FGD: Crucial Stretch

If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t really see the Calgary Flames falling out of the playoff hunt between now and the NHL’s trade deadline at the end of the month.  Even with upcoming games against the likes of the Sharks and Canucks, I still see Calgary remaining within striking distance of eighth in the Western Conference.  That said, they start a three game road trip tonight in Anaheim that could prove to be very important (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).

Calgary didn’t get a ton of help over the weekend out of town despite taking care of their own business Friday with a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.  Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, and Phoenix all earned at least one point with the Wild moving four points ahead of the Flames for the final conference playoff spot.  The Flames likely aren’t going anywhere, but they’re running out of time to deal themselves a better hand.

The Lineup

Friday’s 3-1 win over Chicago saw the Flames lead by their top players, with Miikka Kiprusoff doing the job in net and the top offensive players carrying the weight up front.  Calgary’s powerplay is clicking right now, scoring six times in their last eight games and doing the job it needs to do while generating offence continues to be a struggle at even strength.  With Brent Sutter riding the likes of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen, and Mark Giordano on the man advantage, there’s nothing saying the solid production won’t continue.

Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Mike Cammalleri-Blair Jones-Krys Kolanos
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich

Not a bad outing for Krys Kolanos in his first NHL game in almost three years, as he seemed to fit in fine and saw some sizeable powerplay time as the game went on.  Now, the real challenge becomes how the Calgary product responds as he gets more and more consistent playing time.

Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight looking to earn his 300th career victory.

The Opponent

Oh what a nightmare first few months of the season the Anaheim Ducks endured after earning a home playoff date in the first round one year ago.  Granted, the Ducks were probably a little over their skis at fourth in the Western Conference, but even though they rode some favorable percentages to their seeding last year, they also weren’t a 14th place team either.  Realistically, Anaheim should be in the Western Conference pack, similar to Calgary or Phoenix, but a horrendous first half makes that a little less of a possibility.

That said, the Ducks are playing their best hockey of the season, coming off a red hot month of January to claim points in 11 of their last 13 games.  A 9-2-2 run has Anaheim eight back of Calgary et al, which is closer than they were but still a ways out.  Overall, Bruce Boudreau has staked them to a 12-11-4 record since taking over behind the bench to start the month of December.

Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake-Nick Bonino-Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey-Rod Pelley-George Parros

Francois Beauchemin-Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa-Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman-Sheldon Brookbank

Anaheim isn’t a very deep team, especially on the forward ranks, as they tip very top heavy.  The top trio had a rough first half of the season but have been moving the play much better of late, and their production is in line with that improved play.  Also improved is goaltender Jonas Hiller, who has to be knocking on elite’s door for the Ducks to have any shot at sustained success.  He’ll get the start in net tonight.

Sum It Up

The last time these two teams met, they had combined for a whopping 17 shots on goal in the first two periods of play.  Only six of those shots came from Flames players, so clearly deeming it a "low event" evening was a bit of an understatement.  It may not be conservative to that extreme in this meeting, but the way Calgary has played lately likely means we’re going to see a low scoring affair as the Flames try to win at the Honda Center, something they just do not do.

  • Graham

    If the Flames are serious about a playoff hunt, they really need to add another quality center. I wouldn’t overpay at the trade deadline, but some of Feasters attempted moves in the off season suggest he might.

    The three guys playing behind Jokinen have six goals between them; Jones (1 goal), Backlund (4 goals) and Stajan (1 goal).

  • wawful

    I’m a bit surprised Jones is playing on the second line. Perhaps the goal is to give Backlund some easier minutes and build some confidence?

    Regardless, the Flames are playing a guy they got in a trade for a career AHL’er as their second line C. Seriously, there are guys on waivers right now who are better than Mikkelson. If Jones really is up to second line duty then that trade was a steal.

  • Franko J

    Very tough outing tonight for the Flames. Anaheim has Calgary’s number at the Honda {Duck Pond} Center. For some reason the Ducks elevate their play on home ice against the Flames.

    IMO it will come down to the 3rd / 4th line centers on either team who will determine success tonight.

    I think if Stempniak was healthy the Flames would probably sitting either Stajan or Backlund tonight and Blair Jones would be playing 3rd line minutes and Kolanos would be centering instead.