Game #36: Flames at Penguins Game Thread

Jim McIsaac

After collecting four points in four games, the Flames are in Pittsburgh to close out their five game eastern road trip.

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Calgary Flames
@ Pittsburgh Penguins

Saturday, Dec 21, 2013, 11:00 AM MST
CONSOL Energy Center

The Opposition:

PensBurgh

TV: Sportsnet West

Radio: The Fan 960

Complete Coverage >


Coming off an overtime loss to the Red Wings, the Flames find themselves in Pittsburgh in the early afternoon to take on the ailing Penguins.

Despite only going .500 thus far in this road trip thanks to two wonderful loser points, the Flames have played relatively well. We'll get to see glimpses of them on 24/7 soon, although unfortunately Calgary is going to be portrayed as slump busters after Daniel Alfredsson scored a powerplay goal in overtime to lead the Wings to their first home victory since November 27.

But we can be realistic: that game didn't matter. Neither does this one, really. In the grand scheme of things, this season is a throwaway; a time to rebuild, where only the little things count.

And the game against Detroit provided a great spark of hope. No, not Sean Monahan, who came back from injury at the start of this road trip and has fared poorly since - and might still be in a walking boot? Uh, wouldn't it be better practice to let your 19-year-old current hope for the franchise heal up before returning to action? No? Okay, then - but a different, and previously much maligned young centre: Mikael Backlund.

Backlund has played over 20 minutes in the last three games. Against the Red Wings he had the most ice time of any Flames forward, and played more than anybody not named Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Kris Russell. The last time the Flames were outshot when he was on the ice was back on December 4 against the Coyotes. Only now, Backlund is getting the ice time, and he's thriving with it.

In fact...

Thank goodness Jay Feaster is gone, because he didn't seem to have much appreciation for Backlund, who is continuing to prove himself a very important piece in this rebuild. Is he going to be a top scorer? Probably not, but he drives possession and provides extremely valuable centre depth, and he's still only 24. Worst case scenario, if the Flames are still shopping him, which seems doubtful, then they won't get as terrible a return.

But enough about Backlund.

The Penguins, like the Red Wings, have been dealing with a slew of injuries. Evgeni Malkin is listed as day-to-day, and will not play against the Flames. But the greater concern for the Penguins is the injuries to their D core, in which their entire top four (!) is injured. The Pens are currently relying on their young defencemen to guard the blueline. Of particular note is Olli Maatta, who has been receiving big minutes and playing very well with them. Maatta was taken 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, just one pick after Mark Jankowski.

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Here are the projected lines:

Flames:

Glencross - Stajan - Stempniak

Byron - Backlund - Cammalleri

Hudler - Colborne - D. Jones

Bouma - Monahan - McGrattan

Smid - Giordano

Russell - Brodie

Butler - O'Brien

Ramo

Penguins:

Kunitz - Crosby - Dupuis

Zolnierczyk - Jokinen - Neal

Conner - Sutter - Vitale

Adams - Sill - Kobasew

Maatta - Niskanen

Dumoulin - Bortuzzo

Samuelsson - Despres

Fleury

Go Flames!

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