In honor of VF’s below post about Calgary’s current goal song, I thought today’s title was perfectly fitting for their opponent tonight. More than three months into the season, the Flames will play a Pacific Division team for the first time, starting a string of four straight against the NHL’s western-most grouping. Tonight, they play the weak sister of the five, hosting the Anaheim Ducks for the first time this season (7:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
With seven consecutive wins on home ice, the Flames have been able to tread water overall. Calgary’s respectable record at home has helped make their horrid play on the road a little less damaging, with the Flames now winners of nine of their last ten overall on Saddledome ice. Their opponent tonight sits 14th in the Western Conference, so it’s a fair expectation to see the Flames push their record to 3-0 on this important four game stint at home.
While it’s not certain, it’s basically certain. Mark Giordano looks a sure thing to return to the Calgary Flames lineup tonight, after missing 21 games with a hamstring injury suffered December 1st. The defenseman was second on the team in average ice time prior to his injury, so getting him back in the lineup will do nothing but help the team. Clay Wilson looks to exit in his place. Other than that, things remain the same.
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
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
T.J. Brodie-Anton Babchuk
That’s just a guess on pairings, as we don’t know who Giordano will play with for sure at this point. Scott Hannan is close to returning to the Flames lineup after suffering an upper body injury against the Boston Bruins. What Calgary does when Hannan is ready to return will be very interesting, as the team will have to decide whether it’s Sarich, Brodie, or Babchuk who exits the lineup. To me, there is no decision, as Sarich and Brodie have proven they belong right now.
Jarome Iginla was named Calgary’s only representative for the All Star Game at the end of the month. It’s as much a nod for his career accomplishments as it is for his season. It’s not like Iginla’s season has been bad, but when you’re on a non-playoff team, there’s not going to be a ton of representatives period; Iginla scored 500 earlier this month, he’s the natural choice.
Miikka Kiprusoff starts in net.
The Ducks actually started the season 4-1, showing some promise from the team that finished with a home playoff seed last year. However, a nightmare stretch started after that which culminated in the firing of longtime Head Coach Randy Carlyle. He was replaced literally seconds later by Bruce Boudreau, who hasn’t done much better; the Ducks are 6-9-2 under their new bench boss since taking over to start December. That said, Anaheim has their first three game win streak under Boudreau going heading into tonight, including a 5-2 win over Dallas on Tuesday night.
The Ducks shouldn’t be as bad as they’ve been, as their underlying numbers aren’t overly horrible. Teams like Minnesota and Nashville have much lower possession stats, but that’s how this league goes most of the time. With that said, no one is misconstruing Anaheim as a deep squad. Their forward depth drops off after their top six, while their blueline employs Sheldon Brookbank. I think the latter of those two statements is more worrying, to be honest.
After a season where Corey Perry truly was one of the NHL’s most impactful players, that same success hasn’t been there so far this year. Anaheim’s lack of punch from their big line has been as large a reason for their lack of success to this point, as the trio of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan just aren’t affecting the play the way they did the year prior. Saku Koivu can still play this game at both ends of the ice, and he’s been a big reason why Teemu Selanne leads the team with 41 points. The other big reason is because Teemu Selanne is an ageless robot. Sorry Nik Hagman, I can’t give you a whole lot of credit for that., although the former Flames forward has done a decent job by all accounts since joining the team on re-entry waivers.
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake-Nick Bonino-Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey-Rod Pelley-Kyle Palmieri
Francois Beauchemin-Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa-Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman-Sheldon Brookbank
There’s one more large, large reason for Anaheim’s fairly dramatic fall from grace this year: goaltending. Since entering the league as a regular goaltender, Jonas Hiller has consistently stopped more than 93% of shots at even strength. Well, until this year. Hiller is down below the .900 mark in 35 appearances this season, which is something a team lacking depth like this one can’t compensate for. It would seem he hasn’t yet fully recovered from his bizarre bout of vertigo from last year. Hiller is on the shelf currently and won’t go tonight; Jeff Deslauriers will get the start.
The scary thing about this team is how deadly we know Anaheim’s top end can be. Regardless of what has happened in the first half of the season, there are players on this team that can take over a game on any given night. Calgary cannot allow that to happen, and even with a beat up lineup, keeping the big guns somewhat in check should allow them to tee off on Anaheim’s questionable bottom six forwards. That’s a big if, however, as we know how much a certain Finn likes to play against the Flames.