After a road trip that netted just a single win, the Calgary Flames (6-9-2) return home to try to bolster their fairly-strong home record and creep back to .500 when they host the San Jose Sharks (10-2-5). The puck drops at 7pm MT on the Sportsnet media properties (I believe it’s on Sportsnet West tonight).
The Flames have played just six of their 17 games this season at the Saddledome, which is good because they’ve produced seven points. The downside is they’re still going to play some really strong teams, but for some reason, the Flames have been appreciably better at home over the past few seasons than on the road. (Last year, they were awful on the road.)
After losing three straight on the road, and putting up just two points in their last six games, the Flames need some wins. They’ll be facing a similarly desperate San Jose club, who haven’t won a game in their last five (they’re 0-1-4) and probably view this game as the proverbial slump-buster. The two clubs met in San Jose on October 19, where the Sharks skated away with a 6-3 win (that was closer than the score appeared).
The Flames haven’t won since Sunday’s 3-2 triumph in Chicago, and have slipped from being a team hovering just over .500 to one falling out of the picture a bit. The team heads into this week 10 points out of a playoff spot, and while they may not have any delusions of a Stanley Cup parade in the near future, they probably want to remain competitive at the very least.
Via our buds at Daily Faceoff, some lines for this evening.
Cammalleri (A) – Backlund – Hudler
Galiardi – Stajan (A) – Jones
Baertschi – Monahan – Stempniak (A)
Bouma – Colborne – McGrattan
Brodie – Butler
Russell – Wideman
Smid – Smith
Tim Jackman, Max Reinhart and Shane O’Brien are your healthy scratches, while Curtis Glencross (knee), Mark Giordano (ankle) and Chris Breen (abdomen) are on the injured reserve. Lee Stempniak returns to the line-up while Ladislav Smid makes his debut in a red jersey after seven years in Edmonton.
The Flames defensive play arguably bottomed-out when they had Giordano, Stempniak and a healthy Mikael Backlund missing from their line-up. With Smid debuting and Stempniak back, expect the team to be better without the puck. That said, this is still a strong Sharks team, so it’ll be a big test for their systems (and a test of how Smid can get up to speed). The forward line-up is virtually unchanged from Denver, albeit with Stempniak taking Max Reinhart’s spot on the third line. The Backlund/Cammalleri/Hudler line was excellent in the second and third periods.
Keep your eye on the power-play. They haven’t scored a goal with the extra man since October 21 in LA (a gulf of nine games, during which they’re 2-7-0) and they’re probably due, as nobody can be that bad or that unlucky for this long.
The Sharks have had a rough-ish go of it, by their standards, in recent weeks. They haven’t won since October 27 against Ottawa, although they have had points in an overtime loss to Los Angeles and shootout losses against Phoenix, Buffalo and Winnipeg. Much like Calgary, you could argue that the Sharks have merely been unlucky, not out-and-out bad.
Daily Faceoff has line-ups.
Hertl – Thornton (C) – Wingels
Pavelski – Couture – Nieto
Kennedy – Marleau (A) – Havlat
Sheppard – Desjardins – Brown
Vlasic – Braun
Boyle (A) – Irwin
Hannan – Demers
The key to victory for the Sharks may merely be limiting Calgary’s offense – San Jose has allowed four goals in four of their last five games, so perhaps they need to get scored on less to win. Back-up Alex Stalock is expected to get his second start of the year, which may be the change of energy that San Jose needs.
The Sharks are employing some scoring-by-committee, with six forwards (including Wingels) with 10 points or more – contrast with three in Calgary. This will make it a bit of a challenge for Calgary to defend. The big threat on the Sharks may still be Tomas Hertl, the NHL’s hottest rookie, but Wingels has been red-hot of late and the Flames defenders should have their hands full defending their top six. And let’s face it, San Jose’s third line is still pretty solid. San Jose’s back end may be their weakness, as many of their blueliners aren’t amazingly fleet of foot, but the Sharks have done a credible job of bringing in young faces to bolster their line-up.
SUM IT UP
The Flames have returned home and open a three-game homestand tonight against San Jose. They will likely have their hands full against the Sharks’ high-octane offense. But the return of Lee Stempnak (and Smid’s debut) could bolster their defensive game, so it’ll be very interesting to see which club can snap out of their recent losing streak.