FGD: Just Out For A Rip

                                                                       pic via: Beacon News

Coming into tonight’s slate of games, the Alberta teams are riding a combined seven game win streak. Let that sink in for a bit.

Once it has sunk in, you may continue with this Flames Game Day post.

Hello hockey fans, welcome to the Flames’ 8th appearance on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada! Last time they were responsible for the late game on HNIC, they beat the Canucks on the ice, almost beat them on the scoreboard and got John Tortorella suspended. So basically it was the best game to date. Tonight, they’ll face off against a much milder Minnesota Wild team, riding a season high 4 game win streak. If there ever was a time to slap together a win streak, it would’ve been now, when moral was running low and losing a top 3 draft position isn’t a major concern. In regards to the draft though, they really should fall back within reaching distance of Aaron Ekblad sometime soon because Edmonton is also actually winning and being the kind neighbours we are, we should let them leapfrog us.

Anyway, back to tonight’s matchup. It’ll be Captain America Zach Parise and Assistant Captain America Ryan Suter leading the Minnesota Wild into the ‘Dome for a good ol’ Saturday night tilt. The two teams established a dull and boring history of Tuesday night snooze fests back in their Northwest Division days, but now that they’re in different divisions I’m sure it’ll be adrenalin stimulating action. Or not.

Also worth noting, the Flames I believe will don their alternate jersey’s tonight which they have not won in yet. You might say the alternates are very rebuild friendly.

Mikael Backlund’s Flames

  • Jiri Hudler – Mikael Backlund – Lee Stempniak
  • Michael Cammalleri – Sean Monahan – Joe Colborne
  • Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – David Jones
  • Kevin Westgarth – Ben Street T.J. Galiardi – Brian McGrattan
  • T.J. Brodie – Mark Giordano
  • Kris Russell – Chris Butler
  • Ladislav Smid – Dennis Wideman
  • Karri Ramo

Tonight marks the return of Mike Cammalleri to the line-up after missing some time with a concussion. This is tremendous news for his trade value, which took a big hit when he was knocked out of action. His pair up with Joe Colborne and Sean Monahan looks very nice and along with the Backlund line, could provide the Flames with a half decent one-two offensive punch. On a related note, hasn’t Joe Colborne looked pretty good on the wing? Hartley may be onto something here. The top unit has been just that of late, providing consistent offense and Mikael Backlund has been playing the best hockey of his career. Westgarth has great flow but he can’t skate so put him on every waiver and get him out of here, please.

TJ Brodie has really, really come into his own of late. He’s been lights out good along side the Captain, who’s been lights out basically the entire year. The trade talk surrounding Giordano is interesting so I ask you, would you deal Gio to Edmonton for their first round pick, assuming you’re guaranteed it’s a Top 3 selection? It’s an interesting debate. Moving on, after a stretch of decent hockey, Chris Butler is back to being Chris Butler. Maybe the Flames can relive some Comeau magic and deal Butler at the deadline for an actual asset. Hey, I can dream. Also the mandatory, "Kris Russell is awesome": Kris Russell is awesome. Resign that guy. Dennis Wideman really hasn’t been the same since his injury, which is a shame because he was skating some solid minutes and contributing consistently at both ends of the ice. Maybe it’s just a case of regaining that confidence he had, pre-injury.

Karri Ramo gets the start and has been the best goaltender in Calgary this year no doubt, turning in another gem against the Sharks the other night. In my eyes, he’s solidified himself as the number one for now, and I honestly wouldn’t mind him sticking around as the backup once the starter for the future is established.

The Wild Opponent

  • Zach Parise – Charlie Coyle – Nino Niederreiter
  • Dany Heatley – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
  • Matt Cooke – Kyle Brodziak – Justin Fontaine
  • Michael Rupp – Erik Haula – Torrey Mitchell
  • Ryan Suter – Jonas Brodin
  • Marco Scandella – Nate Prosser
  • Keith Ballard – Clayton Stoner
  • Darcy Kuemper

That Top 6 looks real good, doesn’t it? Charlie Coyle has been real solid for the Wld since being dealt from San Jose in the Brent Burns deal and in the absence of Mikko Koivu has stepped up to be the teams number one center. Playing along side newly minted Captain America Zach Parise and a rejuvenated Nino Niederreiter, the Wild’s top unit could inflict some serious damage if given the chance to. Note on Niederreiter, his year spent in the AHL last year did wonders to his game, so one would hope the same will happen to Sven Baertschi, who’s struggled to find his footing this year. The Wild’s second line is just as dangerous as it’s first with 50 in ’07 All Star Dany Heatley lining up alongside Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. Granlund’s younger brother, Markus, has been doing great things in the AHL with the Heat this year and it won’t be long until the two brothers line-up against each other in the show. The Flames will need to watch Kyle Brodziak, who loves playing the Flames and has scored big goals for the Wild at crucial moments against Calgary in the past. Also, Michael Rupp is somehow still in the NHL so maybe McGrattan can take him out to lunch.

Other than the top pairing of Suter and Brodin, there’s nothing particularly alarming about the defence core of the Wild. The bottom two pairings will surely be targeted by Bob Hartley and the last change advantage to generate offensive opportunities. However, that aforementioned top unit is something to be concerned about, as both Suter and Brodin are world class defenders that get it done at both ends of the ice. Karri Ramo will probably see a fair number of point shots.

Darcy Kuemper is still trying to forge an identity in the NHL, as a 23 year old rookie. He’s been up and down with the big club, mostly depending on the health of Josh Harding – who of course is battling MS. Kuemper holds down a 2.51 GAA and .917 SV% in 12 games, which are respectable numbers for a rookie tender. Like all young puckstoppers, you can rattle them with an early goal or two, so scoring right off the bat will be key in trying to knock the youngster off his game.

Sum It Up

Like most every game they play, the Flames will come in as underdogs. The Wild are better on paper, and in the standings. However, Calgary is riding high on a 4 game win streak and have proven that impeccable work ethic and drive can overpower the best of teams, so coming out of this with two points isn’t out of the question. As a fan of a rebuilding team however, the most you can pray for is an entertaining matchup that affords you a few glimpses of what the future might hold. My ideal game: Monahan has a multi point night, Backlund and Brodie both score, Wild win a nail biter in regulation preserving the Flames’ draft spot, and Baertschi gets called up.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?