FGD: The Beat Goes On

Depending on how you look at it, the Calgary Flames are either 2-2-1 or 1-2-1 on their season-long, World Junior road string.  The former record includes the win over Vancouver before Christmas while the latter reflects the actual roadtrip portion of the stretch.  Nonetheless, Calgary needs wins over Washington and Boston to guarantee finishing above .500 looking at either a record, a tall task that starts tonight in DC (5 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).

The Lineup

I guess when you lose three games in a row where the team looked not-so-good, the Head Coach is going to juggle some lines.  Other than the top trio centered by Olli Jokinen, everything is different for tonight against the Capitals, including a move to the middle for Blake Comeau.  The duo of Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos has also been broken up, as the team tries to spark something.

Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Blake Comeau-Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman
Brendan Morrison-Roman Horak-Tom Kostopoulos

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Anton Babchuk-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich

It’s interesting to see Backlund centering Jackman tonight, as they had some nice chemistry in the early stages of last season.  Comeau moving to the middle is also interesting, but more interesting is the switch to the wing for Morrison.  The veteran center hasn’t really been all that great down the middle, so it may be in an effort to make him more effective.  No changes on the defense pairings, however, as we wait to see when Clay Wilson will play his first game with the Flames.

Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net.

The Opponent

After a scorching start to the regular season where the Capitals opened 6-0, the team has limped to a sub-500 record since then, currently sitting 20-15-2 and ninth in the Eastern Conference.  New Head Coach Dale Hunter seems to finally have the team playing a little more like the team we know they are, with wins in three straight games and his most important players producing as such over the last week or so.  It’s about time for a team that really had no excuse to be wallowing where they were.

Alexander Ovechkin-Brooks Laich-Troy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera-Jeff Halpern-Joel Ward
Matt Hendriks-Matthieu Perrault-Jay Beagle

Jeff Schultz-Roman Hamrlik
John Carlson-Karl Alzner
Dennis Wideman-Dmitri Orlov
Mike Green

You’ll see an interesting name at the bottom of the defense pairings, as the Calgary kid is back.  Playing in only eight games this season thanks to a groin injury, Mike Green is going to make his return to the Washington lineup tonight as the team will go with seven defenseman.  There’s no word who will come out of the lineup, but you can bet it’ll either be Beagle or Perreault.  Alex Semin won’t play tonight with a cut on his arm while a groin injury has veteran Tom Poti on the sidelines, an injury that is expected to keep him out all season.

With six points over his last three games (including four goals), Alexander Ovechkin is producing the most he has since the beginning of the season.  It’s not like 31 points is a bad total, but for a guy who once threatened to run away with the scoring title every year, it’s a litlte surprising.  It’s Backstrom leading the team in scoring with 39 points and Semin lagging way back with just 20; he’s been in and out of the doghouse of two seperate coaches.

Looking to rebound from a down season, Tomas Vokoun is kind of right around where he was with Florida last year.  His .918 save percentage at even strength is right around where it was last season, which is way down from the consistent 93% plus we’d seen from him for a good three season span prior.  Vokoun hasn’t been bad by any stretch, however, something backup Michal Neuvirth has been for too much of this season.  Vokoun gets the start.

The Story

The lesser opposition is behind the Calgary Flames, and with losses to Nashville, Ottawa, and the Islanders, Calgary is now riding a three game skid to start the new year.  While Washington is technically not a playoff team right now, I think it’s fair to say they’ve grossly underachieved so far this year, so lets hope that they arent’ a team that is set to get red hot, using the Flames as a step along the way.

  • I understand the need to shake-up things up, but the Flames forward line-up terrifies me. Especially heading into a game versus a club like WAS.

    Then you have Hannan and Babchuk as the putative second pairing.

    On paper, this looks like it will be a bloodbath. Here’s hoping the Flames can pull another VAN/DET like performance out of their butts.

    • RexLibris

      Who knows, Kent. Sometimes teams like these, that seem to meet once every blue moon, match up differently than would otherwise be expected. The Flames might surprise Washington with players and a style that they don’t see that often. Also, might Brent Sutter be able to exploit some strategic advantage on Carlyle?

      I’m not saying the dread isn’t well placed. Certainly, I wasn’t looking forward to what might have come about last night in the Edmonton-Chicago game. But the Flames always seem to finish the year with a handful of those “What team was that?” games that keep the media and fanbase talking about unrealized potential.

      @Brent G.
      I heard about Markus Granlund’s night. It sounds like he had a good night playing with his brother. It’ll be interesting to see what progress he has made by this August’s training camp.

    • loudogYYC

      I followed him when he was on the ice yesterday, Brent.

      He’s got skill but nowhere near his bro or Joel Armia. Nice to see him get in on 3 of the 8 goals but I wasn’t impressed. Way too soft.

    • Scott

      I did, he had a strong game, played both on the powerplay and penalty kill, in the 3rd period which is a good sign. Ray Ferraro has no idea that kid was drafted which was funny to listen to him go on and on about the edmonton picks playing for finland.

      On the down side, Granlund appears to have great acting chops as he faked a high stick to the face 5 feet in front of the ref, so lets hope thats not a sign of things to come.

      • RexLibris

        Why would Ferraro be talking about Edmonton prospects for Finland? We don’t have any on that roster and we’d arguably have to have a second first rounder to grab the one that stands out from the page, Olli Maata.

        He was probably talking about the Slovakian prospects, Marincin and Gernat. They are pretty interesting prospects. Marincin is a tree, skates well and plays nasty, while Gernat is another skyscraper who wheels but more of a scoring touch. I had a running bet with a friend at work as to whether Marincin would make it through the entire tournament or be suspended for another hit like last year.

        If Granlund is that good a diver, why not trade him to the Canucks for Schneider. Solves the Kiprusoff succession dilemma.

      • I wonder if Feaster can convince Minnesota that getting the brother will be like having the Sedins & get them to cough up that US kid Coyle(sp?). I really liked how that kid played for the US.

        Pat, Babchuk in the top 4 is just scary. Thank goodness we signed Hannan. Another injury back there & we may need to call 911. What pub is Bryan Mcabe been hanging out these days:)

  • Also of note is the return of Mike Green. If he’s healthy, he’s a very real difference maker from the back-end. A lot of people criticize him for his defense, but the truth is he’s still an elite offensive weapon when he’s not hobbled.

  • RKD

    Well after Jay-Bo went -5 in the last game, it’s unlikely he and Butler will be that bad again I hope.

    Switching around grinders and muckers from the the third and fourth line may not make much difference unless one of those lines scores a goal.

    Jackman and Kostopolous are a combined -17, brutal.

  • RKD

    Seems to me that a major driver of the line shuffle is to break up Byron & Horak. I noticed that Jackman/TK were out surprisingly often against Tavares and then Spezza last week (though I wasn’t counting), presumably that’s because he’s not willing to risk having his “3rd line” out against the wrong guys on the road. And remembering Lombardi/Nystrom/Boyd get pwned all too often a few seasons ago, I don’t blame him either.

    It’d be great news if Comeau can play a decent C when called upon; no idea whatsoever if that’s realistic (I wouldn’t bet on it though).

    • That seems reasonable Matt. We’ll see if spreading the contagion around does anything useful or not (my guess – not).

      It will be interesting to see how the ice times settle out tonight. Missing Moss, Tanguay and, yes, even Stajan is starting to stretch things pretty thin here.

  • Graham

    Yes, we have a couple of injuries, but the forward lineup would have trouble scaring an AHL team, look at the 2 and 3rd lines.
    I don’t even want to talk about the d corp…

    Rene Bourque-Blake Comeau-Lee Stempniak
    Paul Byron-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman

    Bourque 37 games – 16 points
    Comeau 20 games – 6 points
    Stempniak 40 games – 16 points

    2nd line, 97 games, 38 points

    Bryon 13 – 3
    Backlund 25 – 6
    Jackman 40 – 7

    3rd line – 78 games 16 points

    No wonder we tend to lose when we don’t compete hard… Comeau needs to score more if he wants to be resigned at anything like $2.5 million

    • I’m guessing Brent feels like he doesn’t have a choice given the alternatives. Especially since the line has been relatively “hot” since they were formed (although in terms of possession, they’ve mostly had their heads kicked in).

  • everton fc

    A few thoughts…

    Why would they not pair Brodie with Hannan?

    Why not try Bryon in his natural position at centre? Let Comeau play the wing??

    Jackman played well on the third line last season, when deployed in that role. I like this move.

    Morrison should be on the wing, at his age. He’s said it himself a few times – he’d prefer the wing. This move I also like.

    The Flames website lists Byron at 5’7″ 153 lbs. Is this serious? Why would we take a chance on a player that small? Maybe Gaudreau does have a chance to crack this lineup.

    Crazy as it sounds… Thankfully, we didn’t move Sarich. But we should still move Babchuk.

    Anyone having doubts about Backlund?

    Our roster is indeed a bit of a mess. It looks so “expansion”, does it not?? Hats off to Brent, I guess, for getting this much, in terms of points, from this motley crew!

    • everton fc

      re: Comeau vs Byron at C: Byron is awful on faceoffs and hasn’t shown himself to be very defensively responsible. He may play at centre but I think having him on the wing is probably a good thing.

  • everton fc

    brent”s blender will be working overtime by the half way mark of the second stanza, i dont know if its a coaching tactic or the moves of a desparate man.