Flames vs. Sharks Game Thread

 

Pengrowth Saddledome

7:30 PM MT

Opposition: Fear The Fin

TV: TSN


It's always a strange feeling when your team is teetering. As fans, expressions of hope and despair swap places quite frequently in these times, as we've all noticed in the last couple of weeks. A pair of crap outings out East had most of us writing off the year, yet a win in Denver Friday likely had people feeling at least slightly optimistic about the potential for extra hockey this spring.

Sunday, however, saw the needle move hard towards the "D" setting on the scale. Things are now so completely beyond the Flames' control that their acquisition of a playoff berth would merely be an indictment of the Avalanche, nothing more or less. Tonight, on a night when the end may come officially, Calgary hosts a team that has mastered the regular season with their usual aplomb.

 

The disappointment of the season appears to weighing on the captain, as he used his press availability before tonight's game to spend some time in the public confessional. Jarome Iginla, true to his past behavior, hasn't blasted anyone publicly, choosing instead to accept the failings of the team as his responsibility, and pointing to his own play as the primary factor holding the Flames back. Our friend Bruce McCurdy from C & B jokingly inquired the other day if Flames' fans would be interested in a captain-for-captain exchange. Whatever I might say about Jarome Iginla's on-ice performance, he's never thrown his teammates under the bus in the manner that Ethan Moreau has perfected these last couple of years. For that small mercy, I'm grateful, so I'll pass, Bruce ;-)

Mea culpas aside, he hasn't got any help, either. Kent's review of the Flames late-season performance was rightly critical of Matt Stajan's work since moving West. I can only add that when you ask a career second or third line center to do a bunch of heavy lifting, you shouldn't be surprised if he's found wanting. He's has clearly struggled when asked to be more than a support player, and beyond this year, it might bode ill for the team. 

In fact, of all the top-six forwards that have donned the Flaming C this year, Rene Bourque is likely the only one that has equaled or exceeded expectations. He was good again in Chicago, teaming with Mikael Backlund to form an effective duo. If the Flames use Craig Conroy's line against either the Thornton or Pavelski line, Bourque and Backlund might well get an advantageous set of circumstances versus the soft underbelly of San Jose's line up. 

 

As has become the norm, the White-Regehr pair did the grunt work on the back end Sunday, and Robyn Regehr, as has often been the case against Chicago, looked like the Hawks' speed really put him off. He should find Thornton and company more to his style tonight, which should leave Bouwmeester and Staios against the Pavelski line. If the trend holds, Mark Giordano and Cory Sarich should be just fine against the bottom of the Shark roster.

 

Miikka Kiprusoff will start. He played decently enough against the Hawks, and I can't come close to faulting him on the goals. A very good team getting open looks will convert, period.

 

The Sharks won no friends around these parts with a crap last two periods in Denver Sunday, losing 5-4 in OT. Despite San Jose's lofty perch in the standings, they always strike me as a team that can kill the weak, but struggle when trying to punch at their own weight. To my eye, the lack of quality at the bottom end of their roster seems the likely culprit. Most nights, Thornton's line and Pavelski's trio do enough for things to work out. Against better clubs, that doesn't always fly. One player who missed the last go-round in Calgary is Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has quietly spent the last couple years playing against good players in some tough spots so that Dan Boyle can be used to goose the offence. The Shark D is better with Vlasic in place, but they still look like a group that can be taken advantage of. Left Wing Lock shows Evgeni Nabokov as San Jose's starter in net for this one, with the Russian in the midst of a slightly down patch of play. 

 

Game wise, staying out of the box against a team with a very good PP is always job one, and battling the Sharks' top-six to a draw is the best hope the Flames have for a win. If the Flames can get away with matching Backlund and Bourque against the Scott Nichols of the world, they might live to fight at least one more day. 

Game Time is 7:30 on TSN. 

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