Dropping Like Flies: Flames Lose Backlund 4-6 Weeks in 4-3 Win in Columbus

Kirk Irwin

Alex Tanguay scored just over a minute into overtime as the Flames beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 for their second consecutive win. It wasn't all positive for the Flames, however, as Mikael Backlund left the game with what was today called a sprained MCL, and will be out of action for four to six weeks.

Two days after the news of Miikka Kiprusoff's injury broke, things have gone from bad to worse for the team, as they announced today that centre Mikael Backlund has been placed on injured reserve with a sprained MCL (the same injury Kipper has, interestingly enough), and is expected to be out of the lineup for four to six weeks.

In his place, the Flames have called up Ben Street from the Abbotsford Heat. I know Street is the Heat's leading scorer and he managed to stick around for a while in camp so the Flames must have liked him, but I'm surprised they didn't opt to call up Roman Horak instead. I know he was out briefly with an injury a little while ago but I think he has returned to the lineup.

I really worry that Backlund's latest injury may be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back with regard to management's attitude towards him. After playing in just 41 games last season due to having surgery on his pinky finger and injuring his shoulder mid-February, Backlund was signed to a one-year, $725,000 deal on July 5 2012. Backlund scored just four goals and 11 points in those 41 games last year, and was shooting a horribly unlucky 4.7% (compared to this season when he was shooting 15.8% before getting injured).

Backlund came back a visibly more confident player after his stint in the Swedish Allsvenskan league during the lockout, and his counting numbers early on spoke for themselves. Backlund was also leading all Flames forwards in Corsi On at 23.87/60 and Corsi Rel, starting in the offensive zone on less than 50% of his shifts. Things were certainly going Mickis' way early on, which makes it even more disappointing to lose him for an extended period of time. Backlund had already scored more than a third of his point total from last season with three goals and four points through just eight games.

Many of us believed that a solid season with better luck, better health, and an subsequent uptick in counting numbers would ward off Backlund's critics, so it's understandably frustrating to see the 23-year-old sidelined again.

The forward depth that the Flames were enjoying early in the season has also suddenly been put at risk, as Curtis Glencross will likely move up to take the injured Mike Cammalleri's spot on the first line. Now Ben Street comes into the lineup likely without the same luxury of quality linemates in Glencross and Stempniak that Backlund enjoyed. I'm wondering if maybe Blair Jones will get promoted to centre the third line with Stempniak and maybe Blake Comeau with Steve Begin, Street, and Tim Jackman comprising the fourth line.

Street has 12 goals and 31 points in 44 games with the Abbotsford Heat this season, including six powerplay goals and one shorthanded tally and may not be best served on the fourth line alongside Begin and Jackman, but I don't know what kind of competition he's accustomed to facing in the AHL and I get the feeling Hartley will be juggling his lines a lot in tomorrow night's game in an effort to somehow compensate for the losses of Cammalleri and Backlund. At the very least Street might infuse some offense and energy into the bottom-three.

One thing is for sure, I'm a lot more nervous about how this team is going to hold up against the Canucks tomorrow night than I was a few days ago. The Canucks have won four straight coming into this game after what many considered a somewhat shaky start to the season, but are still missing Ryan Kesler, who has resumed practice with the team but is reportedly not quite ready to return to the lineup.

Anyways, more about them later--I don't want to spoil anyone's Saturday morning.

Happy Hockey Day in Canada all!

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