After a less than fruitful visit to the North Star State, the Flames return to Calgary for a stopover game versus Columbus. This is the sort of stretch where it shouldn't be surprising to see a team get it's depth examined, both at the NHL and organizational level, and that certainly is the case this week with the Red and Black. They'll face a team that, like a few clubs before them, took the opportunity a visit to Edmonton provides to break out of a long drought.
The Flames escaped a more thorough exam for their effort Wednesday around these parts due to absence of TV coverage, but like Kent, I watched more than enough via the 'tubes to know what was occurring. The top-six, better for several games in succession, took a bit of a vacation, and with an overmatched third group in tow, appeared second best to the Wild once again.
I don't disagree with KW's interpretation of a tired team simply mailing one in, and I doubt the coach really does either, but the prospect of another B2B prompted a swap of farmhands and a reconfiguring of the lines. Jamie Lundmark gets another couple of days of NHL time under his belt, and as in California in November month, it'll be time spent alongside Jarome Iginla. Langkow remains Iginla's center for now, at least. I'm not quite sure that's a trio I want to see versus Rick Nash.
Olli Jokinen scored for the second game running, and I would have taken more from it had he not struggled at his own end. If nothing else came of the trip to St. Paul, I'm fairly certain at the very least that he'd have no trouble spelling Kyle Brodziak's name, since he spent a fair bit of time looking at the back of the Wild center's sweater on the 2-1 goal. He, Bourque and Curtis Glencross are slated to work together this evening.
Nigel Dawes slides down the roster to play with Nystrom and Moss, leaving Sjostrom, Boyd and Prust to make up the numbers. Craig Conroy is eligible to return Monday. They could use him, no? Dawes' move down is as much a function of the general crapulence of Calgary's forward play Wednesday than any personal indictment, IMO. That noted, if he isn't a presence in the offensive zone, he might be a hard man to find a spot for some nights.
The Flame D will likely go unchanged, with Sarich remaining on the third pair as he regains his timing. If this group stays healthy, Aaron Johnson and Staffan Kronwall really shouldn't get a game. The GM took special care the other day to deny he was shopping Dion Phaneuf, labeling all rumours regarding the matter as false. Look, GMs talk all the time, and I don't doubt someone at some point asked about Phaneuf's availability, so if there's some chatter going around, it doesn't have to be a complete invention. I still don't think he's going anywhere until the summer at the earliest, if he moves at all, and that's only in the cards if the Flames are one and done again.
Curtis McElhinney gets some run this evening, with the Flames reserving Miikka Kiprusoff for tomorrow evening's endeavors against the Canucks. I doubt the team will stink as badly as they did Wednesday, so he should have a fighting chance if he plays decently.
The Blue Jackets won in Edmonton last night, which at this point appears to be a feat only the truly hapless squads in the league are incapable of. Never the less, they got an acceptable outing from Mathieu Garon enroute to 4-2 win over the Oilers, with Kristian Huselius breaking a month-long skid along the way. Their problems have made Ken Hitchcock's job security a matter of debate, but as plenty of us have noted, Steve Mason's poor season would have left any coach in a precarious state. Rick Nash doesn't appear from the outside to be playing as well as last season, but that seems a residue of some poor luck as much as any major failings on his part. Plenty of observers have tied his poor +/- to Mason's ineptitude, and since he's outshooting his comp, that's likely so. His PTS/60 have slid from 2.67 to 2.08, though, even with him likely headed to around 80 more shots on goal for the year. A five percent drop in SH% will have that effect, I suppose. He's still a bugger to play against, and he's looked like trouble in the three previous games against Calgary, with a couple of goals.
Containing Nash and trying to get some output of their own would likely be the marching orders tonight. I'd like to see some consistent PP work, but unfortunately that seems as fruitful as hoping for a lottery win these days. This is a game that the Flames can't really afford to piss away, because they play Vancouver, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago over the next two weeks. If they could escape this stretch with 10 points and a moderately healthy roster, I'd take it. They just about have to get two of those points this evening.
Game time is 7 MT on Sportsnet West.