The softest portion of the Flames final leg concludes tonight in Minnesota. Having the Oilers, Blue Jackets and Wild as opponents in rapid succession should have been a blessing to a team chasing the playoff (pipe) dream, but the fates and the Flames own shortcomings colluded to sour those hopes.
Speaking of sullied dreams, the Wild’s inevitable step into the elevator shaft has concluded with the expected, unpleasant "splat". They are now completely ensconced at 13th in the west, five points back of the Anaheim Ducks and four points up on the Oilers. They have a goal differential of -44 and the worst second half record of any team in the league. They’re also one of the few clubs who have an even worse per game shot differential than Calgary (-5.1).
I’d be lying if I told you I expected them to fall apart this completely when they were leading the West back in December, but regression and injuries hit that club like a ton of bricks.
Desbiens was returned to the Abbotsford Heat today, meaning more regulars are prepping to return to active duty.
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Comeau – Jones – Stempniak
Bouma – Kostopolous – Jackman
Butler – Bouwmeester
Giordano – Hannan
Smith – Babchuk
Butler, Jones and Bouma are all likely to go this evening, although a couple of them are considered "game time decisions". If Jones returns, it means the OMG lines is reunited and Sutter has two "checking line" options since that’s how he was using Jones before he was felled by injury. As such, the Iginla unit should get fairly complete sheltering, or at least as much as is possible on the road.
In addition, the Flames back-end looks a bit better with Butler in the lineup. Babchuk remains on the third pairing because Cory Sarich was injured in the Colorado game. It’s rumored he returned to Calgary for evaluation, so don’t expect him back right away.
Kipper in net.
The Wild are still banged up, but should be getting their captain and best overall foreard Mikko Koivu back this evening. Koivu is a tier below top difference making centers like the Keslers and Bergerons of the world, but he’s still the biggest gun the Wild possess.
Setoguchi – Koivu – Heatley
Christensen – Cullen – Clutterbuck
Powe – Brodziak – Johnson
Veilleux – Peters – Ortmeyer
Stoner – Gilbert
Scandell – Spurgeon
Kampfer – Posser
Dany Heatley has not been a panacea for the Wild’s offensive struggles. Can’t say I didn’t warn ’em. Once an elite level sniper and offensive weapon, Heater has been on the downward slope for years and that hasn’t slowed this season. The native Calgarian can still put the puck in the net from dangerous areas of the ice, but he’s strictly a limited, one-way player at this point in his career. He’s on pace for a career low 52-point season.
The rest of the depth chart is underwhelming to say the least, although I have a lot of time for Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak as middle rotation NHLers. Clutterbuck is best known as a hitter and a pest, but he survives in really tough circumstances. Brodziak, as you may remember, is a former Oiler fourth liner whom Edmonton traded away for nothing and has managed 35 goals for Minny over the last two seasons, including 19 so far in 2011-12.
Backstrom is still out, so Harding is the starter this evening.
The Wild have literally nothing to play for at this point. They have little hope of getting better or worse enough to improve their draft standing or place in the western conference. The remainder of the year is a grim death march for Wild fans, unfortunately.
That’s not quite true for the Calgary Flames yet, but it could be in short order if they don’t put up a few wins starting tonight.
Lots of pertinent out of town action tonight. The Dallas Stars are playing the Canucks, Phoenix faces the Avs, while San Jose and Los Angeles are in Boston and St. Louis respectively. If the "action" is as paint-dryingly bland as one can reasonably expect between the Flames and Wild, there will at least be a lot of interesting other games/scores to follow.