I figured I would use this image to brighten your day. Miss u bud.
Get ready for the biggest game of the season. Since the last biggest game of the season. Not to be confused with the subsequent biggest games to follow this one and the biggest road-trip of the season waiting just around the corner. This is surely an unexpectedly stressful time of year for Flames fans.
It’s another four-point game tonight for the Flames as they host the division-rival San Jose Sharks for the fifth game of a six game home-stand in which the Flames have won three and lost once. The Sharks sit two points ahead of the Flames entering tonight’s action and have played the exact same amount of games. In recent years, catching up with the Sharks in the regular season seemed about as likely as a Flames game without cotton eyed joe. This year, it feels …attainable.
Check out the lineups and preview after the jump!
THE FIGHTIN’ FLAMES
This feels like a hundred years ago…
There is one change from the game against Winnipeg and it is a change I think we all knew was coming. Here is today’s lineup thanks to our friends at Daily Faceoff:
There was also some roster moves this morning as the Flames sent Tyler Wotherspoon back to Adirondack and recalled Corey Potter to serve as the press box assistant while Smid recovers from injury. It was, and remains to be, a pretty perplexing state of affairs for the Flames and their extra bodies with Bob Hartley content to sit young, recalled players.
I suspect (AND AS RYAN MENTIONED EARLIER THIS MORNING) that the play of Raffa (are we seriously doing that?) Diaz may be what finally caused the Flames to send Wotherspoon back to actually get some playing time in. Perhaps the Flames weren’t sure what they were going to get out of Diaz if he had to play a stretch of games and wanted Wotherspoon up to take over if they felt they couldn’t trust Diaz any longer. That or they simply take pleasure in recalling Wotherspoon to not play him. Either or.
Sven Baertschi, whom I thought acquitted himself well in Monday’s game, will sit tonight with the return of Mikael Backlund from an illness. Sven made a nice
lead block smart play to free up some room for Mason Raymond to put the Flames in front 2-1 and generally looked confident in the offensive zone. However, I can understand Hartley’s predicament as I am not sure who comes out of a lineup that just won in order to keep Baertschi in.
In any case, Baertschi’s absence is the only lineup switch and Jonas Hiller gets the start in net tonight as well. Here’s a look at Baertschi’s um, play, from last game. Later on in the game, he was awarded an assist:
Backlund returns tonight to centre what looks to be the makings of a shutdown-type third line with Lance Bouma and David Jones. Once Glencross returns, this seems a perfect fit for him which hopefully bumps Bouma to the fourth line. Despite his recent offensive outbursts, Lance Bouma should not be in the Flames’ top-six and that’s no slight to Bouma. Bouma is a perfectly effective player in the bottom half of the lineup and that’s where he should stay.
The Sharks last game was a shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers so they will probably take some time to get re-adjusted to the speed of an NHL game. Previously, the Flames have won two of the first three meetings against San Jose this year including last meeting’s overtime heroics from Sean Monahan. Let’s take a look at that:
That Sean Monahan, quite a player I tells ya. These two teams are going to be pretty sick of each other very soon as after tonight’s game, the Flames face the Sharks again on Monday, the first game of a mini road trip to California.
THEY BITE, THEY FIGHT
I can confidently assert that Street Sharks was the greatest show in the history of television. Here is the Sharks roster for tonight’s game, again thanks to Daily Faceoff:
According to Roger Millions, Alex Stalock gets the start tonight in net for the Sharks as they are playing the first half of back to back games tonight are are perhaps saving Niemi for Vancouver tomorrow. This season, Stalock is 5-5 with a .905 SV% and 2.65 GAA. Niemi is clearly the number one for the Sharks and, though Niemi has struggled a bi this season, facing Stalock is a far preferable option for the Flames.
The Sharks, as always, have some pretty impressive talent in their top-six and have Hertl playing on the third line. Oh, and they also have John Scott and continue to give him money to play ‘hockey’ for them. So, um, I suppose watch out for him tonight. There are also a few regulars missing for the Sharks tonight as Justin Braun, Tommy Wingels, and noted dead weight Mike Brown are on the injury list.
As long as the Sharks have Pavelski, Marleau, and Thornton playing half as well as they are capable of, then they will be dangerous. I am not entirely sold on a team that trusts Scott Hannan to play defense for them though. Though I suppose it’s glass houses for Flames fans with our third pairing.
Joe Pavelski is quietly putting up a very good season for the Sharks. He currently sits fourth in goals with 27 and 10th in shots with 168. He also leads the NHL with 14 power-play goals (As a team the Sharks have a top-10 PP) so hopefully the Flames continue their practice of bribing referees or whatever voodoo they are doing to prevent them from taking penalties.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, BASIL?
This awesome Trevor Kiddesque picture is from @KlaraWoldenga. I will have this tattooed on my neck soon.
As Ryan has mentioned several times over the past few days, the standings are real tight in the West and the Flames and Sharks are neck and neck in the Pacific standings. Adjusting for last night’s mostly terrible results, including three-point games with Colorado/Dallas and Vancouver/Winnipeg, here’s a look at how the standings heading into tonight:
First of all, wow, LA is falling fast and though everyone seems convinced that they will flick their magical Sutter-switch, I wonder at what point they will have dug too deep of a hole. Anyhow, the Flames and Sharks both have 31 games remaining and are separated by just two points. I know that there is still a lot of hockey to be played but things are starting to get nervey for Flames fans and I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Bring on some meaningful February hockey.
Puck drops at 8pm MT on SNET West.