FGD: Looking for A Sign of Life

In each of the prior two seasons, the Flames stumbled out of the gate and found themselves at the bottom of the western conference before ultimately turning things around and competing for a playoff spot. The rebound in each season eventually fell short, but it was usually enough to convince the decision makers to stay the course at the deadline and try again the next year.

The 2013 season has started with the same script. Through a combination of bad luck, poor goaltending, injuries and problematic roster construction, Calgary is 14th in the West at the quarter pole. The issue this time around is the club doesn’t have 30 or so games to work out the kinks and start putting a few wins together. In fact, there is only 33 games left in the lock-out shortened season, meaning another week or two of below .500 hockey from Calgary will likely sink their post-season chances for good (if it hasn’t already).

In town tonight are the Minnesota Wild, one of the other mediocre clubs the Flames will no doubt have to climb over to make the post-season. The last contest versus the Wild was a snoozer so don’t expect a barn burner tonight. It will be easier to accept a low-event game if the Flames emerge the victor this time of course.

The Line-up

Jones and Horak are back on the farm while Sven Baertschi finds himself back on the active roster.

  • Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
  • Glencross – Cammalleri – Stempniak
  • Baertchi – Comeau – Hudler
  • Jackman – Begin – Aliu
  • Giordano – Bouwmeester
  • Wideman – Brodie
  • Butler – Smith
  • MacDonald

Stajan finds himself back centering Jarome after a long hiatus on the lower lines. Stajan has had a decent season both by counting and underlying numbers, although I maintain he’s not good enough to float a line with Iginla playing against other teams best players. That’s why Stajan’s stock sunk so low in the first place: playing in that role made him look completely over his head. That said, it’s not like the Flames have another option right now.

Cammalleri moves back to center and I’m not sure wht took hartley so long to give that a try given the team’s total dearth of centermen. That unit could do some damage if Cammalleri can figure things out as a pivot, especially if they don’t have to play against the big boys.

The third line, in contrast, is a dogs breakfast. Comeau isn’t a center, nor a third line player at this point and Sven Baertschi is as raw as they come. Hudler has had a decent start to his Flames tenure (last few games notwithstanding) but he’s not good enough to save that kind of unit. Expect that trio to be treated with kid gloves by the coaching staff.

Of course, there’s a good chance Roman Cervenka is a scratch tonight. Pat Steinberg is reporting that it is more a health/conditioning than performance issue, but I remain skeptical. While Cervenka did have some health concerns heading into the season, no one was talking about his conditioning or monitoring his progression when he and Hudler were playing well and scoring on 17% of their shots at even strength. To me it sounds like the org coming up with a semi-plausible explanation for a healthy scratch in order to head off pesky media questions and fan incredulity, but I guess we’ll see.

Finally, Aliu joins the fourth line with Jackman and Begin, making them bigger and rougher but undeniably worse at actually playing hockey. That means Calgary’s bottom-6 as a whole is a big, throbbing liability at even strength tonight, so expect the top-six guys to see a lot of ice time.

The Opposition

Despite their big spending in the summer, the Wild are still not a heavy weight. Their depth is questionable and they still can’t really control the flow of play.

  • Parise – Koivu – Heatley
  • Zucker – Cullen – Setoguchi
  • Bouchard – Brodziak – Coyle
  • Rupp – Granlund – Mitchell
  • Suter – Brodin
  • Gilbert – Stoner
  • Prosser – Spurgeon
  • Backstrom

Koivu and Parise were quiet last time these two clubs met, but they remian the Wild’s primary weapons up front. Cal Clutterbuck is out after the Taylor Hall hit the other day, which is good news for the Flames – not only can he deliver hard hits, but Clutterbuck is one of the few accomplished two-way players on the Wild’s roster.

For those lamenting Baertschi’s usage before he went down to injury, notice it’s not strictly a Calgary thing. Mikael Granlund arrived with a lot of fan fare and expectations, but has struggled mightily even against nominal opposition this year. He’s now skating with Rupp and Mitchell on the fourth line, simply because he can’t hold his ground against established NHLers yet. He may well develop into a high-end player, but this year he’s little more than a replacement level 4th liner.

Sum It Up

The Wild are currently in 8th place and will be desperate to maintain that position while the Flames have to start winning games ASAP if they want to have any chance of moving up into the playoff fray.

Other Stuff

– I will be at the game tonight as press, but Justin Azevedo will update the chance count every period.

– VF and I will be stopping by the Tilted Kilt tonight before the game to have some pops and a bite to eat. Feel free to swing by and join us.