FGD: The Devil You Don’t Know

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.

The Lineup

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.

The Opponent

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.

The Story

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.

    • RexLibris

      I think most of us here at the nations could be classed as NSFW in one way or another.

      So will this be a game with one eye wistfully scouting out Parise as a potential FA Flame?

      I’m going to the Oiler/Mouseketeers…I mean Devils game tomorrow night. I really don’t care about Kovalchuk or Volchenkov or even Elias. I’m curious to watch Henrique, Larsson and Tedenby. Henrique is challenging RNH for the Calder attention right now and I’ll be very interested in watching how he plays.

      Oh, and speaking of the picture at the top, how do we get to know THAT devil?

  • Vintage Flame

    K.. I’ve tried reading the article 5 times now, and my damn computer just keeps auto-scrolling back to the top.

    Bottom line, just win the damn game. Stay out of the penalty box, and pretty much capitalize on every opportunity the devils give you, cause there won’t be many.

    Probably the last time we’re going to see Marty in Calgary.. So that will bring a tear to my eye. #NoNotReally

    Speaking of bottoms, Patrick… Well Done!
    Who is this fine lass?

  • Subversive

    @ Subversive

    There’s a first paragraph? Didn’t see it.

    @ Kent

    Let’s face it, with this team we tend to get too serious in analyzing their faults, weaknesses and shortcomings. I enjoyed the picture Pat put up and couldn’t resist the urge to lighten things up a bit.

    • RexLibris

      As Pat displayed, going with the same lines (& line-up) that we saw on Saturday. Word is that Gio is hoping to return by Thursday or maybe Saturday against the Kings. I’d be surprised to see anyone coming in since it looks like some bodies will be coming back into the line-up eventually, so more likely you’ll be seeing our 2 way contracts going back down.

  • RexLibris

    I’m not trolling, but I saw this on DownGoesBrown and his winners and losers article today and couldn’t resist:

    “Winner: Calgary Flames – The struggling franchise continues to draw comparisons to the 2008 Maple Leafs, which is great news since it means they’re only a few years away from being able to trade all their worst players to the Calgary Flames.”


    For the record, that isn’t me drawing Flames-Leafs comparisons.

    Anyway, good luck to the Flames tonight. I actually want to see them win this game, if only to keep things interesting for NHL hockey somewhere in this province.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Actually thats the 2nd time you have drawn the Leaf narrative parallel with the Flames in 3 days.

      Your question from the other day:
      “So would you be happy with a pick in the 8-10 range, or would it be just that much more frustrating to finish low without having a better pick to show for it? I’m just curious what the feeling is in the fans with the draft becoming more of a centre of focus there now than perhaps it has been in recent years.”

      I would be happy to pick anywhere in the top 10, but I’m not an advocate of this as the sole method to build the tea back up. The trouble is free agency is not the panecia for success either. Feaster has a big job ahead of him and will need to draft, trade and deal at free agency (as a seller) well to get this team back on track.

      • RexLibris

        The first time that I mentioned the Leafs and the Flames was, at least in my intention, no different than if I were to compare the Flames with the Canadiens as teams that have a hockey-mad fanbase and a sputtering team with contract trouble. I’m not mentioning the Leafs next to the Flames in order exploit anti-Toronto sentiment in Calgary, but rather, when thinking about teams that make perennial late-season charges, those two always come to mind.

        As for this time around, I found this clip on the interwebs and passed it along. I wasn’t going out looking for a Toronto angle but instead just found a clip talking about Calgary. The author only mentions Toronto because there has been, recently and historically, a great deal of cross-pollination of players between the two teams.

        I don’t go out of my way to compare and contrast the two teams, or cities, here. That would be tantamount to trolling (which tells you what I think of Toronto as a team and a franchise). I have dropped the “T” word in relation to Calgary, but only as a last resort, just as Vintage. =)

        So I guess this post itself could make it three in three (yay, hat trick!) but just to make certain, here’s a little clip some of you might enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2x5bA05xYAU I don’t know if anyone here has seen the movie, but it’s kind of funny.

        As for the draft question, yes, I agree that it’ll take more than any one single thing to help the Flames, but then it takes more than any one single thing to help all but the most well-built teams. Even champions need to draft and sign well in order to remain competitive (or in Carolina’s case, even relevant). So Feaster does have a lot of work ahead of him. My take on it is that he is going to do all things simultaneously, meaning that he will pursue the free agents to immediately improve the team, continue to draft aggressively, and deal for improvement where he can. The problem with doing it all at once is that if you accomplish the first too well you weaken the rate of return on the second while the third option has, thus far, never been a strength of this GM. Time will tell, and I look forward to seeing how he executes his plan this spring and summer.