FGD: Do We Still Need a Bigger Boat?

 

Tonight, the Flames welcome the San Jose Sharks to the Dome (they’re likely on the plane from Vancouver right now!) for the first time since game one. Much has happened for both of the teams since that time, so don’t expect it to be anything like that match. Or do. I dunno.

For the Flames, they’ve lost a starting goaltender, a possession center and some games they likely shouldn’t have. They’ve also won some that they shouldn’t have as well, so it’s pretty even in terms of that. For the Sharks, they started off insanely well, winning all of their games in January – and then proceeded to go 2-6-4 in the month of February. Most of that was likely regression-based, as their PDO had been strong to start the season and is now pretty close to even as we start March.

This will be the Flames’ fifth (!) attempt at breaking the .500 mark this season, and playing a team on the second game of a back to back (again) gives them a bit of an advantage.

The Line-Up

 

  • C. Glencross M. Stajan L. Stempniak
  • J. Hudler R. Cervenka J. Iginla
  • A. Tanguay M. Cammalleri S. Baertschi
  • S. Begin B. Comeau B. McGrattan
  • M. Giordano J. Bouwmeester
  • C. Butler D. Wideman
  • T.J. Brodie D. Smith
  • M. Kiprusoff

Miikka Kiprusoff looks to return tonight after being first off of the ice at practice this morning. For as bad as he was before his injury, he’s still the best goaltender the Flames have by quite a large margin. Danny Taylor will likely be sent down tomorrow, if not sooner, and Joey MacDonald will ride the pine for about 24 of the next 28. Mikael Backlund is also drawing nearer to a return, so that’s nice.

For as much crap as Mike Cammalleri has taken this season, it’s interesting to note that he’s currently scoring at a PPG pace on the year (8-8-16 in 17GP). To my knowledge, he’s never been a real tough-minutes guy, but he definitely has that scoring ability still. It’ll be interesting to see if he keeps up the pace over the whole 48 game season, but I have a hunch he’ll be pretty close to PPG at the end. He’s currently tied for second on the team in scoring with Jarome Iginla (6-10-16 in 20GP), behind Alex Tanguay (6-11-17 in 20GP).

Everyone’s been really impressed with TJ Brodie this season, myself included. He’s been a legit top-4 guy pretty much the entire season, marking the first time in forever that the Flames have actually had 4 top-4 quality defensemen in the line-up at the same time. Along those lines, it still baffles me as to why the Flames continue to play Cory Sarich and Anton Babchuk in any role. That said, TJ’s been moved down the rotation with Smith the last few games. We’ll see how Butler does with Wideman for now.

The Opposition

 

  • L. Couture J. Thornton B. Kearns
  • T. Kennedy P. Marleau J. Pavelski
  • R. Clowe S. Gomez J. Sheppard
  • A. Desjardins A. Burish T.J. Galiardi
  • M. Irwin D. Boyle
  • B. Stuart M. Vlasic
  • D. Murray J. Braun
  • A. Niemi

The Sharks have relied quite heavily on their big guns thus far this season, as only 5 players have reached double-digits in points. Joe Thornton continues to be one of the best centermen in the entire league down the middle and as such Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski have reaped the rewards of playing with him. All three are legit tough-minutes guys, which makes it easy for coach Todd McLellan to go power-versus-power on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, the bottom of the roster has failed to take advantage of the easier assignments, at times because of injury but at others because of inept play. TJ Galliardi has only 3 points, Ryane Clowe hasn’t scored yet (which is pissing me off because I have him on my fantasy team), Martin Havlat has had nagging injuries the whole season and Michal Handzus got old the same time he signed with the Sharks.

With the lack of scoring depth in mind, the Sharks have continued to be in a playoff position basically on the back of Antti Niemi, who’s carrying the team at the moment. His numbers are quite gaudy – a 1.83 GAA and .935 SV% (.941 at evens), both good enough to put him in the top-5 of the league in both catigories. I don’t think he’ll be able to keep that up over the whole season, so the Sharks better hope they bank enough points now or get secondary scoring later if they want to get out of the first round.

Sum It Up

The Flames have yet another good chance to move above .500 tonight, playing a tired team on home ice that lacks depth. If Bob Hartley plays his lines right (i.e. try to shut down Thornton somehow) and Kiprusoff isn’t too rusty after being off for a month, I like their chances.

Catch it on 960 or Sportsnet West tonight.