California road swings are known to be atrocious for the Calgary Flames and most recent one (that also saw stops in Arizona and Texas) fit the bill. Five games, one win, unlimited tears and frustration.
Tonight they return to the inviting arms of the Scotiabank Saddledome and put their 2-0-1 home record on the line against the white hot Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. If you remember, the Flames opened their regular season in Washington and blew 3-0 and 4-1 leads en route to an overtime loss, so this is a rematch of sorts.
The Line Up
Curtis Glencross – Matt Stajan – David Jones
T.J. Galiardi – Mikael Backlund – Mike Cammalleri
Sven Baertschi – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Lance Bouma – Joe Colborne – Tim Jackman
Chris Butler – T.J. Brodie
Kris Russell – Dennis Wideman
Shane O’Brien – Chris Breen/Derek Smith
Derek Smith is in Calgary with the club so there is a possibility he plays tonight – my guess would be in place of Chris Breen who wasn’t very good in Dallas. That will probably be straightened out closer to game time.
With no Lee Stempniak in the forward ranks this evening, the lines get shuffled a little bit but there appears to be a high likelihood of a Jiri/Svenahan line reunion. Stempniak has been among the teams’ most consistent and relied upon offensive contributors so it’s imperative the other guys step up tonight, namely the top two lines listed above. They did pretty good against Brayden Holtby in Washington earlier this year so let’s hope for a repeat. Joe Colborne saw an increased role on this past road trip but for tonight, he’ll rejoin Jackman and Bouma on the fourth unit.
The defence group looks to be the same one that got blitzed in Dallas on Thursday and barring a big improvement, could be in for another tough night against Alex Ovechkin and Co. The injury to Mark Giordano is bigger than words can describe for the Flames and they haven’t exactly weathered that storm very well in the early going. He’s on IR at the moment and will be eligible to return to the line-up next game, although those around the Flames believe this injury could be long term. Tough break for a guy who’s had a sensational start to the season.
I didn’t mind Karri Ramo in Dallas despite him getting shelled and outside the three goals in 61 seconds I thought he was pretty good. Of course, if Joey MacDonald was in net against the Stars it would’ve been 9-1 so it’s a no brainer to start Ramo tonight. Am I hating on MacDonald again? Sorry, let’s get back on topic. Ramo was starter on opening night in Washington and even though let in 4 goals, was pretty steady. The Flames need to thwart the cross-ice pass intended for an Ovechkin one timer on the penalty kill tonight because that thing is an absolute killer. I imagine Ramo will also be pretty motivated for tonight’s contest for multiple reasons so I expect a good showing.
The Capital Opposition
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Martin Erat – Brooks Laich – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mikhail Grabovski – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Eric Fehr – Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt – Mike Green
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
John Erskine – Steven Oleksy
Outside of that top line and maybe Mikhail Grabovski, this Capital forward group doesn’t look overly intimidating. If the Flames can stay off the penalty kill and avoid long stretches of play in their own zone, they stand a real good chance of out-scoring this opposition.
One strength the Capital’s have shown this year is an ability to cycle the puck down low for a bit and then whip it out in front to an awaiting shooter in the slot, so the Flames defenseman (I’m looking at you Butler!) need to avoid running around and hold their positions firm. It’s been defensive breakdowns for Calgary that has really hurt them this season and Washington has a couple of real good finishers that could make the Flames pay should they revisit their bad habits tonight.
On the blueline, Washington has a couple studs and might be the biggest problem for Calgary to handle tonight – especially that Alzner-Carlson duo. Again though, if you can keep them off the power play and out of the slot, you neutralize a big threat. With Tim Jackman playing however, staying out of the box may be easier said than done.
Brayden Holtby was a little south of bad last game so let’s hope he brings the same performance to the table tonight. It confuses me a little why Neuvirth – who was excellent last meeting when he came on in relief of Holtby – isn’t playing, but I can live with my confusion because I prefer Holtby in net.
Sum It Up
Just like every game they’ll play this season, the Flames will be in tough tonight against an opponent that on paper looks better than them. Calgary is missing two top players and have lost 4 of their last 5 games but they are still undefeated in regulation at the Dome and they have plenty of motivation to come into tonight hungry to take two points.
I believe in the system the Flames play and when they do play it for 60 minutes, I think they stand a chance against any team in this league. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing guaranteed tonight is the entertainment value.