The Calgary Flames finish off a nightmare four game road trip this afternoon when they take on the Minnesota Wild for the second time this season (4 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960). Calgary has lost all three prior games in Columbus, Detroit, and St. Louis and have done it in different ways. Knowing where the team is heading right now, a win in any fashion at this point is pretty important.
I’ve gotta be honest, when I saw the Flames sitting 13th in the Western Conference this morning, I wasn’t surprised. However, I was surprised when I saw the Flames sitting nine points back of the final playoff spot; I guess I hadn’t quite understood just how much the pack has moved. If this season continues in the trend it has much longer, and we’ll be talking about a lost year far too early on.
It’s amazing to think the Flames haven’t lost three games in a row, even though they sit four games below the .500 mark after 21 games. Their last game wasn’t necessarily awful. but they were rather punchless against the Blues for 40 minutes before pushing in the final frame unsuccessfully. Kent pointed out the rather poor luck Calgary has ran into of late, as well, especially Friday with three thwarted breakaway attempts.
In an attempt to jump start their top offensive players, the Flames have juggled their lines and broken up Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay in the process. Iginla’s best game of the season was November 3rd in Detroit when he was on the same line he’ll play on tonight, with Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross. It’s also two games and two lines for newcomer Blake Comeau, who will play with Mikael Backlund as his centre.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Roman Horak-Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-T.J. Brodie
I know it seems like Backlund has been "demoted" to the third line, but in occassions like this, you’ll see the top nine forwards get fairly equal ice time. There’s no doubting the Flames need more from their top scorers from a year prior, as both Iginla and Tanguay have really struggled the last couple weeks. Their depth can’t always pick them up.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net once again this afternoon.
Well, the Minnesota Wild aren’t lying down as we approach the two month mark of the season, as they continue to win games; they’re also on top of the Northwest Division and have been for a little while now. Minnesota sits 13-6-3 on the year, thanks chiefly to their ridiculous goaltending. We shouldn’t be surprised at how good Niklas Backstrom has been so far this season, because it’s something he’s made a regular occurence over the last few seasons. However, seeing Josh Harding match him stride for stride has been rather impressive. Backstrom gets the start this afternoon with a .935 save percengage, including .953 at even strength.
When looking at Minnesota’s underlying numbers, it becomes even more clear how much they’re relied on their goaltending. With just one player in a plus Corsi number, the Wild are the opposite of a possession team; what’s more astounding is they have just three players with an offensive zone start over 50%, and two of those guys have only played a pair of games. Minnesota spends a lot of time in their own end and do not affect the play very well; they hang on to win a LOT of hockey games.
Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Devin Setoguchi
Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Matt Cullen-Cal Clutterbuck
Darrol Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson
Colton Gillies-Warren Peters-Brad Staubitz
Clayton Stoner-Nick Schultz
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk-Nate Prosser
How this team is winning with that blueline is beyond me, even with their stupid goaltending. Koivu leads the team in scoring with 16 points while Heatley, Cullen, Setoguchi, and Bouchard are into the double digits as well. Minnesota is without Guillaume Latendresse with a concussion and are decimated on the blueline. Marek Zidlicky is out with a concussion as well, while defensive mainstay Greg Zanon has missed 15 games with a groin injury; he may return tonight.
Yeah, Calgary should beat this team, regardless of the record of the Wild. But that doesn’t seem to matter with this team, as they have done a really good job finding ways to lose hockey games. Some lineup changes may spark the lineup, or it may not, but we all get the situation at this point. If this thing doesn’t turn in a real hurry, this season is over far too early on.