Well, for this year anyway. For the only time this season, the Calgary Flames take on the Tampa Bay Lightning this season tonight as they continue a four game road trip (5:30 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960). Starting next year, the Flames will see the Lightning twice every year, but for now, this will be our only look at how Steven Stamkos et al fare against Calgary.
The Flames are coming off a 2-1 loss Tuesday night in Nashville, a game where they allowed 45 shots and 21 scoring chances to the offensively challenged Predators. It was a frustrating game to watch, as Calgary didn’t do what they are capable of doing, namely controlling Nashville at even strength. However, if December is going to be a strong month for the team, they’re still going to lose games, so a win here will continue a nice little stretch for the Flames as they sit 6-2-1 over their last nine games.
It sounds like Rene Bourque will return to the Flames lineup tonight after missing Tuesday’s loss thanks to the flu. It’s going through the room right now, which is unavoidable in tight situations, so hopefully this is the last of the players affected by the bug. Bourque will return to his regular spot on a line with Brendan Morrison and Alex Tanguay and if he’s good to go, Roman Horak would exit the lineup.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Rene Bourque
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
Even though the Nashville game wasn’t strong, there were some good performances, specifically from the bottom six forwards who really looked strong. The fourth line was good from start to finish and had some really nice sustained pressure in the Nashville end while also creating chances while the Backlund trio continued to do their good work. Brodie and Carson were also very strong, as I felt it was on of T.J.’s best games as a Flame.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight while Leland Irving goes tomorrow against the Panthers; Kiprusoff was very strong against the Predators, making 43 saves in a losing effort.
After getting within a game of the Stanley Cup Final one year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning have really struggled to start the season. Heading into action tonight, they sit 13th in the Eastern Conference at 12-16-2 and have allowed the third most goals against league-wide. This may seem surprising for a team that plays as passive and defensively oriented a style as the Lightning do, but it’s not as if they were near the top last year either.
So far this year, Tampa should probably be right about where they are, as this isn’t a team that has run into horrible luck or bad percentages. On top of that, they’ve gotten very mediocre goaltending puncuated by the large step back from Dwayne Roloson. That really shouldn’t surprise many, as the 42 year old netminder was bound to show his age at some point. After finishing the regular season with a .924 save percenage at even strength last year, he’s down below the .900 mark this year. Mathieu Garon has seen more time than he has, which tells you all you need to know about Tampa’s situation between the pipes. Garon will start tonight.
Steve Downie-Steven Stamkos-Ryan Malone
Tom Pyatt-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell
Ryan Shannon-Dominic Moore-Nate Thompson
Adam Hall-Blair Jones-Dana Tyrell
Victor Hedman-Eric Brewer
Matt Gilroy-Brett Clark
Bruno Gervais-Marc-Andre Bergeron
On the back end, the Hedman-Brewer pairing get hammered with tough zone starts and heavy opposition on a nightly basis, and have done a very strong job with it. Hedman’s contract extension earlier this season falls into the same category of Martin Hanzal’s in Phoenix: fair value right now with a large potential for highway robbery near the conclusion. Gilroy may not play the toughest minutes, but he’s a slick skater and is dangerous when joining the rush and has had a nice season thus far as well.
Up front, it’s Stamkos leading the way with 18 goals and 33 points in his fourth full NHL season. The former first overall pick has scored 40 goals or more twice already in his career, but he’s turning more and more into a true number one centre when all of the duties are taken into account. He’s taking key faceoffs and seeing tough matchups and is now consistently driving the play as opposed to just using his deadly finishing ability to rack up points.
The Lightning are without one regular player, and it’s a pretty key one, as Martin St. Louis is on the shelf indefinitely thanks to a facial injury suffered last week. His loss takes a large chung out of Tampa’s depth up front, as you can see things drop of fairly dramatically after the Stamkos trio. Mattias Ohlund is on the sidelines as well, but has been all season after surgery on both his knees prior to the start of the season.
It’s always fun to watch the Flames play a team they don’t see very often, but once the novelty of watching Calgary play in Tampa wears off, the facts are still clear. The Flames are a deeper squad and if they can do the things they’ve been doing over the last nine games, they’ll likely prevail over a struggling Lightning squad. That was the case Tuesday against Nashville, however, and we saw the result there.