With points in nine of ten games so far this month, the Calgary Flames will look to snap a modest two game losing skid tonight when they welcome the Philadelphia Flyers (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet 960). It’s a rare game the Flames will play that isn’t against a Western Conference opponent they’re right in the mix with; Calgary has just three more games, including tonight, left with Eastern Conference opponents.
As expected, both the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche won last night. That gives the Stars a two point edge on Calgary for the final playoff spot in the West while it moves the Avs even with Calgary in a tie for ninth. This conference won’t be getting any less tight over the next month, so every regulation loss seems to take on double meaning while every loss in extra time feels like a regulation loss. Must be almost March!
Guillaume Desbiens everybody! The latest call up for the Calgary Flames will play on the fourth line tonight with Krys Kolanos sidelined with a lower body injury. Desbiens enters the lineup after putting up 13 points in 51 games with Abbotsford this season, his first with the Flames organization. I guess the team feels they’re a little too easy to play against right now? We’ll see if Desbiens helps or hinders they’re cause for improving that.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Mike Cammalleri-Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Lance Bouma
Guillaume Desbiens-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Derek Smith
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
Jay Feaster told Sportsnet on Thursday night the team expects David Moss to return to the lineup for the week of March 5th, which will only be welcome news. It’d mean Comeau could likely be moved to a bottom six role which is much more in line with where he should be at this point. Lee Stempniak is still on crutches, so he looks to be a little further away than initial estimates.
Miikka Kiprusoff starts tonight.
Trailing the NHL points lead by three points, Claude Giroux will be very fun to watch tonight in Philly’s only trip to the Saddledome this year. With 70 points, Giroux trails only Steve Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin in overall points this year and there’s no question he’s made those around him better. Scott Hartnell, who has played on Giroux’s left flank all year, is on pace for career highs in goals and points with 28 and 56 respectively while Jaromir Jagr’s return to the NHL has certainly been helped by the guy they call ‘G’ as well. Jagr, while not on the top line tonight, has 16 goals and 42 points in his return at the age of 40.
Scott Hartnell-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Daniel Briere-Matt Read-Jaromir Jagr
James Van Riemsdyk-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds
Jody Shelley-Max Talbot-Eric Wellwood
Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn
Pavel Kubina-Matt Carle
Andrej Meszaros-Nicklas Grossman
Top to bottom, both up front and on defense, the Flyers are made up of some very effective players. Talbot is one of just four players to have played all 60 games with the team this year and has the lowest offensice zone start among forwards yet still has already set a career high in goals with 17. Simmonds has also shattered career highs with 22 goals this year and neither are doing it with overtly high shot rates. No wonder Philly is the second highest scoring team in the NHL, even after their decision to deal both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
On the back end, the loss of Chris Pronger won’t ever be compensated for fully, but Philly is doing a decent job. Recent acquisitions of Grossman and Kubina give the Flyers two players used to playing hard defensive minutes on their respective teams. Kubina is likely a rental, however the 27 year old Grossman might not be a bad re-sign if you’re GM Paul Holmgren. He’s young and he can play a vital role.
One area that you don’t rave about? Goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov gets the start tonight sporting a sub .900 save percentage and one sitting at just .911 at even strength. He’s been nothing but a disappointment since signing his big money deal during the summer.
The Flyers don’t pose a four point game scenario for the Calgary Flames, but neither did the Edmonton Oilers. Calgary cannot approach this game any diffierently than they have in important games against LA, Phoenix, Dallas and so on. The trade deadline is just a few days away, and many wonder if tonight’s Flames effort will help the team decide their approach come Monday at 1 pm.