While it may not be the same as Anaheim’s Honda Center, Chicago’s United Center just isn’t a friendly place for the Calgary Flames. They’ve lost seven straight games at the Madhouse on Madison, even if they’ve started to have a little more success against the Blackhawks overall. The last time these two teams met, Calgary took an impressive 5-2 win at the Saddledome.
While Calgary has lost three straight games, they also have points in nine of their last 11 games, going 6-2-3 in that span. After back to back extra time losses in Florida, the Flames finish off a four game road trip tonight against the surging Blackhawks. It may be a tall task tonight, but maybe Calgary can catch a confident Chicago team napping to pull out another big victory.
It looks like Mikael Backlund will return to the lineup this evening after missing Friday’s game as a healthy scratch. It was in an effort to help drive the young centre’s energy and intensity level up according to Head Coach Brent Sutter, so we’ll see if that comes to pass. One thing that can be said is Backlund has been pretty darn good over his 17 games back in the lineup, even if the point production hasn’t been where it needs to be.
Nothing else changes for the Flames, as Cory Sarich remains in on the Calgary blueline after a fairly decent game against the Panthers. Sarich spent most of his time in a sheltered role with T.J. Brodie on his flank, but it was one of his stronger games of the year overall, especially after the pairing was a little scrambly to start. Brett Carson will get back in the lineup at some point, but the team feels some practice time is in order to help him get back up to game speed.
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-Cory Sarich
Miikka Kiprusoff returns in net after Leland Irving started the game in Florida, making a good first impression on Flames fans.
Chicago is very much knocking on the door to be the NHL’s top team right now, with wins in four straight games and points in nine of their last ten. They’ve closed the gap to Minnesota to just one point, with an opportunity to overtake the Wild for the league’s top team tonight. Why are they doing this? Because they’re really, really good.
Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Michael Frolik
John Scott-Jamal Mayers-Andrew Brunette
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Nick Leddy
Sean O’Donnell-Steve Montador
As has been the case over the last few seasons, Joel Quenneville manages his forward groups much like Alain Vigneault does in Vancouver. Chicago’s Head Coach puts the top two lines in very favorable offensive situations to allow them to work their magic, with Kane, Stalberg, Toews, and Sharp all above 60% on their offensive zone start.
Quenneville couldn’t do that without serviceable bodies who can withstand being thrown to the wolves, as Dave Bolland has taken up his usual spot under six feet of dirt. Bolland gets hammered with defensive zone starts and does as good a job as anyone in this league. Kruger has turned into a pretty impressive tough minutes centre for the Hawks as well, but is seeing more offensive time thanks to his assignment on the second line.
Ray Emery makes the start in net with a record of 5-0-1 over his last six starts. He’s now challenging for Chicago’s number one spot as Corey Crawford has really struggled so far this year with a save percentage south of .900. Emery’s numbers aren’t anything special either (.902 even strength save percentage) but it seems like he’s their best option in net right now.
This is a game that we see Chicago win most nights, and maybe the Blackhawks have that same attitude heading in. The Flames can be close with most, if not all, teams in this league when they’re playing right. The last time out at the United Center, Calgary was pretty decent, but got beat by a Hawks team on their game. That’ll happen, but tonight or against any other high end team, the Flames have got to avoid helping their opponent out.