FGD #44: Showdown at the Shark Tank (8pm MT, CBC)

Tonight! Live from the HP Pavilion in downtown San Jose, California! It’s the 45th game of the 2014-15 Calgary Flames season, as they take on divisional rival (and my cousin’s favourite team), the San Jose Sharks!

The Flames (23-18-3) enter the evening in a place that even the most optimistic person wouldn’t have projected they’d be in mid-January: a single point outside of a playoff spot. But between some hot streaks and never really getting blown out of any games they lost, the Flames are a confident bunch that honestly believes that they can win any game they’re in. And as we delve deeper into the schedule and the Flames attempt to actually make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, having that kind of confidence could mean the difference between winning and not.

The Sharks (24-16-5) may be the NHL franchise that most exemplifies missed opportunities. The Sharks have been a damn good hockey club since, well, a decade, but every single season they make the playoffs and something gets in their way. Last season? It was blowing a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. They seem well-positioned to once again make a run at the playoffs, but this remains a mentally fragile group until they finally prove to themselves – and the entire hockey world – that they can finish the job.

It’s the third of five meetings between these two teams. Each side has won a game so far. After tonight, each team gets a home date with the other side.

The puck drops tonight at 8pm MT. The game is on CBC (with Dave Randorf and Garry Galley) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias).

THE FLAMES

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Joni Ortio gets his third straight start in net after winning his first two games and giving up just a single goal in the process. He’s 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals against average and .984 save percentage. None of those will last, but Bob Hartley likes to ride the hot hand. The other roster news is that Curtis Glencross (lower body) is out for tonight and Mason Raymond returns after being a healthy scratch. Line rushes at practice today seemed to indicate that Ladislav Smid may return tonight in place of Diaz, so take that for what you will. Glencross, Karri Ramo (upper), Josh Jooris (various) and Sam Bennett (upper) are sidelined.

The big question is this: how will the absence of tough minutes-eater Glencross impact things for the Flames? Right now it seems that Jones/Bouma/Monahan will eat the tough assignments as much as possible, opening up time and space for Hudler/Gaudreau/Backlund. But how much will the Sharks be able to isolate that skill line? Can Bouma adequately step in for Glencross in that role? And after being thoroughly mediocre since returning from his injury (and getting scratched), how will Mason Raymond respond?

As detailed below: tonight’s games have big big playoff implications for Calgary.

THE SHARKS

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Antti Niemi starts. He’s 18-11-4 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Alex Stalock is his back-up. Niemi is quite good.

There’s a lot to like about the Sharks. They have a good mix of experience and youth, and their third line is strong. They can roll four lines and really match up well against most teams. Special teams is their bread and butter, being one of the top power-play teams in the league and being in the top half of penalty killing squads. Long story short: if you want to beat San Jose, keep the game at even-strength.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

The Flames got zero help last night from anybody else.

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  • Colorado @ Tampa Bay (5pm MT): Colorado’s two points back of Calgary. Tampa should win this.
  • Washington @ Dallas (6pm MT): Dallas is four back of Calgary. Washington has significantly more points than them.
  • Arizona @ Minnesota (7pm MT): Minnesota’s six back of Calgary and seven ahead of Arizona.
  • Anaheim @ Los Angeles (8pm MT): Anaheim is well ahead of everyone in the West right now. Los Angeles will be in tough tonight.

If Anaheim beats Los Angeles (in regulation) and Calgary beats San Jose (in regulation) tonight, the Flames could be a point up on Los Angeles heading into their game on Monday night…with a game in hand. Two wins here for the Flames could completely change the complexion of the season.

ELSEWHERE

  • The Adirondack Flames host Milwaukee at 5pm MT.
  • In the Dub: Brandon (Klimchuk, Roy) visits Swift Current and Victoria (Carroll) visits Calgary (Kanzig).
  • In the NCAA: Colgate visits Union.
  • In the OHL: Oshawa (Smith) visits Belleville, but Smith didn’t play last night, so I think he’s still dealing with an injury.

SUM IT UP

The games will only get bigger for the Flames from here on out, but I think it’s safe to say this game and Monday’s game in Los Angeles are the two biggest games of the season to date. Win both and get some help? The Flames could be three points up on Los Angeles and have a game in hand. Lose both? They could be a ways back and have some ground to make up.

Either way, we’ll have a much clearer idea of whether this group can make the playoffs shortly.

  • RKD

    Someone should tell the Sharks to quit stealing other last names, first Goodrow and now Karlsson. As Newman would say “Oh the humanity!” Glad to see Ortio get another start, keep riding him. Hope Raymond wakes up a little, he will be in for a wake up call filling in for GlenX’s spot. Other teams are breathing down our neck now. Colorado used to be so far back now they are within two points.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I’m not sure why Hartley isn’t giving Backlund the heavy-lifting, and Monahan some high the ground. Colburne’s usage has been confusing too. To me he’s perfect on the forth line right wing, and definately does not belong on the PP.

    • Burnward

      Maybe that will be Monahan’s role this year? He’s doing well. And Backs is taking advantage of the opportunity with Johnny.

      I still think Monahan’s goal scoring will come with better linemates and his added growth. But for him to be able to take on the heavy role already is something damn impressive.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I like the first, third and fourth lines but that second line is questionable. Monahan is the real deal and I love Bouma but on the second line? And Jones? Those are two wingers who, for different reasons, should not be on the second line. And then there’s that third defence pairing. Enough said.

    • everton fc

      The 2nd line was tough for our last opponent to handle. Their size was difficult to deal with. Bouma’s passing has been great, of late. It’s the 3rd line that scares me. They had a rough game vs. the Panthers with Granlund in the pivot. We’ll see if Shore “sures” things up.

      Perhaps Shore’s moving ahead of Granlund is “a sign”. I wonder what we get for Ramo and Granlund “packaged”? Certainly a true 3/4 d-man and a prospect of positive repute?

  • Burnward

    Thanks for the detailed pregame Ryan. Helps to put this game in context. Meaningful hockey is awesome. I’ll be watching Shore tonight. Hope to see some increased confidence and offence in his game. Tough about Glencross. As this site has pointed out he’s quietly been important to this club. Go Flames Go!

    • everton fc

      Glencross is going to pull a Cammie: be injured and play like crap before the trade deadline so no other team has any interest, then light it up after so that there is a nice UFA contract ahead……….

      WW

      • RKD

        That’s one way of looking at it but Cammy was not going to re-sign in Calgary anyways. He was pretty coy in interviews always dodging the question directly. Remember WW, coming to work everyday not knowing if you will be moved or not would weigh on any player. Once the deadline passes and the player doesn’t move all that weight is lifted off their shoulders. If anyone should be taking heat, it should be Burke for not moving him.

  • beloch

    If Shore plays tonight he’s a NHL player for the long-term, as he’ll have to clear waivers to be sent down. He looked good last game. Despite coming into a new team with a new system he didn’t make any major gaffe’s and finished the game as one of the Flames’ better possession players. Granlund was drafted at almost the exact same position in the draft, only two years later, so it’s not surprising that Granlund appears to have very similar potential. The difference is that Shore’s game appears a season or two more mature.

    This might mean more time in the AHL for Granlund or even a trade. However, look at it this way: Corban Knight was probably behind both Granlund and a couple other centers, such as Bill Arnold. The Flames traded Knight straight up for a guy who was able to leapfrog two or three other prospects in the Flames’ farm system. I doubt Shore will ever be a top sixer for the Flames (because he’d have to beat Monahan, Backs, and Bennett to do that), but that’s still a very nice trade.

    • beloch

      Lots of speculation (or rumor/speculation) regarding Backlund moving. For the Flames to acquire one or more young defencemen or a young d-man and a draft pick, the going rate will be a Backlund-like player. Backlund’s value is high and there’s some risk in trading him at this point but rumor is that Detroit is interested. With some of the youngsters in the Red Wing organization, the return might be very appealing. What will it take to move Backlund?

      • Burnward

        It’s FN postings like yours and the one before you “Neilcowboy’ who basically are bored and conjure up ridiculous trade scenarios that involve the Flames top centre (Backlund at age 25) and Gio as trade bait.

        Give me a break..if your bored go to the library and read a book! Alternatively you can engage in some intelligent hockey talk. Get real!!

        • Burnward

          Not sure what your issue is but this is intelligent hockey talk. Backlund is having a great year since he’s come back so his value is high. My question is legitimate: What would the Flames require in a Backlund trader. We’re talking about a legitimate #2 centreman on a good team but the Flames may very well shore up their defence with some young talent. If you don’t want to discuss it Bobby O, then don’t. There’s topics on FN that I take part in and others I don’t. Enjoy the game.

          • Derzie

            No issue here! Flames finished in 27th place last year and have not made the playoffs since hell froze over. We are finally developing some nice talent and you suggest the Flames trade Backlund who has high trade value??? He is 25 years old, a former 1st rounder of ours, is finally developing into an elite centre and you want to trade him??

            Sidney Crosby’s value is high..should the Penguins trade him?? Wow…enjoy the game!

          • Kybb79

            what montana is stating is that backlund may yield the organization some value in going forward if moved. gio is 31 and at peak market value, sometimes its addition by subtraction. afterall the oil traded gretz and won a cup. forward thinking is always legit discussions.

          • cgyokgn

            Trading your inspirational leader, potential NHL MVP, at the grand OLD age of 31 is indeed forward thinking…..please tell me more?? You and Montana man really need to get a hobby..seriously….and for good measure why don’t we trade Brodie as well..after all he has high trade value and will someday be 31….enjoy the game looks like a good one……

          • MattyFranchise

            Not to mention that if Gio is the best conditioned player in the notoriously brutal Flames fitness testing then there is probably a good chance that he is going to be one of those very rare Teemu/Lidstrom/Chelios/Jagr players that can just seem to play forever.

            Not that I’m saying that he’s going to last to those ages but I still believe there is a good chance he’s not gonna fall off his game until he’s at least in his 35+ contract years.

          • everton fc

            Really got your panties in a knot Bobby O. I didn’t say ‘trade Backlund’. I said there is a lot of speculation that he might be traded. My question is if the Flames are considering trading him, what is fair value. Why get emotional about it?

          • everton fc

            It is a business…

            My hope is we are trying to build an ELITE team, and an ELITE organization, not a playoff team, not a playoff contender who could make a run.

            I think seasoned vets like Hudler, Gio… Maybe Wideman… And I’m not adverse to Glencross sticking around… Russell’s another… These guys are necessary, or most of them. Stajan is a good guy to add to this group, and maybe this is why they are hearing offers for Backlund (if indeed they are), for they’ll have Bennett next season, along w/Monahan… Granlund… Backlund… now Shore… Stajan… I think we all this…

            I hope they keep Backlund. Think if next year to had Monahan/Bennett/Backlund/Stajan down the middle. That’s some serious depth.

  • cgyokgn

    This will be an important game to see how Ortio matches up against a big, talented team like the Sharks. If he can continue to play lights out, I’ll be a believer.

    • prendrefeu

      Not sure why you are surprised?? If you watched Shore’s game he is really out of shape! As WW pointed out, correctly I may add, he does not appear to be in ‘Flames’ shape. He basically required an oxygen mask after every shift.

      A few games in Addy may help…astute move by the Flames as he can still be sent down without clearing waivers!

    • mk

      Lol just stirring up the storm to see what people say eh?

      I think Shore + Wideman for Kessel. TO might have to give up more to make the move – he is uncoachable after all. Maybe also Reilly or Gardiner? 🙂

      …back to reality – I doubt the Leafs move Kessel. Lupul & JVR are moved before he is, I think.

  • prendrefeu

    Win or lose, I am already predicting that the post-game report will mention our stats being horrible.

    yep yep yep.

    [sarcasm]When will the Flames Organization learn that we’re losing the stats game?! WHEN?!?! The win or loss column doesn’t matter, nor the goal differential. It’s the stats, and we’re losing. LOSING. [/sarcasm]

  • everton fc

    2 goals for Wolf on the farm. One from Ferland. Did I cal a goal from Ferland this evening?! 😉

    I’d be amazed if they move Backlund for a d-man and hold onto a guy like Colborne, and some of these other guys like, Raymond. Makes no sense.

    Unless you can dump Engelland or Smid in the process, in a package deal. Still, I’d hold onto Backlund.

  • everton fc

    Wideman’s on pace for a career year, certainly in goals. I might keep him around a few years in a rebuild. He provides offence and if parked in a 5/6 pairing (is Russell a 3/4 d-man, or a 5/6?)…

    a 5/6 pairing of Wideman and Russell, or 3-6 of guys similar to Wideman and Russell… That’s an amazing concept to me!

    (I’d move Ramo over Backlund for that d-man, but if Hiller or Ortio go down, you are in a poor position moving forward)

    • MattyFranchise

      I’d move Ramo over Backlund for that d-man

      The only problem being that Ramo won’t get you “that d-man”. When was the last time a team traded a defenseman of any kind in exchange for a backup goalie?

      You have to give up something to get something; teams aren’t going to give up what the Flames need (a potential top-2 defenseman) in exchange for spare parts.

      I am in no way condoning a trade involving Backlund or anyone really, I’m just saying that if you want the Flames to make that trade, you have to prepare yourself for losing something of more import than a Joe Colborne or Mason Raymond.

      • mk

        I agreed with your comment and started to think of when a team moved a young potential top-2 defensemen for spare parts…it was the Flames. Phaneuf may not be a Norris winner, but he is a top-pairing guy. As well, I really appreciate the unique characteristics that Stajan brings to the team, but the team isn’t much stronger for that trade.

        If you follow the players/picks to the present, this is what happened (everyone either left the teams or was traded for someone who then left with no assets gained):

        To TOR: Phaneuf + Ashton (via Aulie trade w/ TBL)

        To CGY: Stajan

        • everton fc

          Let me re-phrase my line of reasoning (easier now, perhaps, now that Ortio’s been proven “human”!)

          I’d move Ramo over Backlund. I’d move neither, at this time.

          We don’t need a top-2 defenseman. We need a solid 3/4 guy. Russell and Engelland could work as a 5/6. Ditto Russell/Smid. Wideman and a solid shit down guy in the #3 slot. Engelland/Smid as your #7… Diaz sent down or packaged in a trade (Bryon, Bollig, Raymond, Colborne, Jones all come to mind)… A team w/cap issues would be the desired partner.

          Hope that made more sense. (I actually like Jones more each game)

        • everton fc

          We get two crucial points here. Ortio keeps it together. Good stuff, again.

          As for the quote above; I don’t think we move Ramo until we are certain about Ortio, or until the trade deadline. I also think we keep Backlund. But I was always speaking to a 3/4 d-man, not a top-2. If we could deal w/a team in cap trouble, and maybe having a poor season to boot, we could get at least 1 3/4 d-man for less than we may think. We have some moveable parts. That’s what I was getting at.

          I’m glad this ended quick!

    • MattyFranchise

      Agree on Wideman/Russell being 5/6. Keep one of Smid/Engelland/Diaz around as 7D. Package any of the other 2 plus some of our winger depth to get us a better second D pairing. Calgary’s reputation is gaining steam around the league, it should be easier than before (not to say easy) to attract a higher class of free agent as well.

      As for moving Backlund or Ramo? No way. Strong 2 way centers don’t grow on trees, so you keep Backlund unless the deal is incredible and the Flames’ system is lacking in goaltender depth at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

      Right now Ramo and Hiller are NHL goaltenders. Give Ortio a few more games to see if he is as well (spoiler: yes, he is). You don’t want to give that up.

      As I’ve stated elsewhere, to build a Cup contender you need D, Centers, and Goalies. The rest is a lot easier to acquire through trade or free agency.

    • MattyFranchise

      Agree. All Eastern based sportscasters who have actually never seen the Flames play live…..they always say we have strong work ethic but never provide any depth around the Flames young talent base….