The Calgary Flames hook up with the Los Angeles Kings for the third time this season, but for the first time, the teams play with significant stakes on the line (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). Both teams enter with 58 points and both teams enter on the outside looking in of the Western Conference playoff race.
The last time the Kings were in town, the Flames put together a very impressive second half to give their fans a successful hope opener. Calgary is playing their best hockey of the season, with 27 of a possible 36 points in their last 18 games, which amounts to .750 hockey over that span. Calgary’s 12-3-3 span is buoyed by a current six game win streak, and the Flames will try for seven tonight, which would tie for the second longest win streak in team history.
After being called up prior to Thursday’s 4-2 win over Atlanta, Lance Bouma makes his NHL debut tonight for the Flames. The 2008 third round draft pick has spent the season in the American Hockey League and will slot in on the fourth line with Mikael Backlund and Tom Kostopoulos. Bouma plays because Niklas Hagman will miss his second straight game with an undisclosed injury.
Bouma also enters the lineup which means Steve Staios will not play, as he spent time as a forward on Thursday, albeit very limited time. Staios played just 4:03, all even strength, against Atlanta and it certainly limited the Flames when it comes to rolling four lines. Jarome Iginla saw time on the fourth line in double shift scenarios, and he was on the ice when Backlund scored the winner in the thrid period.
All the other lines stay the same, as Tim Jackman remains with Matt Stajan and Curtis Glencross. The top line is the interesting one, as they haven`t had overly strong outings during this six game span, yet they`re contributing at important times. Brendan Morrison extended his point streak to six games on Thursday, tying the game 55 seconds after Anthony Stewart gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead. Against Nashville, Iginla started the play that ended up in Cory Sarich`s tying marker in the third period. Here are lines and pairings tonight:
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Curtis Glencross-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net for the Flames, as he`s played some strong hockey over the last while. I`m not sure when Henrik Karlsson will get his next start, but I`m glad the team didn`t panic and start playing him significantly more when Kiprusoff was going through his struggles. Kiprusoff has been a contributing factor to Calgary`s six game streak.
The LA Kings enter action tonight playing some much better hockey, after a two month span when things were not going their way. They have points in five straight games and they, like the Flames, have creeped within one point of the post season. LA played a solid enough game in their last outing against the Edmonton Oilers, scoring three unanswered to take a 3-1 win.
Injury wise, the Kings are doing pretty good, missing two forwards. Scott Parse has seen a lot of defensive responsibility and will miss around another ten days with with a hip injury, while newly acquired Marco Sturm is on injured reserve with knee tendinitis. Overall, the team has struggled on the offensive side of things, and their struggles in scoring goals have been the largest reason for their struggles.
Defensively, this team has been very strong, and their 126 goals against is second in the Western Conference, with only Nashville and Vancouver allowing fewer goals. Jonathan Quick has put up decent numbers in net, but his .927 ES save percentage doesn’t rank up there with the elite numbers in the league this year. Quick has been good of late, and he’ll get the start in net for the Kings tonight. Here are lines and pairings:
Ryan Smyth-Jarrett Stoll-Justin Williams
Andrei Loktionov-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Trevord Lewis-Wayne Simmonds
Brad Richardson-Michal Handzus-Alexei Ponikarovsky
Willie Mitchell-Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson-Rob Scuderi
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene
Both Stoll’s and Kopitar’s lines have given pretty significant contributions at even strength, while the bottom two lines see quite a lot of defensive responsibility. The Kings are much like the Flames in their ability to roll four solid lines, and it should make for an interesting matchup.
In terms of standings, the Flames haven’t played a bigger game than this in ages. The team has fought so hard to get themselves into a fighting position, but tonight they play a team with the same amount of points, and a team they’ll be fighting with if they’re going to end up in the dance. With two games left against the Kings, the importance of this game can’t be understated.