FGD: Try Again

The first time Calgary played Columbus this year, it ended in a 4-1 win for the Jackets in one of the Flames least inspired performances of the year.  Tonight, Calgary looks for their first three game winning streak of the season when they take on the Blue Jackets at the Saddledome (7 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).  It’s Calgary first of 16 games in the month of December, the busiest single month I can ever remember them playing.

Even during the 2010 Olympic year, Calgary didn’t play 16 games in one single month, so seeing that happen in a regular year is even more astounding.  To say the final month of 2011 is a "make it or break it" month really isn’t underselling it, especially on the break it side.  The Flames won’t be able to get where they want to go solely on this coming stretch, but a good December can set them up nicely.  Conversely, a mediocre 12th month really can sink their season for good.

The Lineup

The Flames will be without Mark Giordano tonight after sustaining a hamstring injury Tuesday in Calgary’s win over Nashville.  He went down in the first period and put a lot more responsibility onto the shoulders of guys like Derek Smith and T.J. Brodie, who both did the job in solid fashion.  Cory Sarich will slot back into the lineup tonight after missing the last four games as a healthy scratch.

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
T.J. Brodie-Derek Smith
Derek Smith-Cory Sarich

The lines are the same from the last couple of wins for the Flames, and really, there’s no reason to change things up.  Most of the Flames lines have carried their weight the last few contests, as Tanguay’s line stepped up their play in Tuesday’s win over Nashville.  The Jokinen trio was Calgary’s best on that night, and really needs to keep that going.

The Flames have assigned Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to the American Hockey League, a move that comes kinda late for a lot of fans who have wondered why he’s been on the main roster at all.  With his assignment to Abbotsford and Giordano’s IR placement, Calgary now has two roster spots open for recalls.  I’d imagine we’ll see something prior to the back-to-back Saturday/Sunday set the Flames play in Edmonton and Vancouver.  Paul Byron and Joe Piskula have been the names thrown around most frequently.

Miikka Kiprusoff starts in net.

The Opponent

Even though they’ve been playing better hockey as of late, the Blue Jackets are still 15th place for a reason.  One large reason is the fact they’ve won just a single time in 11 tries on the road, sitting with an ugly 1-8-2 record so far this season.  There have been myriad issues with this team as of late, but over the last month, they have been a whole lot closer with teams, even if the results haven’t necessarily been there.

The underlying numbers for the Jackets are actually a little closer to respectable when compared to Calgary’s last two opponents, yet both Nashville and Minnesota find themselves significantly higher in the standings than Columbus.  This hasn’t been a team that has been crushed in terms of possession, as they rank in the top ten in both shots for and against.  But they’ve been prone to some really awful stretches of poor decision making while also being victimized by shoddy goaltending, leading to their league worst 79 goals against.

Steve Mason just hasn’t been a good goaltender at all, even if he hasn’t been the only reason for the mass struggles in Columbus.  His save percentage sits below .900 in every category, which just isn’t acceptable, regardless of the team playing in front of you.  Instead, it’s been Curtis Sanford getting the bulk of the minutes as of late, and he’ll get the start in net tonight sitting with a 3-2-2 record.

Vaclav Prospal-Jeff Carter-Rick Nash
R.J. Umberger-Mark Letestu-Ryan Johansen
Antoine Vermette-Sammy Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett
Derick Brassard-Derek MacKenzie-Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin-Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot-James Wisniewski
John Moore-Grant Clitsome

Prospal leads the team in scoring with Nash right behind, although the latter hasn’t been overly impressive for much of this season.  The real disappointment has come with the production of Jeff Carter, even though he did have to battle through an injury earlier in the year.  The third line is the one routinely buried by Head Coach Scott Arniel, with all three players way down in terms of offensive zone starts, specifically Pahlsson and Dorsett.

There’s not a more fun name to say in the NHL than Nikita Nikitin, and he’s been fairly solid for the Jackets since coming over in a trade with St. Louis.  He and Tyutin have formed the most effective pairing for Columbus thus far and will see some tough minutes against the Flames tonight.

The Story

So much of watching the Flames as of late is ignoring what the opponent is doing, at least for me.  Calgary isn’t going to win hockey games unless they’re playing a very specific type of hockey, and when they do that, they give themselves a chance to win.  Sometimes they’ll lose, especially to the upper echelon teams in this league.  However, sometimes they’ll win and if they play the same way they have the last pair of games, they’ll probably win a third straight for the first time this season.

  • icedawg_42

    I’ll assume it’s Hannan playing with Sarich and not Derek Smith. If Brodie and Smith are holding their own together, may as well keep them paired up, right?

  • icedawg_42

    @ Vintage Flame

    I could see it and it would make sense. Good sports market, nice city and a good young squad that just needs some direction.

    It’s kind of makes your head spin how fast Boudreau was back behind a bench. Can’t help but think the minute he became available that Carlyle was on borrowed time.

    Topic for another day: What kind of Coach does Calgary need to get the Maximum out of the group assembled? We’ve talked before that Sutter hasn’t established a consistent effort, but neither did Keenan and Playfair before him.

    • icedawg_42

      My take is that the younger your group is, the more a structured hard-ass teacher type is going to be the recipe for success. You get a highly talented or veteran group in there with big egos, then your coach better be more of an inspirational speaker.

      this of course is based on my EXTENSIVE knowledge of the happenings inside an NHL locker room hahaha.

    • icedawg_42

      boudreau is what the flames need,oh so very much. so where does paul maurice end up, wouldnt it be his gig to replace sacco who replaces arneil who replaces butta lmao. i think arneil has his replacement right beside him, bobby boughner. boogey man’s stock has to be risin. just a thought but hows jimmy nil as gm, provenzano from the stars as agm and boughner as bench boss for the flames.

  • icedawg_42

    @ negril cowboy

    I wouldn’t mind Boughner as Flames bench boss. At the least we’d have someone capable of putting some fear into them. I know Dutter was a hard-ass, but I never found his presence all that intimidating, though i guess his personality could be. With Bobby you’d either respect him or fear him. I remember his short stint with the team…that was the guy you wanted on your side in a bar fight.

    • everton fc

      I agree. Boughner’s one I’d consider. There are also some good coaches in the AHL. Not to mention a good group of assistants, like Kirk Muller.

      We need to go young on the ice and behind the bench. Boughner cried when he had to leave Calgary. I remember reading that somewhere – that he loved it here. He was one of my favourite Flames.

  • icedawg_42

    16 games the Flames go 9-7 through them. Finish the end of the month at .500 after 39 games played.

    Considering you probably need to hit 100 points to guarantee the playoffs, the Flames would need 60 points in the second half of the season. Meaning they would have to go 10 games over .500 and would have to win three out of every four games.

    Unrealistic numbers.

  • Although December is busy, it’s not overly diffcult in terms of the quality of opponents. VANX2, DET and CHI are the only heavy hitters of the 16. The hardest team otherwise is probably FLA (or MIN if Harding and Backstorm are still batting .940).

    Flames have to make hay this month if they are to go anywhere. JAN schedule features SJSX2, NJD, DET, BOS, WAS, LOS.

    • icedawg_42

      Well, you’d think we’ll know where they stand by then but you never know. Say for example they have a great month of December and play themselves back into playoff contention. Then what? I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected when it comes to this team, and knowing the Flames they’ll have a great month to put them in contention and then tail off and finish 10th. And then management re-signs everyone and stands pat thinking that’s the team they are. I REALLY HOPE THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN!!

      BTW: David Krecji resigns for 3 year 15.75 million. 5.25 million a season!! That is absolutely ridiculous! What do you guys think?

        • You know, if they could somehow make the playoffs at 8th I would be ok with it, but what I don’t want is even if they sneak into the playoffs, I really don’t want them to hold off the rebuild. Playoffs > No playoffs, every time. I just hope that management recognizes no matter what happens this year, a rebuild is necessary. Rebuild must start on Draft Day 2012, at the absolute latest.

      • Clicking around the web I seem to be in the majority, but that strikes me a serious overpay as well. The perceptions is that Krejci is the Bruins “#1 center”, but that’s simply not the case – Patrice Bergeron does all the heavy lifting in Boston.

        He’s averaged about 62 points the last three years which is good, but he’s played on a great team behind a Selke centerman. Krejci has always batted clean-up and personally I wouldn’t go over $5M for anyone who hasn’t taken on tough circumstances and excelled.

  • The Flames have apparently called up Joe Piskula.

    Chris Breen has really fallen off the map since Playfair left. I always viewed Nervous Jimmy’s man-crush on that kid rather skeptically. Not only were Breen’s results elsewhere consistently mediocre, he never looked anywhere close to NHL capable whenever I say him play.

    Looks like Troy Ward is similarly skeptical.

    • Dr. Nick

      so piscopo, sorry joe pesci, i mean piskula gets promoted because he is brodies d partner in abby. guess it isnt based on skill or ability with the call ups. this guy is a 5 year pro with limited offensive upside and a kings castoff to boot. interesting strategy.

  • People love to pick on CBJ and I don’t think theyre that great or anything, but do you think maybe that having Wisniewski, Carter and Huselius gone affected things?

    When healthy they’re better than the flames IMO. Where would we be if Gio, Tanguay and Glencross were gone for that length of time?

    • CBJ is actually better than they seem. Although those losses you mention hurt, but the real issue was below replacement level goaltending for them. Steve Mason’s SV% is .875 (!!) this year. That’s about average…at 5on4.

      So, basically, the BJ’s had to play 16 games this season as if they were short-handed all the time. No one wins with puck stopping that bad.

      Even if Mason had managed a .910 SV% (which isn’t quite average in the league) it would have saved the BJ’s 10 goals against in the games he played in.

  • Piskula gets the call up? Thats really surprising, I don’t see he’s done anything other than be Brodie’s defence partner, and the way that Brodie has been playing here, I can take a wild guess who was driving that bus. How badly does this speak of Sarich? That they are thinking Piskula take his spot rather than let him play? Also is Babchuks injury that bad, shouldn’t he be back soon? Or is Hannan that hurt they have Piskula up just in case stuff starts happening?

    Carson will finish his conditioning asignment and will take that spot is what will happen, just be a few games is all.

  • icedawg_42

    Here’s a question for Kent, I’ll ask again during live chat if theres no answer.

    Is Z Michalek a healthy scratch for Pitts tonight? And if so, is he that bad? And if he isn’t, is it worth taking a look at him?

    I bring it up as I’m looking at the boxscore on the Pitts/WAS game and he’s listed as healthy scratch.