… Good question. While Saturday’s win against the Canucks was huge for the team in that it got them to within a deuce of the eighth and final playoff seed, the Flames paid a pretty hefty price in doing so. Regardless of how you see Mikael Backlund’s role on this team – an offensive disappointment on a ticking clock, or a key defensive component in need of some time and patience – his injury during the Vancouver game means nothing but trouble for a team that isn’t getting any favours and by no means is taking the easy route to the post-season.
Backlund becomes the fifth of Calgary’s top nine forwards to limp off the ice and on to the IR list. He is the sixth player in total including Derek Smith. If you add that to earlier injuries to Tanguay and Giordano, the total goes up to eight. I’m pretty sure there is a television deal in there somewhere, because by my count… Eight is enough!
Calgary has a half dozen games left before the trade deadline. Three of them are against conference opponents that the Flames need two points against without giving up a loser point. That’s not to say the other three aren’t important as well, but against Toronto (tonight) and Philly, take the points however you can get them. The Edmonton game is what it is as always, but with the depleted line-up, even that contest won’t be a walk in the park.
Calgary has done well to cope with injuries as they have hit, but they are starting to plague the team now. Even though Brent Sutter and Jay Feaster are adamant about not using injuries as an excuse for how the season is going, or turns out, even they have to be shaking their heads about what seems like nothing less of a hex bestowed upon them by the Hockey Gods. Taking a look at the projected lines for the game against the Leafs, that second unit is down right frightening. Cammalleri moved to center and who’s that, Tom Kostopoulos on the wing? Tom Kostopoulos? It doesn’t exactly go uphill after that either.
WHERE TO TURN?
Earlier in the season, when the Flames were struggling with lines, chemistry and just generating shots, fans both here and on twitter often joked that management should switch the Flames out for a much more productive and successful Abbotsford Heat line-up. Well either by divine intervention or a sick joke, we’re getting ready to see that. The third line is all Abbotsford with Roman Horak centering Lance Bouma and Krys Kolanos. All three of these guys have served ably in their short stints with the club. I’ve been really impressed with the play of Bouma in his limited role, but as Rob Vollman showed us in this week’s Black Box, Lance is hardly a difference maker. I thank God that this game is at home, but even then I’m sure you’re going to see Ron Wilson do everything he can to get Phil Kessel’s line out there against the line of “Abby Road” (I just thought up that name).
So what do the Flames have going for them now? It seems that whenever they get close to a playoff spot, something like another injury knocks them back down a few rungs on the ladder. Listening to Eric Duhatschek on the Fan960 recently, he actually had some positive notes on the Flames. Duhatschek talked about how despite the injuries mounting up for Calgary, they still had their core six players healthy and playing well. Iginla, Jokinen, Tanguay and Cammalleri up front, while Bouwmeester and Giordano took care of manning the blueline; it may not be the prettiest scenario and there are many of the opinion that the Flames are just flat out getting lucky in wins like Saturday over Vancouver, but in the end who cares? I’m sure the players weren’t sitting in the dressing room upset that they won a ‘lucky one’, and neither should the fans, if they are in the group that want to see them make the post-season.
The fact remains that Calgary is going to have to not look a gift horse in the mouth. There were two things that made the win vs. the Canucks possible. First, Vancouver came out flat and not ready to play, and second Miikka Kiprusoff was once again, well Miikka Kiprusoff. Not only has Kipper given the Flames a chance to win almost every night, he has been the reason they have won as many games as they have. He’s going to have to continue that trend as well.
February is a pure survival month for Calgary and if you don’t usually tune into Nation Radio, then you should take a listen to this week’s podcast. In Segment Two, Allan talks to Kent about the Flames chance at the playoffs, the play of Kipper and if this is the best he has looked in years. One comment that scares the hell out of me, but fully agree with is that Kent said if Miikka can continue to play up to his current standards (ie. .921 Sv%), then he always gives the Flames a chance. However, if his play slips in a similar manner as last year, then the Flames are done for. That’s a pretty fair and accurate statement.
IN THE END
You can’t do anything about the injury situation, so like Feaster has said there is little point in harping about it, and it just gets redundant complaining about it so in the end, what do the Flames need to do right now, and for the rest of the regular season? The Flames need better health for a playoff push, but that isn’t going to happen until early to mid March, when they start getting back the likes of Stempniak, Glencross and Derek Smith.
Until then, they have two weeks and six games to fully commit to being either buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. The three conference games should give them that answer. They now sit three points behind Phoenix after the Coyotes gained a point in a shootout loss to the Canucks, and have a game in hand. Those only matter if you win them, so putting something together against the Maple Leafs tonight would be a good start.
To make up for the loss of Backlund, the Flames have recalled Paul Byron from Abbotsford. He’ll draw in on the fourth line. Personally I’d rather see him with Cammalleri and Comeau over Kostopoulos, but all the lines will be thrown in the blender eventually anyways, so I don’t think it matters too much at this stage.
Whether the flames make an impact deal or just a couple of depth moves at the deadline remains to be seen, but at the moment they are in the thick of a playoff battle, and they still have a shot at things. Lately I have been referred to as the “homer fanboy”, and I’m okay with that – I still think they have a decent shot at the playoffs and I think Feaster is working on a bigger deal rather than depth moves. The Flames will have some supproting when guys return in March, so what Calgary needs right now is that shot of offensive adrenaline that gets them over the hump.
Is that Jeff Carter or Michael Frolik, or even someone else? We’ll see over the course of the next two weeks.