Regardless of how they arrived at their fourth straight win on Tuesday night in Columbus, the Calgary Flames did and continued a very impressive month of December in the process. It was a nice way to start off a six game road trip that continues tonight as the Flames look to keep their season high winning streak going against the lowly New York Islanders (5 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary didn’t get a ton of help on the out of town scoreboard on Wednesday night, with a three point game helping the Preds and Wild and points earned by both the Kings and Coyotes. That said, the Flames certainly aren’t expecting one ounce of help from teams abroad, and as we’ve learned the last two years, neither should Flames fans. Because that’s just the fact of the matter, why don’t we just focus on what Calgary is doing, which has been pretty good as of late.
While it was at first thought Scott Hannan would come out of the lineup tonight against the Islanders, that doesn’t seem to be as sure a thing now. With Anton Babchuk ready to return from a broken left hand that has kept him out 22 games, someone would have to come out, and Hannan fit the bill thanks to some nagging injuries. However, the veteran blueliner seemed to skate fine at morning skate in Nassau County, so that lineup change looks to be a gametime decision now.
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
The top line had themselves a pretty mediocre game on Tuesday in Columbus, save for a really nice span in the third period. But with Iginla scoring the tying goal and the shootout winner, it was kind of all made up for, so much like the rest of that game, it’s best if that whole night is forgotten. Jarome enters tonight just two goals shy of 500 and I’ve got New Years Day in Nashville as the day it happens.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight and it seems almost a guarantee Leland Irving goes tomorrow in Ottawa.
So the Flames go from playing the worst team in the Western Conference to the worst team out East in this one, as the Islanders sit 11-17-6 with just 28 points and a league worst 77 goals for. It’s a team that went on quite the second half run last season (including a win in Calgary), leaving many wondering if maybe the team might be ready to really compete for something other than a lottery pick. Those in that camp have not been vindicated, even if there are some bright spots going forward.
Matt Moulson-John Tavares-P.A. Parenteau
Michael Grabner-Frans Neilsen-Kyle Okposo
Matt Martin-Josh Bailey-Nino Neiderreiter
Tim Wallace-Marty Reasoner-Michael Haley
Mark Streit-Milan Jurcina
Andrew MacDonald-Travis Hamonic
Mark Eaton-Mike Mottau
There are some decent faces in New York’s top six, and overall the team has run into some bad luck and probably isn’t as bad as their 15th place standing. That said, we’re not talking about an Eastern Conference powerhouse either, as the back end certainly drops off a tad after the decent top pairing. So who are we to watch tonight?
I feel like I must out the man who runs this site, as Kent Wilson has an unusual long distance, one-sided love affair with Frans Nielsen. Now, I don’t blame him for liking the guy. Nielsen has consistently been the best possession player on his team in some of the toughest of circumstances, suffering through some awful years on an awful Islanders squad. That said, the amount Kent talks about him leads me to believe there’s something more. Mind out of the gutter…but maybe…just maybe…long lost brothers?
While you drink that in, we can look at the top line which has seen the pairing of Moulson and Tavares have some decent stretches this year. While Tavares has struggled as of late, I think you’re seeing him turn into more and more of an all round player. Is he there yet? Nope, not yet, and he may never get to the same level as other first overall picks have gotten. One thing is VERY clear though…with even a little space in the offensive zone, the guy is deadly.
The saddest storyline about this game is that we won’t see Steady in uniform. Steve Staios, who signed with the Islanders after a training camp tryout, continues to battle through a concussion along with three other teammates. Goaltender Al Montoya along with wingers Brian Rolston and David Ullstrom are also battling head injuries while Jay Pandolfo is battling back from a foot injury.
In related news, Rick DiPietro is hurt. Just 19 more years left on that contract.
Evgeni Nabokov and Anders Nilsson form the current goaltending tandem for the Islanders, with Nabokov currently the number one. Montoya has been their best tender this year with very respectable totals, especially five-on-five, but as he fights back from a concussion, Nabokov will have to do and he’ll be the man in net tonight.
While the Islanders are probably a better team than 15th in their conference, the Flames are still a squad that should be able to beat them on most nights if things are done correctly. Things weren’t done all that correctly last game but the team still won; however, that’s not a script you want to act out all that often, so performances more resembling wins over the Wild or Canucks might be a little more like it.