth in the Western Conference returning home after a 2-2 four game road trip.
To say the Red Wings are a possession team would be an understatement at this point, as even in their losses thus far, they’ve had the puck vastly more than their opponents. That’s really not a surprise, as Mike Babcock’s team has made a habit of this over the last number of seasons. Through 19 games this year, Detroit doesn’t have one player under 56% on offensive zone starts, which tells you just how much they force the play to the right end of the ice.
That said, they’re two dynamo forwards have had their issues scoring to this point, specifically Henrik Zetterberg. With nine points thus far, he’s well below his usual pace, aided in large part to his 5.6% shooting percentage; a number about two points lower than his average over the last few seasons. He’s run into some bad luck and haven’t had the bounces go his way to this point, but with his possession numbers in the regularly stupid category (25.98 Corsi), you know that will turn at some point. Pavel Datsyuk is in very much the same boat, but does have 15 points as opposed to Zetterberg’s nine.
Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula-Henrik Zetterberg-Dan Cleary
Jiri Hudler-Darren Helm-Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom-Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall-Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl-Brad Stuart
On the injury front, the team has been without Ian White the past four games thanks to a fractured cheekbone suffered earlier this month. He may be ready to return tonight against Calgary, so you can expect the heavily sheltered Smith to exit the lineup if White is able to go.
Kent and Robert are among the more vocal in the "Jimmy Howard non-believer" club, but his numbers don’t lie so far this season. In 16 games, his .950 even strength save percentage is second only to Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom among goalies with ten or more starts this season. I’ll be curious to see how long Howard has to put up elite numbers like that to turn that esteemed pair into believers. For the record, I’m not the biggest Howard booster myself, so his totals thus far have caught my eye as well.
Plain and simple, the opponent doesn’t really matter for the Flames tonight. Head Coach Brent Sutter delivered an impassioned plea to his team in a 20 minute discussion with the assembled media on Tuesday afternoon. He needs his group to buy into "team play" philosophy, which means no more freelancing and refusal to cooperate from certain high profile players. 19 games into the season, this thing isn’t lost. But eventually Jay Feaster will be forced to call a spade a spade, admit this group isn’t going to do it, and start to accelerate his future plans. We’ll see if the Flames can stall that with a good effort in Detroit.