FGD: Fallen Stars

The Calgary Flames bounced right back to the winning side of things Monday night with a silly looking 9-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.  As they look to continue climbing up the standings, they play game #60 tonight against the Dallas Stars (7:30 pm, TSN and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).  A team that once held a comfortable lead on top of the Pacific Division, the Stars have come right back down to Earth in 2011.

The two teams enter action tonight just two points apart, with the Flames sitting eighth in the Western Conference and Dallas occupying the five slot.  However, these teams have gone in different direction since their first meeting on December 23rd.  It was a shootout win that galvanized Calgary’s season, and they’ve gone 14-4-5 since.  On the other hand, the Stars have gone just 10-10-2 since, which is a large reason why they’re no longer the top team in their division.

The Lineup

No changes for the Calgary Flames, which is good news considering what happened Monday in Colorado.  Both Olli Jokinen and Tim Jackman suffered lower body injuries in Denver, and both will play tonight.  Jokinen isn’t as much of a surprise, as he did a postgame interview afterwards and it seemed as if him leaving the game was precautionary.  However, the Jackman one seemed a little different, as he went feet first into the end boards.  He said today it seemed pretty bad at the time, but after all the tests were negative, things came back pretty quick.  Good news.

So the lack of changes means the lines stay the same, as Niklas Hagman stays in the lineup, even after a string of unimpressive play.  The talk today was all about the second line, and why not, they’ve been the best line for Calgary.  Curtis Glencross is riding the hottest streak of his career, and it’s not some fluke…he’s getting rewarded for playing his game.  David Moss the same thing, coming off a career four point night in Denver.  And even Olli Jokinen is chipping in, playing a simple, north-south game that meshes well with his very strong linemates.  Here are lines and pairings tonight:

Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Rene Bourque-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Niklas Hagman

Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios

For the 12th straight time, Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net, and don’t expect that trend to stop anytime soon.  With a three day break after this game tonight, Miikka will play Sunday in the Heritage Classic against Montreal and probably Tuesday against Boston as well.  I wouldn’t expect to see anyone else in net until the back-to-back in St. Louis and Chicago to start March.

The Opponent

The Stars are now 2-7-1 in their last ten games, and part of what we’re seeing is the cruel world of NHL percentages starting to play against the team, as many thought they should have earlier in the season.  There’s always a team that seems to defy the underlying numbers, and Dallas was the primest example in the first three months of the season.  This is a team that was defined more by their high shooting percentage, as it was up around 11% for much of the season, and has regressed back to around 10%.  Sure, their lack of possession also comes from what was going on in their own end, but Dallas is a team that is only below average in that regard; it’s the amount of time they spend on the the attack that is sinking them.

They were winning games in spite of that early in the season, and with the offence starting to dry up of late (13 goals in seven February games), they’re lack of a consistent attack is starting to hold them back.  That was made more difficult last night in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton, as Dallas was playing without leading scorer Brad Richards, something they’ll do again tonight.  Richards will miss his second straight game with an upper body injury, adding to an already beat up group of forwards.

Sophomore Jamie Benn missed his eighth straight game last night with a shoulder injury while less important pieces like Krys Barch (scratched cornea, broken orbital bone), Raymond Sawada (seperated shoulder, broken nose) and Adam Burish (broken orbital bone) all remain out of the lineup.  Dallas did welcome centre Toby Petersen back to the lineup last night in a losing effort, making for a juggling act when it comes to line combos.  Here’s what to expect tonight:

Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Loui Eriksson
James Neal-Jason Williams-Tomas Vincour
Steve Ott-Toby Petersen-Jamie Langenbrunner
Aaron Gagnon-Tom Wandell-Brian Sutherby

Stephane Robidas-Jeff Woywitka
Trevor Daley-Matt Niskanen
Karlis Skrastins-Mark Fistric

As significant as the injuries to the Stars forward corps are, they’re also missing an important piece on the blueline.  Nicklas Grossman will miss his second straight game with a groin strain, and Dallas will miss him, as he’s been on their top shutdown pairing alongside Robidas.  Both guys have brutally tough zone start numbers, and are frequently matched against the top opposition of the other team.  They’ve actually done a fairly decent job, and losing that combo is going to take it’s toll on the team…Grossman is listed day-to-day.

It’s thought Kari Lehtonen will get the start in net tonight, even after playing in Edmonton the night before.  Andrew Raycroft was one of two Stars players taking the optional morning skate, so that would suggest Lehtonen will start once again.  He’s been pretty darn good this season, with a .932 ES save percentage, which puts him up there with Jonas Hiller, Roberto Luongo and Ondrej Pavelec.

The Story

This one is pretty simple…the Stars are slumping, and they’ve lost to Calgary in both of their previous meetings.  The Flames sit in the eight spot heading into the game, and they’re just two back of the Dallas Stars.  The story doesn’t change from here on out, but the Stars are beatable team, so beat em.