Coming off a pair of disappointing losses to the Leafs and Red Wings where the club probably deserved better, the Flames head back out onto the road to face the Chicago Blackhawks. Calgary hasn’t won a single game in their last 10 visits to the Windy City and that doesn’t figure to change any time soon since Chicago is again one of the best teams by any metric in the NHL.
Although the Hawks depth has eroded since they won their first Stanley cup a few years ago, they still boast one of the most intimidating top-ends in the league. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is a murderers row of high-end even strength players hockey players. They can put the puck in the net and they tend to spend way more time in the offensive end than most players in the league. Calgary’s hard minutes guys – currently Stajan, Glencross, Jones, Brodie and (ugh) Butler are going to have their hands full, to put it mildly.
If there’s a weakness on the Hawks, it might be Nikolai Khabibulin, who will get the start today. The erstwhile Oiler ceased being an effective NHL goalie about six years ago and so far this season the 40 year old has stopped just 81.8% of the shots he’s faced in three appearances.
Of course, to take advantage the Flames will need to get semi-competent goaltending themselves, something that has been in short supply for Calgary so far this season. Reto Berra was called up in the wake of the MacDonald demotion and he’ll get the unenviable "opportunity" to start his NHL career on the road against one of the league’s best. Sink or swim Berra my boy.
- Glencross – Stajan – Jones
- Galiardi – Colborne – Cammalleri
- Baertschi – Monahan – Hudler
- Jackman – Backlund – McGrattan
- Wideman- Russell
- Brodie – Butler
- O’Brien – Smith
Lance Bouma takes a seat, meaning the scouring of Mikael Backlund continues between the grinders on the 4th line. Fun fact – the Flames best overall effort last year came against the Blackhawks in the Dome. They managed the most shots and the biggest scoring chance differential of any game that year. The outburst was led by the Backlund/Glencross line, who were miles ahead of every other Flames combination that night. Last game, after posting a +13, -1 shot attempt differential at even strength through two periods, Hartley benched Backlund at ES for the entire third period. The third period was the Flames worst in terms of shots and chances versus Detroit.
I have no idea what it is Backlund has to do to get back into the top-9, nor what Hartley expects to see given Backlund’s lack of ice time, line mates and opportunity, but it’s a terrible way to treat a 24-year old pivot who was developing into the club’s most consistent two-way player.
Not much to talk about otherwise. Im sure Quenneville will be happy to send Toews out against the Stajan trio and then will probably target the Monahan unit with Patrick Kane, who is currently skating on the Hawks second line with a pair of youngsters.
- Sharp – Toews – Hossa
- Saad – Pirri – Kane
- Bickell – Shaw – Morin
- Bollig – Kruger – Smith
- Keith – Seabrook
- Oduya – Hjalmarsson
- Leddy – Brookbank
Chicago has been waiting on Brandon Pirri for a long time. A second round pick in 2009 out of the OJHL, Pirri played one year in College for in the ECAC before turning pro in 2010-11. He has been ripening on the vine in the AHL ever since, putting together 40-point, 56-point and 75-point campaigns consecutively. He led the Rockford Ice Hogs (CHI’s AHL club) in scoring by almost 20-points last year, so it looks on the surface like he’s ready to make the leap at 22-years old. He has two goals and five points in nine NHL games so far this season.
Aside from Khabibulin, the only other real point of weakness in this roster is Sheldon Brookbank. A fringe player who always seems to pop up in someone’s line-up year after year, Brookbank is slow and not terribly good with the puck. He’s the only semi-regular skater on the team with a possession rate below 50%.
Sum It Up
Wins have been hard to come by for Calgary lately. The team’s goaltending situation is as muddy as ever, though Reto Berra will get ample opportunity to turn some heads if he puts in an above average performance against a superior opponent tonight. Of course, if he gets lit up, it will be hard to blame the guy, but it will also mean the team will have to keep throwing random dudes into the crease on a nightly basis and praying to the hockey gods one of them actually turns into an NHL starter.