The Calgary Flames kick off a four game road trip tonight having won six of their last eight games and playing their best hockey of the season. Beating teams outside of the "juggernaut" category is exactly what the Flames need to do, and they’ve done that over the last little bit, asserting their game on their opponents. Tonight’s opponent isn’t a world beater either, as Calgary visits Nashville for the first time this season (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
To expect a high scoring, end to end shootout would be folly when analyzing the matchup between these two teams; in their two previous meetings this season, the Flames and Predators have combined for three goals. That sounds about right for most matchups against Nashville, but for whatever reason, when these teams meet up the goals just don’t come easy at all. The Preds aren’t a team that controls the play at even strength, so it’s an opportunity for the Flames to assert once again.
The Flames will welcome Brett Carson back to the lineup this evening, as he’ll make his season debut with the team after missing the entire season thanks to an offseason back injury. His brief conditioning stint now over in Abbotsford, Carson slots onto the blueline alongside T.J. Brodie tonight. The waiver claim from last season’s trade deadline is a guy Calgary likes, as judged by signing him to a one way contract during the offseason. Joe Piskula and Cory Sarich will serve as healthy scratches tonight; expect Piskula to be returned to the Heat once forward David Moss is ready to return to the active roster.
Up front, it looks like Rene Bourque will be a gametime decision for this one, as he missed practice for a second straight day this morning. Assistant coach Dave Lowry informed us he’s battling the flu prior to departure yesterday, so there’s a good chance he’ll miss this one and return closer to the weekend. A flu bug has knocked Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay out of recent games as well. The recently recalled Roman Horak will return to the lineup and play on the second line tonight.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Roman Horak-Brendan Morrison
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Derek Smith-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Brett Carson
Brendan Morrison enters tonight just two points away from 600 for his career. Funny enough, he’s a goal away from 200 and an assist away from 400. Nice even split.
With the news Darryl Sutter is likely returning to the NHL to coach the LA Kings, a couple of interested Flames observers gave their quotes today:
"He’s a great coach. He’s strict like Brent. You know, must run in the family." – Flames captain Jarome Iginla
"Coaching is always something Darryl wants to do." – Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter
Nashville enters play tonight sitting ninth in the Western Conference at 14-11-4; their 32 points actually have them tied for eighth with the San Jose Sharks. Typically, the Predators are a team that you can find among the league leaders in goals allowed, however that hasn’t been the case so far this season. Some of that can be attributed to a lack of herculean goaltender, as Pekka Rinne has been pretty darn good instead out of his mind, like he was last year.
Rinne will start tonight, with a shutout already against the Flames this season; to say he hasn’t been good would be unfair, but he has somewhat behind pace from a year ago. Last year, Rinne finished with a .932 save percentage at even strength which put him among the league’s elite tenders in that category; his numbers thus far this year are down six points in the same category at .926. He’s still been very good, but knowing how offensively challenged Nashville can be, those six points become a little more significant.
Funny enough, the Preds are getting some decent production out of their powerplay, ranking behind only Vancouver and Toronto in that category. At 20.4%, Nashville is benefitting from their dynamic duo on the blueline, with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter combining for seven powerplay markers to this point. Rookie Craig Smith, who leads the team in scoring, has four of his team leading eight goals on the man advantage as well.
Colin Wilson-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
Martin Erat-Mike Fisher-Craig Smith
Jordin Tootoo-Nick Spaling-Sergei Kostitsyn
Matt Halischuk-Jerred Smithson-Brian McGrattan
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon-Kevin Kline
Jack Hillen-Roman Josi
Five-on-five, Nashville is a team that spends a lot of time inside their own end, averaging over 31 shots per game while generating just over 26 the other way. As such, the possession numbers will suffer, but the ones that stick out remain the mainstays in Music City. Weber and Suter have been great, while Legwand, Fisher, and Erat have all done a nice job helping possession in a positive way while starting a ton of shifts in their own end.
What has become so apparent over the last while is how much opposing teams are very immaterial for the Flames. While it’s fun for us to analyze the other side, there remains just one way for Calgary to win hockey games on a consistent basis. When they play that way, they can skate with most teams in the NHL even while lacking the same type of deep skill some opponents possess. When they don’t, they lose to the likes of Columbus. The main reason why 6-1-1 over an eight game span is a reality is because of the former, not the latter.