While most in Flamesland are now busily fabricating semi-plausible deadline trade scenarios or hunting down top-10 prospect lists for the draft in June, the reality is the team still has a bunch of games to play this season before any of that stuff matters. The second half begins tonight versus the Detroit Red Wings.
They aren’t the overpowering juggernaut of yesteryear, but the Wings are still decent. Datsyuk and Zetterberg have taken real steps back in terms of their ability to control play this season (the latter in particular) and they aren’t girded by the sort of depth that would help soften the blow of that decline. Still, going from "incredibly dominant even strength players " to "pretty good" isn’t quite the death knell for Hockeytown’s unending playoff streak. Yet.
The Wings have suffered through injuries, too, on top of the massive loss of Lidstrom to retirement in the off-season. The club has some quality players coming up through the system in Gustav Nyquist (who should play tonight), Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson while import Damien Brunner has filled in well in the top-6. That said, replacing Datsyuk/Zetterberg once they finally do fall off the horse is going to be a tall order.
So Detroit is merely "good" and their top-end still needs to be respected, but they’re no longer unbeatable demi-gods. They currently sit 7th in the Western Conference and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s more or less where they stay for the rest of the year.
The Flames still have the faintest of faint chances of making the dance. No doubt some portion of the fanbase wants the club to throw in the towel now in order to improve their chances at a lottery pick, but the players have pride and future contracts to play for, so expect Calgary to go down swinging. If there’s to be any sort of meaningful run at the post-season, though, it has to start right away: the boys need roughly a 65% win% through the rest of the year to even have a shot.
If, on the other hand, the true goal is the chance to draft Drouin, Barkov, Jones or MacKinnnon well…just pray that Kipper continues to channel his buddy Vesa Toskala.
Glencross skated this morning but will be a gametime decision. Cammalleri missed the practice, though it’s possible that was only for maintenance purposes. For now we’ll assume they are both in.
- Tanguay – Backlund – Iginla
- Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak
- Cervenka/Comeau – Cammalleri – Hudler
- Comeau/Cervenka – Begin – Jackman
- Bouwmeester – Brodie
- Wideman – Butler
- Sarich – Giordano
Backlund ended up playing with Iginla and Tanguay at the end of the Kings game. He scored the Calgary’s only goal in that role so it would surprise me if he didn’t at least start there tonight.
And just because I haven’t advocated enough for Backs the last year or two, Hartley needs to start thinking about given Mikael more PP time – not only does the team generate more shots at ES with him on the ice, they do so on the man advantage as well. There’s small sample concerns with that latter number, but it’s intuitive to assume he’ll have the same effect at 5on4 as he does at 5on5.
Brodie slid up to the top pairing to replace Mark Giordano (who spent a week or two serving up platters to the team’s best skaters) and didn’t look out of place. I’ll be stunned if he persists there long term given how tough that assignment is and his youth, but it’s impressive he managed even a single game in that role without looking hopelessly overwhelmed.
Word is the Wings could get Filppula back tonight, adding a bit more punch to their top-6. Nyquist is the AHL’s leading scorer with 60 points in 57 games, so he should land in a scoring role as well.
- Nyquist – Datsyuk – Franzen
- Brunner – Zetterberg – Filppula
- Cleary – Abdelkader – Andersson
- Miller – Emmerton – Tootoo
- Kronwall – Ericsson
- Quincey – Smith
- Lashoff – Kindl
The depressed state of the Wings blueline post-Lidstrom is obvious. Smith, Kindl and Lashoff are all kids, each with less than two full seasons under their respective belts. Kindl and Smith are walking on their own, but Lashoff is getting beat up, even on the third pairing. Incredibly, Ian White has gone from Lidstrom’s frequent partner last year to a current healthy scratch (despite Detroit’s needs on the back-end). None of his numbers are overly terrible, so I’m not sure what is motivating Babcock to give the former Flame the stink-eye.
Nik Kronwall has tried to fill Lidstrom’s clown sized shoes and has managed to keep his head above water as the club’s number one defender. He’s not Lidstrom, obviously, but at least he’s not completely out of his depth. That said, you can see why the Wings are rumored to be interested in Jay Bouwmeester.
Sum it Up
Detroit is battling their slow slide from annual contenders to a middle-tier Western Conference club. The Flames, on the other hand, are battling the inevitable. Calgary can still make the post-season with an incredible turn-around (starting tonight) while the Wings will want to climb back up the ladder as much as possible.
Game time is 7:30 on TSN tonight. I will be attending, so Justin will be counting chances. Tune in to cheer for or against the Flames, depending on your sensibilities.