FGD: Spring Jackets

You can always tell spring is upon us when the race for the playoffs heats up like it has over the last few weeks, and a couple teams right in the thick of it play tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome.  Coming off a 4-2 loss Thursday in Edmonton, the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets pay a March visit to Calgary for their fourth and final meeting with the Flames.

It’s a huge game for both squads, with Columbus holding three games in hand heading in and with an opportunity to move within striking distance.  Three games in hand with a six or eight point deficit means a whole lot less than three games in hand with just four points to make up.  For Calgary, they’ve dropped to eighth in the Western Conference, thanks to out of town wins by Los Angeles and Nashville last night, so the stakes aren’t any lower for the Flames.

The Lineup

The Flames will deal with their first significant injury in a while, as they’ll play without Brendan Morrison.  He’ll miss the game after suffering a knee injury against Chicago on Wednesday, a knee injury that didn’t look good when watching on TV.  It’s a huge loss for Calgary’s top line, which was putting up points on a fairly consistent basis, and let’s not forget how pleasant a surprise Morrison has been.

With Morrison out, the top line gets a bit of a face lift, and the rest of the combinations get jumbled as a result.  Head Coach Brent Sutter hasn’t decided if the lines we saw at morning skate will stick to tonight, but if they do, Freddy Modin will make his Flames debut on the fourth line.  Sutter said he’s still deciding if the team will go with the traditional 12 forwards and six defencemen, or go forward with 11 up front and seven on the back end.  Here were lines and pairings at skate this morning:

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

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

Tanguay talked this morning about the differences between playing the wing and moving to center, if that’s indeed where he spends most of his time tonight.  Tanguay hasn’t played a lot of center in his NHL career, seeing a little time in Colorado, but with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg already on the team, he wasn’t going to play a lot down the middle.  The last time he saw regular time at center was in junior.

No surprise as to who starts in net…Miikka Kiprusoff goes for the 19th consecutive time.

The Opponent

The Blue Jackets missed a grand opportunity last night, falling in Edmonton in a game they really needed to have.  They enter 12th in the West, six back of Calgary with the aforementioned three less games played.  While it’s true they have played better of late, they’re still a team that can’t afford to throw away games against last place opponents, something they did in the provincial capital.

Columbus made a somewhat significant move on deadline day, acquiring Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for blueline mainstay Rostislav Klesla.  Upshall was immediately slotted on the Jackets third line with Sammy Pahlsson and Derek Dorsett, a line Head Coach Scott Arniel loves to throw out for a ton of defensive zone faceoffs.  Pahlsson has an offensive zone start hovering around 35%, while Dorsett’s is only slightly higher at just over 43%.

The Jackets are the definition of a middle-of-the-road hockey team.  They have some nice pieces, they’re able to scratch and claw to some favorable runs, and they can get on a roll…but there’s nothing about them that screams scary.  Neither of their special teams are particularly good, they’re okay defensively, and have average offensive capability.  All of the above is kind of what makes them dangerous; they will hang around in hockey games and capitalize on mistakes.

Rick Nash leads them in scoring, not surprisingly, and despite his average underlying numbers, Nash is still an extremely dangerous hockey player.  While he may not be in the truly elite class, his offensive instincts from the blueline in are formidable, and giving him too much space is the recipe to be burned.  R.J. Umberger, Jakub Voracek and the injured Derrick Brassard have provided nice secondary scoring for a sometimes offensively challenged team.  Here are lines and pairings for tonight:

Rich Nash-Antoine Vermette-Jakub Voracek
Matt Calvert-Derek MacKenzie-R.J. Umberger
Derek Dorsett-Sammy Pahlsson-Scottie Upshall
Ethan Moreau-Chris Clark-Jared Boll

Jan Hejda-Sami Lepisto
Fedor Tyutin-Grant Clitsome
Kris Russel-John Moore

The Columbus back end isn’t a who’s who to start with, so the loss of Anton Stralman to a knee injury isn’t going to help matters.  The team is also without former Flames forward Kristian Huselius thanks to an ankle injury; he’s listed day-to-day.  Brassard’s hand injury still has him out of the lineup indefinetely.

It sounds as if Steve Mason will start tonight, but with the Jackets not skating or even coming around the rink today, it’s tough to tell.  Mason got yanked in Edmonton last night after allowing the fourth goal, which leads the Columbus broadcasters to assume he’ll get the start.  He’s been pretty good as of late, last night not withstanding.

The Story

Columbus needs this game.  It’s a huge opportunity for the visitors to reel in a team they’re chasing in the Western Conference.  Calgary needs this game.  It’s a huge opportunity to put a chasing team in their rear view mirror, and extending a lead to eight points is a good way in doing that.  The Jackets have played the Flames tough the last two games, so this one should be tight.

  • icedawg_42

    Yeah – I dont necessarily agree that Backlund is ready for first line minutes (although, he is a crafty and skilled player, and that might work surprisingly well with players of Tangs’ and Iggy’s ilk) – im also more in the camp that says bump him up to the third line, and hand him some more minutes and tougher situations to deal with, and see what shakes out. I think Kent posted one night that Backs played over 15 minutes a few games ago – I was surprised by this..but I’d like to see what he can do with it…lets face it, at the moment, this kid is our ‘future’

  • SmellOfVictory

    @SmellOfVictory

    Agree 100%. Plus, I think he deserves the chance. He’s done well progressing this year and although he’s played against lesser opposition, he hasn’t been given the chance with the big guys.

  • icedawg_42

    Agree 100%. I was absolutely shocked when he signed that big $$ extension. I believe he had only played a couple games at the time. You can’t tell if someone’s worth that in a couple games.

  • icedawg_42

    I don’t expect we see Modin in too much of a role. Probably on the 4th line and maybe a bit of PP time. As a side note I was a little disappointed that Backlund wasn’t elevated to play with Iggy and Tanguay.

    • This is not a knock on Backlund, but what has he done that convinces you he’ll be able to play the type of minutes needed from a guy on the top line?

      I don’t believe Backlund is ready for that type of responsibility. If you’re going to elevate him, but him on the third line and give him 13-15 minutes per game.

      I really like Backlund and I think he’s done a good job progressing at the NHL level, and can do more than where he’s at now…but that’s quite the boost.

      • SmellOfVictory

        He has played, on occasion, against other teams’ top lines (incl. Detroit’s, IIRC) and held his own. I know it’s a jump from the bottom 6 to the top line in terms of minutes and responsibility, but against the competition he’s faced, he’s looked very strong. He’s excellent defensively and creative offensively; pucks just haven’t gone in for him, and his linemates tend not to be of the sniping variety.

    • Not for sure. Sutter said all lineup decisions will be gametime today…but I’d say the lines above will be what we see tonight.

      Sutter basically said he’s deciding whether to go with 12 forwards, 6 defencemen or 11 forwards, 7 defencemen.

    • The problem is, he hasn’t really shown the ability to elevate much higher and do so effectively. Part of the reason he’s been okay in his current slot is because he’s playing against nobodies on a regular basis.

      • icedawg_42

        The thing that really gets me is how fast he got signed to that big $$ extension – he didn’t have to do anything to prove himself, he didn’t even have to showcase what he would bring every night, he was pretty much signed when he got off the plane. Money that could be well spent elsewhere. – your point exactly, you know what he brings every night, but Darryl didnt wait long enough to see what that would be. I’m also very curious to see what Modin will bring tonight.

  • Lucas73

    @ Kent Wilson. I agree with you, yet they somehow have been finding ways to win… at least enough to be in the race. This is not unlike how a lot of people have viewed the Flames. That said, I think the Flames have a better team. Calgary needs to show themselves that they can win with a modified line-up tonight. Morrison has been great but they need to know and have confidence that they can handle an injury like this and be okay. Go Flames Go!

    • Calgary has better depth than Columbus, no doubt. They need to assert that depth to win, because if you play a passive game against the Jackets, they’ll stick around.

      If Calgary takes it to them, Columbus isn’t a team that routinely comes back from two and three goal deficits.

      • icedawg_42

        I would have thought – or hoped, that Backlund would have been more of a beneficiary of this injury situation. Put him up at least with Jack-Jack and Haggy. Everyone here knows what I think of Stajan – give him 4th line minutes. Im glad Brent has kept the Jokinen GlenX Moss line together though, no use messing with that one.

  • The BJ’s are really vulnerable tonight. They’re forward lines are garbage after Nash (excepting Umberger, who is a fairly good player), their back-end is meh, their goalie is bad and they’re playing on the second night of a B2B.