The Flames return to Calgary after a meh trip to the East, still in possession of a playoff berth, however tenuous it may seem at the moment. I'm not as down on their chances to qualify for the post-season as some, simply because as poor as they've been, they still have the wins and points edge on every team trailing them, even assuming the worst when those teams make up their games in hand.
Tonight, they can do themselves a favour in that regard when they meet a team that they've had a hard time matching up with, especially at the forward position.
The forward lines are apparently unchanged from the loss in Ottawa, so Jarome Iginla is likely to work with Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman. They looked perfectly fine through a period and a half on Tuesday, before succumbing to the same malaise that was infecting their team mates. The two goals were very nice, though. Stajan's was a particularly skillful play in tight, and that's the second play of that sort he's made in a week.
Can a good forward really shoot 4 % for a season? Chris Higgins seems hell-bent on doing so, which seems ridiculous when you watch him play. He's on the right side of the puck nearly every time, and wins one battle after another down low. In every conceivable way except one, he's been a dominant player since he arrived on the roster. Sadly, that one way is still the currency of the game, but I just can't believe that he could keep playing this well and not score eventually. He, Langkow and Kotalik are slated to play together tonight.
That leaves Jamie Lundmark as a fill-in once again with Glencross and Backlund while they wait for some of the wounded to return. Glencross got a bit of the bench on Tuesday, as he and the other bottom sixers had a rough go versus the Sens' lower orders. Boyd, Nystrom and Mayers looked particularly rough against the likes of Regin and Cheechoo in the first period. The Flames aren't really built to struggle against other teams' depth players, so that performance wasn't exactly ideal.
Speaking of non-optimal work, the defence was a mess against Ottawa, with virtually every single one of them floundering at times. Watching some of the Flames' "physical" defencemen like Regehr and Sarich handle the puck is painful on entirely too many nights, and the two of them were almost completely incapable of moving the puck in a proper fashion on Tuesday. I'll be the first to acknowledge that a team's forwards are often at least partly to blame when their blue liners are pressured, but your back end still need to make basic plays, and it doesn't happen on too many occasions. As an aside, I have no problem with Ian White on the roster, but he's two pairings too high at the moment.
Miikka Kiprusoff will start again and will do so until he's taken out behind the barn and shot, apparently. The Flames have a B2B in mid-March against Vancouver and Detroit, and one at the end of the month in Boston and Washington, but if Curtis McElhinney starts a meaningful game other than against the Islanders on March 25th, I'll be surprised.
Dallas comes to town having added another goalie via trade the other night, with Kari Lehtonen arriving from Atlanta. That would seem to put Marty Turco on the block, so maybe his outing tonight can be seen as another audition as Dallas shops the Soo native. No matter who's in the net for the Stars, they rise or fall on the fortunes of their forward group. Mike Ribeiro will play his second game after undergoing a tracheotomy to repair the damage following a stray Chris Higgins stick, when the Flame forward was still in the Rangers' employ. The main man for Dallas is clearly Brad Richards, who's having a very nice year on the scoring front, but their admirable left wing depth has taken a hit as Steve Ott will miss the game after having his appendix removed. Please join me at this point in a chorus of "Awwwwwwww". The Stars really could use another top-end defenceman to complete their line-up, especially since Matt Niskanen has had a scuffling sort of year despite good Corsi figures.
Game-wise, the Flames can't hope to play half a game or two thirds of a game and have any hope of success. Dallas has been the better team all three games this season, and are full value for their 2-0-1 record against Calgary thus far. One area to watch is the Calgary PP. Not that they get many chances, but it has looked a bit better of late, and Dallas isn't very good on the kill, so that might be a spot for some success.
Game time is 7:30 MT on PPV, and the Flames will honour Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow on the occasion of their 1,000th NHL games before puck drop.