Following a very solid outing to finish their 2011 home schedule on Thursday night, the Calgary Flames complete their pre-Christmas schedule tonight against the Vancouver Canucks (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). Calgary’s 3-2 win over Detroit at the Saddledome was a nice way to finish off their home schedule for this year, so how about we see them give us a nice Christmas gift with a win over those twits on the coast.
The Canucks are, well, the Canucks once again. After having already spanked Calgary on two previous occassions, they’ll take great pleasure in doing so once again tonight, as this high end squad enjoys beating their Northwest Division rivals. But the Flames did a lot of good things in their win over Detroit, and it will be very interesting to see if they’ll be able to do those things on the second night of a back-to-back set.
After missing the Detroit game with an upper body injury, I’d be surprised if Alex Tanguay plays tonight. However, Calgary will welcome Rene Bourque back to the lineup after serving his two game suspension for Sunday’s hit on Brent Seabrook. Because of the odd travel scenario, the Flames didn’t skate this morning, so the lineup is kind of up in the air. Here’s my best guess.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Derek Smith-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
Another whale of a game for that Bouwmeester fellow last night, with 27:55 of ice time and against some of the best players on planet Earth. Jay makes a lot of money and doesn’t have a lot of points, although he’s on pace for around 30 this year, which would be a Flames high for him. Hey, might not be in line with the money, but where would they be without him right now?
My guess was wrong. I thought with a three day break coming up, the Flames might go with Kiprusoff in net against the Canucks, but it’ll be Leland Irving on the second half of the back-to-back.
With wins in 12 of their last 14, Vancouver looks very much like the team that hammered the San Jose Sharks en route to a Western Conference championship. They’re getting solid goaltending, consistent scoring from their high end players, and playing the same type of game that propelled them to a President’s Trophy one season ago. As a result, they’re just one point away from reclaiming their spot on top of the Northwest Division for the first time this season.
The Sedin skew continues on the coast, and it’s as dramatic as it’s ever been, as Head Coach Alain Vigneault has used Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre, and a cast of others to help give the high scoring twins and their annoying linemate the highest ground possible. With the aforementioned two players well below 25% on their offensive zone start, Henrik Sedin is starting a staggering 78% of the time at the good end of the ice. Daniel and Alex Burrows are just under that number, and it’s paid off as it should, with an even 100 points combined between the top line.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-Mason Raymond
Manny Malhotra-Cody Hodgson-Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett-Max Lapierre-Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler-Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts-Alexander Sulzer
The Canucks are getting things done without a couple of regulars, as forward David Booth remains out of the lineup thanks to a knee injury for at least another month. Blueliners Aaron Rome and Keith Ballard also sit out the sidelines with seperate injuries; Rome is nursing a broken thumb while Ballard is battling back spasms.
After a rough-ish start to the season, Roberto Luongo has seen his play return to form, having not lost in regulation in eight starts while winning seven of those contests. His even strength save percentage is starting to normalize and is a whole lot closer to the mark we’re used to than he was even a month ago. He’ll get the start in net tonight having gone 9-0-2 against them over an 11 game stretch.
What a nice Christmas gift to Flames fans a win over the hated Canucks would be. I’m not overly confident it’s going to happen, as the Flames are playing the second half of a back-to-back, a scenario they haven’t been very strong in in recent years. That said, you wonder if the team will be buoyed by being rewarded for strong hockey against a very good Red Wings team the night before. If they can play the same type of game as last night, who knows…roll the dice and who knows what can happen?