Well, on paper this one seems like a bit of a mismatch…the floundering Calgary Flames riding a three game losing skid take on the NHL best Philadelphia Flyers this morning in the City of Brotherly Love (11 am, Sportsnet Flames and The FAN 960).  The Flames have yet to post a victory on this five game road trip, and earning one today will be a tall task…yet maybe their red hot opponent will provide just the boost Calgary needs to raise their game.  Or maybe not.
Calgary is nearing the end of this rather daunting excursion, but it’s not as if the schedule eases up when they return home…after playing Pittsburgh tomorrow morning, they’ll take on Minnesota Monday, Vancouver on Wednesday, the Wild again on Friday and the Blackhawks on Sunday.  Yeesh.  Calgary needs more than just a win today, they need to get on a roll where they win six of eight or nine of eleven…but it has to start with one (I don’t know why, it doesn’t even matter how hard you try…)

The Lineup

Because it’s such a bizarre start time, we won’t know lines and pairings until the pregame skate, but no one is anticipating too many huge changes from the game Wednesday against the Devils.  I know a lot of people would like to see Olli Jokinen moved off the top line with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, and there are lots of other places for him to slot in…my real question is who then takes his place?  I’ve really liked the roles both Mikael Backlund and David Moss have played and how they’ve worked with their linemates…so it might be easy to keep things things same?
Matt Stajan talked on Thursday and said he’s pushing to get back into game action this weekend after missing Wednesday…he took a huge hit from Marc Staal of the Rangers on Monday night.  It’s also interesting to note Ales Kotalik has been practicing with the main group for the last few days, and looks very close to returning to the lineup.  The party line seems to point towards a return following this trip, but he’s very close.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after resting Wednesday…Henrik Karlsson played a solid game under less than trying circumstances against the Devils.  Nonetheless, it was a much needed game off for the number one, and it sets up him up to play both games of this back-to-back.  There’s not a lot of travel between games and both games are 11 am starts, so it’s much easier to manager for him.
Here are the lines and pairings Calgary went with on Wednesday:
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-Rene Bourque
Curtis Glencross-David Moss-Brendan Morrison
Tom Kostopoulos-Stefan Meyer-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Robyn Regher
Mark Giordano-Anton Babchuk
Brendan Mikkelson-Steve Staios

The Opponent

This is a Flyers team playing some really strong hockey as of late, and they’re putting the puck in the net at a rather high clip…39 goals in their last 6 games.  They’re getting production from their top three lines at even strength and they don’t get scored on a whole lot either.
They have middle-of-the-road special teams, ranked 13th overall on both the powerplay and penalty kill…but the underlying numbers at even strength are very interesting.  Names like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are producing points, but it’s very interesting to see how the following lines have been deployed…
Andreas Nodl-Mike Richards-James Van Riemsdyk
Scott Hartnell-Daniel Briere-Ville Leino
Darroll Powe-Claude Giroux-Jeff Carter
Jody Shelley-Blair Betts-Nikolai Zherdev
The third unit has been the most impressive with Giroux having an absolutely stellar first quarter according to the numbers, with a high Corsi rate, especially relative to his 46.2% offensive zone start rate.  As for Briere’s line, it seems to have been given the cushy minutes, with Briere and Leino the top two zone starts on the team.
Defensively, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen log the most minutes, but it seems like the pairing of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell are pegged with most of the tough sledding in the defensive end.  Here are projected pairings for this afternoon:
Chris Pronger-Matt Carle
Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn
Andrej Meszaros-Sean O’Donnell
And then there’s Sergei Bobrovsky, who sits 12-3-1 in between the Flyer pipes…by most accounts, he’s been pretty damn close to an everday NHL number one, minus a few hiccups here and there.

The Story

Other than this being an interesting game as it’s the only matchup between the teams, maybe it really is an opportunity for the Flames.  They’ve been guilty of a few things this season, especially when they’ve been losing in unimpressive fashion.  One, they’ve played to the level of their opponents at times, with the most recent example coming against the Devils on Wednesday.  But they’ve also been guilty of needing something to jolt them into hockey games, so maybe a tough opponent is desired.  A lifeless building against a lifeless opponent two nights ago didn’t get them into a game…maybe the opposite will provide a better result.