Fresh off an important 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, the Calgary Flames continue an important four game homestand tonight. Tonight they play an opponent that has no bearing on their playoff fortunes, so winning this one in whatever fashion is the most important thing. For the only time this season, Calgary takes on the New Jersey Devils (7:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
The Flames haven’t posted the most impressive record against Eastern opponents this season, sitting 2-7-4 in games against the other conference. Because tonight’s game is against a non-conference opponent, a win in any fashion is really all that matters; three point games are fine in this instance. An injured Calgary team was able to come away with a win over Minnesota on Saturday, and with the lineup challenges they’re battling right now, that was the type of game the Flames need to play, because at this point, I don’t know if they’re capable of a whole lot more.
Even with Mark Giordano close to returning to the lineup, the injured defenseman won’t be returning to active duty tonight. Head Coach Brent Sutter wants to see Giordano involved in a few more practices before getting him back in, so Thursday’s matchup with Anaheim is a more likely target date. The emergence of T.J. Brodie as a bonafide NHL defender has helped the Flames make up for the loss of their second leading minuteman.
Speaking of Brodie, Sutter was very complimentary of his rookie blueliner yesterday, and for good reason. Even though he’s seeing the most offensively tailored minutes among Calgary defensemen, Brodie has made the most of his minutes, which have steadily increased. Brodie has proven he belongs in this league, and even with the roster situation the Flames may find themselves in when they get more healthy, I can’t see them returning him to the American Hockey League.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Lance Bouma-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Blake Comeau-Blair Jones-Paul Byron
Tom Kostopoulos-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
Clay Wilson-Anton Babchuk
The line centered by Backlund was very strong on Saturday night, and it’s something that needs to happen if the team is going to have a shot at staying above water with their current situation. Kent has a nice post on Backlund right here, and regardless if you’re a fan of him this season or not, you can’t deny he was very strong against the Wild.
Miikka Kiprusoff had to make a number of key saves in Saturday’s win, especially early on when Minnesota seemed to control things. He’ll get the start tonight and Sutter suggested yesterday he could be the guy going in a number of the next few games for the Flames.
It’s a much improved New Jersey Devils squad when comparing them to the nightmare that was in the mix for the NHL lottery last season. A big part of that is health, as injuries were a huge reason for the awful first half of the season put forth by the Devils a year ago. Having Zach Parise at full strength has been important, and even with some minor injuries right now, New Jersey has most of their key pieces in the lineup.
Zach Parise-Adam Henrique-Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora-Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus
Mattias Tedenby-Steve Zalewski-David Clarkson
Eric Boulton-Ryan Carter-Nick Palmieri
Bryce Salvador-Adam Larsson
Mark Fayne-Henrik Tallinder
Kurtis Foster-Matt Taormina
While Parise hasn’t been the same possession power he was in his last healthy season (two seasons ago), he’s still been very dangerous when with the puck offensively. It’s been the duo of Elias and Sykora doing a lot of the positive possession work so far this season, which isn’t really all that surprising. They’ve been consistent performers at even strength throughout their entire career, and that has continued this season.
Anton Volchenkov has missed the last four games with a lower body strain, however the Devils may get him back in the lineup tonight. Volchenkov plays the toughest minutes on the team, as is the regular occurence for him, so getting him back in the lineup will certainly help their defensive depth. New Jersey is also without Andy Greene, another top six blueliner the team would welcome back.
It’s unfortunate to see likely the best goaltender of our era not even resembling a shadow of himself this season in Martin Brodeur. The surefire Hall of Famer has save percentage numbers south of .900 at both even strength and overall, and Brodeur is no longer the no doubt number one. Johan Hedberg’s numbers are superior, albeit unspectacular, and you can expect to see him get plenty of action in the second half of the season.
It’s always interesting to see these one off games, as this is the only meeting between the Flames and Devils this season. New Jersey sits seven games above the .500 mark, holding down sixth in the Eastern Conference as it stands right now. Last year, they were a pushover for much of the season. This season, they’re a quality opponent that has the finishing ability to take advantage of mistakes.