With how things have gone for the Calgary Flames so far this year, any kind of positive streak is something to be excited about. Heading into tonight, Calgary has points in four straight games, and had it not been for a collapse in the final five minutes on Thursday, they’d have won a season high four straight games. Tonight, their quest to make it five in a row with points is a difficult one, as they visit the Vancouver Canucks (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
The Flames were pretty solid in their 5-3 win over the Oilers on Saturday, fighting back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to eventually use Mikael Backlund’s first of the season as the game winner midway through the third period. Yes, Edmonton is an improved team from a year ago, but they’re still not the Canucks; Vancouver is an elite team starting to play that way, so tonight is a much stiffer test of Calgary’s blueprint.
Nothing looks to change lineup-wise for the Flames tonight except the man in net, who will be Henrik Karlsson this evening. Karlsson gets the start as expected with Kiprusoff back in net Tuesday night against Carolina; I think you can expect the Calgary Tower to get at least one more start, likely two, through the month of December. They play too many games to keep Kiprusoff in net, with 16 games to finish off 2011 (including 15 games in 28 days).
The Flames have got some decent performances from their forwards as of late, with different lines pulling a good portion of the weight over this four game span. Last night, it was Bourque and Tanguay’s line doing a lot of good work while the Iginla trio was able to rack up some points; the Columbus game saw Backlund’s unit dominate the opposition en route to a two goal lead.
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-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-Joe Piskula
Jonathan Willis wrote up a piece this morning about Cory Sarich’s trade request, as the 33 year old defender says he did not demand to be traded. That’s about in line with what Rhett Warrener told our radio station audience on Friday morning, as the article states a trade was discussed. I don’t think Sarich has ever tried to strongarm his way out of Calgary, and with respect, he’s in no position to do so. Do I believe he wants to play, period? I do, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen on a regular basis with the Flames.
Piskula was -2 in his first game with the team, but overall I didn’t really mind him. Yeah he was on the ice for two goals against, but all three of the goals scored weren’t of the high scoring chance variety. One went off Lennart Petrell, one went off Glencross, and the final one was a soft play from Kiprusoff, so that -2 is not really indicitive of anything in my mind.
The Canucks look a whole lot more like the Canucks now than they did through the first month and a half of the season. With wins in seven of their last ten and four of their last five, Vancouver has risen to 14-10-1 on the year, sitting eighth in the Western Conference. The Canucks had some injuries to deal with early on this season, but they sit as healthy as they’ve been heading into tonight, with a noted Flames-killer returning to the lineup.
Mason Raymond’s scary looking injury in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals understandably took a long, long time to recover from. He’ll make his season debut tonight against the Flames after it was thought he’d be good to return Thursday against the Nashville Predators. Raymond will start on the third line with Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen, but Head Coach Alain Vigneault may very well mix things up a little depending on how the Cochrane native plays in his first game back.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-David Booth
Mason Raymond-Cody Hodgson-Jannik Hansen
Maxim Lapierre-Manny Malhotra-Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler-Aaron Rome
Sami Salo-Keith Ballard
The Sedin line has been utilized in identical fashion this year as has been the case the prior couple of seasons, with all three forwards up over 74% in offensive zone starts. Vigneault is able to do that by giving the toughest matchups to Kesler’s trio on a regular basis and burying the bottom six forward with defensive starts against similar opposition. Malhotra hasn’t been as effective this year as last when looking at underlying numbers, but he still wins a ton of faceoffs.
As for Kesler’s group, they’re killing it as expected. The possession numbers of all three players are outstanding, and it makes me even angrier that Chris Higgins didn’t re-sign with the Flames. I know he didn’t want to play with Calgary, I get all that…but did he have to sign in Vancouver? Really?
Roberto Luongo looks to get the start in net for the Canucks, breaking a string of seven straight starts for Cory Schneider. Schneider had won five of those starts and it has started a very real goaltender discussion in Vancouver, if that discussion hadn’t already started last season.
Yeah, I know they’re in eighth place in the Western Conference, but there can be no denying the Canucks are still one of the teams in the "best of the best" category. They’re deep and now they’re winning hockey games, so even if the Flames can play a similar game as last night, they still may lose. But that’s okay, because what you want to see is another good effort from the visitors.