Last month’s 2-1 shootout loss in San Jose for the Flames was the first time Calgary’s close-to-the-vest brand of hockey really seemed to pay noticeable dividends against a good team. The Flames took a lead into the third period and forced a shootout against one of the NHL’s heavy hitters, largely by limiting their potent opponent. Not much has changed for Calgary, as they’ll try to do something similar tonight against the Sharks (8 pm, TSN and Sportsnet 960).
The Flames lost their 14th straight game in Anaheim on Monday night, a game that a little bit of everything. Calgary was somewhat listless in the first period, lucky to come out alive in the second, and impressively dominant in the third. A rollercoaster ride type game like that tonight likely won’t be as close. The Flames enter tonight in sole possession of 12th in the Western Conference after Colorado and Phoenix wins last night. The good news? Dallas and Minnesota lost in regulation.
Nothing much changes for the Flames and their lineup tonight, as everything remains the same from Monday’s loss in Anaheim. Once the team got their legs uder them, the top end players seemed to do the job once again, with the likes of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, and Olli Jokinen all very effective and dangerous. Now, let’s see that right off the hop. Miikka Kiprusoff starts in net.
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
The Flames signed defenseman Derek Smith to a two year contract extension today, rewarding the 27 year old with a one way contract after his nice season thus far. Smith remains on the shelf with an ankle injury, but prior to his injury he had done a nice job making a case for himself as a full time NHL defender. I don’t see him being much more than a third pairing guy, but that’s okay on a good value $775,000 annual cap hit.
After a stretch of not-so-good hockey, the Sharks have won three of their last four games heading into tonight, holding a two point edge on the LA Kings for top spot in the Pacific Division. Again, as has been the case everytime we’ve written up San Jose, their point total is a little deceiving because they still have played the lowest number of games in the Western Conference with just 50. They could be right there with Detroit and Vancouver for top spot if their games in hand go the way they’d like.
Andrew Desjardins-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Ryane Clowe
Jamie McGinn-Michal Handzus-Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester-John McCarthy-Benn Ferriero
Dan Boyle-Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray-Brent Burns
Colin White-Justin Braun
It doesn’t really matter who you put with Thornton and Pavelski at this point, because those two guys are hammering it right now. Head Coach Todd McLellan can start them defensively and expect them to get a shot or two on the other net on a regular basis, and they have done just that. It’s funny to see Thornton’s relatively low 44 points in a season where he could be playing his best all round hockey; sometimes it just works that way. The scary thing is the prospect of having a healthy Martin Havlat play with San Jose’s top duo. GM Doug Wilson told me today Havlat is due back in early March.
Antti NIemi is having a solid season in net for the Sharks, and will likely get the start tonight. He hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, but on a team that has the puck as much as San Jose does, he doesn’t necessarily have to. Niemi blanked the Flames in their last meeting, his third shutout of the season at that point (he now has four). Thomas Greiss has done a decent job as the backup as well.
Calgary has lost five straight games at the HP Pavilion, and while it isn’t quite like the horror story in Anaheim, it’s still a streak that would be nice to snap. The Flames have shown they can skate and stay competitive with the higher end teams in the conference during a regular season game, but sometimes those high end teams are going to be patient enough to beat you. That’s what happened eight days ago against Detroit, while Calgary’s gameplan was successful Friday against Chicago. Let’s see what they’ve got tonight.