The Calgary Flames gave their fans a couple of nice Christmas gifts prior to this weekend, thanks to impressive and well earned wins over the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. Both teams were on very lengthy runs and both teams are considered among the elite for a reason; both times, the Flames utilized a solid gameplan to skate to regulation victory. Now they’ve got Columbus, the NHL’s worst team, as Calgary looks for a fourth straight win (5 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
It’s almost a shame the Christmas break came when it did, because it would have been really nice to see the Flames try and keep things rolling as they set continue their season long seven game stretch away from the Saddledome. Tonight kicks off the "road trip" portion of it, as Calgary starts a grueling span, with this being the first of a three in four. Knowing how the Flames have played of late and knowing how the Blue Jackets have fared recently, there’s really no excuse for a Calgary loss in this one.
Plenty of injury related news coming from the Flames this morning in Columbus, starting with David Moss. The injured forward had successful surgery on his injured left ankle on Boxing Day and is on the shelf indefinitely, which is just too bad for a guy the team could really use. That said, at the very least the team has identified the injury and Dave can start the recovery process targeting a return to action.
Alex Tanguay’s status has been updated to week-to-week with an upper body injury as he’s missed the last pair of games with the mystery ailment. GM Jay Feaster says there’s a chance we’ll see Tanguay back on this six game road trip, but there’s no guarantee in that. We will see Anton Babchuk prior to the end of the road trip, as he’s close to returning after missing the last 21 games with a broken left hand.
Brett Carson is on the trip and may also play at some point, he remains on injured reserve with an upper body injury while Mark Giordano’s status hasn’t really changed; he remains out indefinitely with his hamstring injury as he continues skating lightly. Backup goalie Henrik Karlsson has also resumed skating lightly, but is still a ways off from returning.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron-Brendan Morrison-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Derek Smith-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
Not a whole lot changes from Friday’s win in Vancouver, as the lines and pairings remain the same, and there’s really no reason for them to change. Leland Irving got his first NHL win in that game and we may see him later this week against either the Islanders or Senators; Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight.
There is not a worse team in all the National Hockey League this season than the Blue Jackets, as Columbus is doing a pretty decent job of imitating the 1992 Ottawa Senators. The problem with Scott Arniel’s bunch is they shouldn’t be THIS bad. No one is saying this is a group that should be fighting for points with Detroit or Chicago, but for them to sit 11 games below .500 after Christmas is a little staggering. The Jackets fell 4-1 to the Blackhawks last night.
Vaclav Prospal-Jeff Carter-Mark Letestu
Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-R.J. Umberger
Antoine Vermette-Sammy Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett
Jared Boll-Derek MacKenzie-Ryan Johansen
Fedor Tyutin-Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot-James Wisniewski
John Moore-Grant Clitsome
We’re not talking about a top notch lineup when studying the above group, but in all honesty, there are teams that do far worse in terms of talent and depth than Columbus. That said, they are sitting 30th overall for a reason and this seems to be a group that has already written off the year. The Blue Jackets don’t hold leads very well in the rare occasion they get them, and they don’t score a whole lot either.
There are still some decent pieces on this team, with the top defense pairing seeing a lot of minutes and a lot time inside their own blueline and doing a pretty good job with it. Nikitin was an acquisition from the surging St. Louis Blues and has proven to be a pretty useful piece on the back end. Up front, Prospal continues to be a consistent help while the Dorsett-Vermette pairing is still fairly useful.
In net, Steve Mason has been relegated to a position where he has to fight for his starts, as newcomer Curtis Sanford has consistently outperformed the former promising netminder. While Sanford’s numbers aren’t what you’d call world beating, they aren’t in the horribly awful category like Mason.
This is one of those must win/just win scenarios for the Calgary Flames. I don’t really care if they play ugly and win, because it’s two gimme points they need to have if they’re to be fighting for something meaningul into March and April. The Flames have already thrown away three points against the Jackets, so they best not be doing that again tonight.