FGD #41: The Half-Way Mark (7:30pm MT, SN360)

Last season, the Calgary Flames hit Game 41 with a rather unimpressive 14-20-6 record (and then they lost). This season, they hit tonight’s game – representing that half the sands have passed through the hour-glass – with a pretty solid 21-16-3 record.

To say that the rebuild is progressing is probably a safe statement.

Game 41 this season pits the Flames against the visiting Detroit Red Wings (21-10-9), who are also hitting the half-way mark. Calgary enters the game two points out of a wildcard playoff spot in the West, while the Red Wings sit in third place in the Atlantic Division after their game in Edmonton last night. There are definitely playoff implications at the ‘Dome tonight.

The puck drops at 7:30pm. You can catch it on both Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet West, though it’s after a Washington/Toronto game on the main network, so maybe stick with 360 if you don’t want to risk any over-lap. (Sportsnet 960 The Fan has the game, as always).

THE FLAMES

Lines for tonight, via Daily Faceoff:

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The BIG NEWS is that Mikael Backlund returns to the line-up, playing for the first time since October 28. Backlund had a long, long-term abdominal injury that now has thankfully healed up, and his return has the potential to really open up how the centers are used – particularly providing some options for the deployment of Sean Monahan that they didn’t have before.

Also slotted back in is Mason Raymond, fittingly on a line with Backlund and Paul Byron, who also is looking to get something going offensively after a few slow games. Keep an eye on this line, as it’s three guys with something to prove.

The team has assigned both Corey Potter and Markus Granlund to the AHL to make room for the activation of Ladislav Smid, who won’t play tonight, and Mikael Backlund. Nobody but Sam Bennett remains on the injured list officially. Bennett skated today, but he won’t play tonight, obviously.

Karri Ramo gets the start for the first time since December 16. He’s 8-5-1 with a 2.69 goals against average, .903 save percentage and .910 even-strength save percentage. It’s his 16th appearance this season.

THE RED WINGS

The Wings didn’t have a full practice. Based on last night, expect something like this:

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The Red Wings beat the Edmonton Oilers last night, but lost Tomas Jurco to back spasms, so he’ll sit tonight. Pavel Mrazek gets the start; he’s 4-2-1 with a 2.35 goals against average, .917 save percentage and .929 even-strength save percentage in 7 games.

The Wings are the Wings. Everyone expected them to take a step back as their core ages, but they keep filling up their roster with players from their affiliate in Grand Rapids and the players keep slotting in nicely. It’s spooky. It’s still very much a team that lives and dies by their top six forwards and their top defensive pairing, but the team continues to chug along admirably.

Oh, and their coach is pretty solid, as well.

SUM IT UP

The first half of the season ends for the Calgary Flames, and they’re still in the playoff mix despite being a rebuilding team that had Sean Monahan as their sole established center for a good chunk of the season. It’s been a fascinating first half, and it’ll be interesting to see how they adjust to having a fully healthy roster in the near future as Smid and Backlund return to action.

For now, Backlund’s back. Let’s see how he fares against a tough test in the Detroit Red Wings tonight.