FGD: December Rolls On

Calgary’s month of December is a busy one with a span of 16 games that really could help put their season on track or do the complete opposite.  After suffering a 5-1 loss to Vancouver on Sunday night, the Flames have an opportunity to turn this last little stretch into a good one.  A win tonight against Carolina could give Calgary points in five of six games, and it’s a game the Flames should be expected to win (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).

It’s going to be difficult for Calgary to win a season series against the Canucks, so I don’t know how surprised we should be that Vancouver came away with the two points on Sunday.  Now the Flames have the 15th place team in the Eastern Conference on Saddledome ice, so to expect a record of 4-1-1 in their last six isn’t unrealistic by any stretch.  In fact, with three games on home ice before a road trip next week, the opponents don’t frighten all that much; Colorado and Edmonton follow the Hurricanes.  The Flames may not be a playoff team, but if they want to return to competitiveness, making December a good month is a must.

The Lineup

A bit of a line shuffle for the Flames this morning, with at least one lineup change hinging on the status of Curtis Glencross, who missed morning skate with a touch of the flu.  If he doesn’t go, it’ll be the return of Brendan Morrison after missing the last five games as a healthy scratch.  Morrison was skating with Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross this morning, while Matt Stajan and Roman Horak swapped spots with Stajan moving up to the second line.

Brendan Morrison-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Matt Stajan-Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
T.J. Brodie-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-Joe Piskula

Stajan hasn’t been awful this year, regardless of his contract, so I don’t necessarily hate the swap with Horak.  His contract isn’t good, but his play has been pretty decent in his role.  Maybe it’s just the role he’s in: not playing against good opposition and not playing a ton of minutes.  We’ll see tonight as it looks like the Stajan/Horak swap will go forward regardless of the status of Glencross.

Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net for the Flames.

The one thing I found interesting from Calgary players this morning was their thoughts on the NHL’s realignment plan.  While most guys seemed pretty excited about seeing every team twice a year, there were a few voices concerned about eight team conferences in the West and seven team conferences out East and how it would affect playoff seeding.  It’s a fair concern.

The Opponent

Eight days ago, the Hurricanes pulled the plus on Paul Maurice’s second coaching regime, firing the well liked bench boss for the second time.  Replacing him is Kirk Muller, a respected figure who had just 17 games of head coaching experience before taking over the Carolina bench.  That said, the NHL veteran had plenty of time as an assistant in Montreal and was a frequent name thrown around for vacant coaching spots this past summer.  Since taking over, the Canes are 0-3 under Muller as he looks for his first NHL coaching win.

Carolina is not a great hockey team, even though there is some nice talent for them to work around going forward.  They sit last in the Eastern Conference thanks to an 8-16-4 start to the season.  It’ll be Cam Ward getting the start in net, and the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner hasn’t put up the type of numbers a team like the Hurricanes need to be competitive.  His even strength and overall save percentage is hovering right around the .900 mark while his goals against is up over three, although that’s as much a reflection on the team, if not more.

Up front, Eric Staal hasn’t had a terrible season when looking at the underlying figures, but the production hasn’t been there the way it was a season previous.  His 14 points in 28 games is good for fourth on the team, however his -17 rating puts him 748th out of 748 NHL players.  Now, I’m not the largest +/- booster myself, but sometimes it gives you a fairly good idea of how a season has gone.

Jeff Skinner-Eric Staal-Tuomu Ruutu
Alex Ponikarovsky-Jussi Jokinen-Chad LaRose
Jiri Tlusty-Brandon Sutter-Patrick Dwyer
Andreas Nodl-Anthony Stewart

Bryan Allen-Derek Joslin
Tim Gleason-Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen-Tomas Kaberle
Jamie McBain

It’s been nice to see Sutter (Brent’s son) doing some decent things in his third NHL season.  He’s been given the toughest defensive situational play among Carolina centers and hasn’t been hammered in the process.  Skinner seems to have picked up where he left off a year ago, as the reigning Calder Trophy winner leads the team with 23 points.

The Story

Look, the expectations aren’t overly high when it comes to the Flames among the faithful who view this site.  But it might be nice to see put some wins together to avoid having the final three months of the season be a complete and total write off.  That said, some might want to see December go south to expedite a couple of moves for the future; the Flames play just five more home games this month with eight on the road, so seeing some good results in the next three might be nice.

  • jakeryley

    I like Stajan getting bounced up in the shuffle. He’s earned it. He literally fought for it, so I’m glad he’s getting rewarded for showing the emotional instensity that this team is so desperately lacking on most nights.

  • icedawg_42

    If the Flames want any hope of being a team competing for a playoff spot, this is the type of game they must win. We all know that the Flames can’t really compete with the elite teams of the conference, so to be able to maybe sneak into the playoffs, they need to beat up on the lesser-likes. If the Flames don’t go 3-0 this week I think that is a serious dissapointment.

  • Vintage Flame

    I know of a lot of people who want to see some moves, but what I find interesting is that while they have lots of opinions on WHO should be going, they sure get quiet in a hurry when I ask what they want in return. “Yeah, Iginla doesn’t have 15 goals, ship his butt out.” So who do you want in return (Crickets chirping)?

    I wouldn’t be so confidant in a Flames win just because Carolina is at the bottom of the East. hopefully this team had learned it’s lessons from the 2 games they played against Columbus.

    As far as realignment, I’ve read lots of comments since last night and the saying that comes to mind is “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all the people all of the time!”

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the unbalanced number of teams, Phoenix could be in a more Eastern location by next year. For those with long memories, it’s similar to what we used to have when there were 4 divisions and 2 Conferences. Granted it’s a little more crowded than it was 20 years ago, but don’t be surprised if some tweaking is done between now and the 2012-2013 season.

    • Vintage Flame

      ????huh???

      This is basically a no-win, because if you post an idea then you’re “speculating” or “internet rumor mongering” or “way out to lunch because we’d never get that.”

      I’ve posted lots of times on what I’d like back for certain players. So go search through the posts.

  • Vintage Flame

    It might just be me, but Carolina is 2-7-1 in their last 10. I might have liked to have seen Irving play this one. It may be baptism by fire, but if you have to bring him up, might at well see what he’s got too.

    Carolina is hardly the right metric to see if Irving is NHL ready, but it’s a start.. And the Flames have to start somewhere with this guy.

    • T&A4Flames

      That would make sense but like Pat said, December is the month where these guys either get back into sights of 8th place or watch the bloggers really drive Feaster wild in Jan. So Kipper has to play & we need this win badly! Take a peak at the first ten days in January & see that schedule & your mouth might just go dry.
      Have no problems with the realignment, totally makes sense, they just need to make sure the NHL scheduler doesnt drink a bottle of Crown before drafting up a schedule.

      Anyone notice that the US junior team was announced & I noticed Gadreau(sp?) & Arnold are on it but why wasnt Ramage named on the team? Is he injured or is he just not playing well?

      • Vintage Flame

        December is the month where these guys either get back into sights of 8th place or watch the bloggers really drive Feaster wild in Jan. So Kipper has to play & we need this win badly!

        So then are you advocating that Kipper plays every game until they are in a playoff spot? The Flames have 3 more back-to-back games, Kipper can’t play them all.

        But if your strategic with your starts for Irving, Kipper can play some of the B2B’s.

        • RexLibris

          No, I’m not advocating playing Kipper every game, just spouting party line of the Flames where they still feel they can turn this around & fight for a playoff spot. Would you not agree that these next 6 games are crucial & if you had your job on the line you would play your money goaltender? Plenty of time to get Leiland into a game, tonight is kind of a must win to keep any positive of the last 4 games rolling. If you want my opinion, I’d trade Iggy & Butler to Wash for the Col 1st, Wash 1st, Semin & Alzner (as per the Ekland rumour) & lets just get the rebuild going. We’ve got more kids in this lineup than we’ve had in 5-6 years, we’re still press boxing Sarich versus Piskula & that tells me the rebuild is already on. Lets just raise the flag, come out the closet & call it for what it is. We can still speculate & armchair manage as to who stays for the rebuild & who goes. But if we want to “still be a play off team” we gotta play Kipper. If we declare a rebuild, then I would play Leiland every other or every third game against who ever we happen to play.

    • icedawg_42

      The quality of opponent in Caroline aside, do you think 1 or 2 games, or however many he gets to play in the Tower’s absence, is enough of a sample size to determine if Irving’s gonna make it?

      • Vintage Flame

        I’m not insinuating that if Irving plays 3 games and gets 2 SO’s that they jump on the horn and deal Kiprusoff, first come first serve.

        There is a huge difference in “seeing what he can do” and seeing if he is the goaltender of the future.

        • icedawg_42

          agreed – but I don’t think his ‘first’ two NHL games are even a reflection of what he can do.

          This is just a stop gap for the Tower’s injury, I wouldnt be surprised if he didnt play at all if Karlsson’s only out for 4 games.

          • Vintage Flame

            This is just a stop gap for the Tower’s injury, I wouldnt be surprised if he didnt play at all if Karlsson’s only out for 4 games.

            He has a sprained MCL. He’s gone longer than 4 games dude. If there is any fluid or swelling or if the MCL has twisted.. You’ll be looking at longer.

    • T&A4Flames

      I had similar thoughts even though i know it won’t happen. You look at their schedule and Carolina looks like the prime candidate, but there are other factors involved. It’s not just the trial by fire, it’s also not good for business to have your star goalie sitting on the bench for a home game. It seems like Karlsson could be out for the month, I wonder if Irving will get a start while they’re in Florida.

  • Vintage Flame

    @Pat

    The one thing I found interesting from Calgary players this morning was their thoughts on the NHL’s realignment plan. While most guys seemed pretty excited about seeing every team twice a year, there were a few voices concerned about eight team conferences in the West and seven team conferences out East and how it would affect playoff seeding. It’s a fair concern.

    It sucks for next year, but in the long run, it makes sense. If the NHL has set a Dec 1st deadline for the Phoenix Coyotes to get their stuff together, and it doesn’t happen? Then it’s an easy move from Phx to Quebec City and the conferences are restored to balance.

  • Super_Gio

    I am not going to assume any win tonight…we seem to fail at these sort of opportunities.

    completely off topic:

    Steinberg, Vettel for 2012/2013? heheheh RBR is unstoppable!! ( I heard through the grape vine your a closet F1 lover like myself)

    • I’m no closet F1 lover…it’s completely out in the open.

      I think Ferrari is the team to watch next year…Massa needs a good season or he’s done, and Alonso won’t stay if they have another season like this past year. They’ve been focused on the 2012 car for months…I think they’ll be very good.

  • Semen + Holtby for Iginla + Butler? That doesn’t seem too bad, as long as Semen actually shows up for games. Holtby is a great goalie, he did quite well last season when Varlamov was hurt and Neuvirth faltered.

    I also do not agree that because Carolina is doing terrible, they are necessarily a push over. The Flames are everyone’s slumpbuster – Staal will probably score 5 goals and Ward will put up a 60-save shutout. Or maybe the Flames will win. Yes, we’ll go with that one.

  • RexLibris

    December could be the month where the bizarro-world Flames come to play, and the team starts to climb the standings. The interesting thing this year is that there is so much parity in the West that were they to break for the holidays at around .600, just above average, they could find themselves in the top 9 teams in the conference.

    I would also like to offer an official “woo-hoo” for the prospect of not having to share a division with Minnesota next season.

  • xis10ce

    @ the-wolf

    Ummm, have we met??? When I said I know lots of people who want moves, I seriously mean I have talked to them face to face. My comment did not mention the people on Flames Nation and I definitely wasn’t singling you out.

    I am able to mingle with lots of the Flames faithful each and every home game. I am amazed sometimes when i meet the very knowledgable fan and also stumped when I meet the alleged “knowledgeable” fans that think they know it all when they don’t have a clue. It is to them that I was referring to.

  • xis10ce

    Don’t know if any Southies will be around, but tonight I am going to hit up the Kilt and Caber in Mackenzie Towne. Come one, come all for $6 Caber Pints (24oz) and $0.25 wings that are actually pretty good. Feel free to fire me off a e-mail at darren_t@shaw.ca if you’ll be popping by and I’ll send you my number so that you can find me. That or look for the young 30’s business guy wearing the #40 Tanguay red who is yelling at the TV.

  • RexLibris

    This could be a good news game for Flames fans: if anyone on FN is disheartened by Sarich’s contract take a good look at Kaberle’s contract and procduction on the Hurricanes. The last I read, Jim Rutherford would take a strong handshake and a warm meal in exchange for Kaberle. But then Leaf fans were certain he was worth a top 6 forward last year.

    After strong games, and I should say strong coaching as well in that Oiler game, if the Flames can beat the Hurricanes, in my mind, it will be a turning point (sorry, TSN-cliche) in their season. Beating the teams “below” you is a prerequisite and one of the ways that last seasons’ group managed to climb the standings so well.