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.
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.
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
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.
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.