(photo courtesy Stadium Journey)
After opening their road trip with a hard-fought and gutsy win in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Calgary Flames (6-6-2) head north to visit a former divisional rival, the Minnesota Wild (8-4-3) tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. The puck drops at 6pm MT on Sportsnet West, Fan960 and all over the Twitters.
This will be the 75th meeting between the two teams, the first 74 of which took place when both teams were part of the since-disbanded Northwest Division. The Flames have a 41-20-13 edge all-time and went 2-1-2 in five games with the Wild last season.
A bit of tinkering took place with the line-up, as Bob Hartley is parking Derek Smith and Sven Baertschi on the sidelines in favour of the debuting Chad Billins and Lance Bouma. Smith’s benching will probably be met with less fanfare, but he’s been just fine and Billins’ insertion is probably a reward for his hard work and an attempt to gauge where Billins fits in. Roger Millions noted on Twitter that Billins’ parents are coming in from Michigan to see his first NHL game, which is pretty special.
From DailyFaceoff, the lines:
Glencross (A) – Stajan (A) – Jones
Cammalleri (A) – Colborne – Galiardi
Bouma – Monahan – Hudler
Jackman – Backlund – McGrattan
Butler – Brodie
Russell – Wideman
Billins – O’Brien
Baertschi was used sparingly in Sunday’s win against Chicago, putting up just 13:12 in ice-time and seeing some of his shifts go to Mikael Backlund in the third period, although he still ended up with four more minutes of ice-time than Backlund did. Once again, the question of what Baertschi needs to do to stick in the line-up full-time comes into the forefront. It’s probably some version of “play hard in all three zones.” He may not have a lot of offensive upside, but Lance Bouma plays hard.
Calgary’s power-play is now officially goal-less in six straight.
The Wild lack a lot of upper-end star power, but they have a roster that’s got a lot of top-end depth. Jason Pominville is having a great year so far with 10 goals, but Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund are also off to strong starts. The Wild last played on Sunday, just like Calgary, when they shut-out the New Jersey Devils.
Via DailyFaceoff, lines:
Coyle – Parise (A) – Koivu (C)
Neiderreiter – Granlund – Pominville
Cooke – Brodziak – Mitchell
McMillan – Konopka – Heatley
Suter (A) – Brodin
Stoner – Ballard
Scandella – Spurgeon
Per Roger Millions, it appears that Charlie Coyle has recovered from a nagging day-to-day injury and that means Justin Fontaine is headed back to the AHL potentially.
Last year’s Masterton winner, Josh Harding, gets the start. He has a 7-2-1 record with an insane 1.10 goals against average and .950 save percentage. A cynic would suggest that he’s going to regress (he will), but that’s just a great start for a guy that has had a rough couple of years and handled it with great character.
The Wild are one of the better five-on-five teams in hockey right now, with their even-strength scoring differential being roughly twice Calgary’s. They also boast the NHL’s second-best power-play (behind St. Louis). Their glaring weakness is their PK, which is actually worse than Calgary’s.
Either way, the Flames are on an emotional high after beating Chicago in overtime, and they’ll need that momentum heading into Minnesota.
While the Flames are in St. Paul taking on the Wild, the Abbotsford Heat return home from a sweep of their three-game road trip and face the San Antonio Rampage tonight. Joey MacDonald joins the Heat, but expect Joni Ortio to start after winning all three weekend games. That game starts at 8pm on TeamRadio.ca, so in theory one could watch the Flames game and then listen to the Heat.
And in the Dub, Brett Kulak and the Vancouver Giants host the Edmonton Oil Kings.
SUM IT UP
The Flames are back at .500 after beating Chicago, and to be honest, probably have more points so far than anybody expected them to get on this road trip. A win tonight could guarantee that they go at least .500 on the trip. And with a back-to-back Thursday and Friday against St. Louis and Colorado, they might not have a better chance to get points than tonight.