It's been over a week since the Flames were embarrassed in a 4-0 shutout loss in Edmonton to open the season, and Thursday night's ugly home-ice loss to the Panthers proved that the team hasn't made much in the way of progress since. The same team will get another crack at their provincial rivals tonight (8PM MT, CBC), with a few minor adjustments. Matt Stajan will centre the first line between Iginla and Tanguay after Brent Sutter did some line-juggling throughout Thursday's game (at one point Morrison was skating on the first line), bumping Jokinen down to the second line with Hagman, whom he has previously played with in Florida and in international competition, and Morrison. Stajan looked alright in his first game of the season; he didn't seem to have any trouble finding his legs, but also failed to register a shot on goal, which could potentially be an indication that he hasn't fully recovered from the separated shoulder he suffered at the beginning of camp. If we've learnt anything in the past year and a half, I wouldn't hold out hope that this means the end of the troublesome Iginla-Jokinen pairing, especially with the injuries the Flames have suffered up front, but it'll be interesting to see if this new combination proves to be any more proficient at lighting the lamp nonetheless.
On defence, T.J. Brodie will sit this one out in favour of Cory Sarich after being victimized alongside Steve Staios on two of the Panthers' goals, and it appears as though Staios will be paired with Jay Bouwmeester just two nights after racking up a -3 against the Panthers and finishing -5 in terms of Corsi, the worst of any Flames defencemen. While the Sarich-Giordano pairing has proven viable in the past, I don't understand the demotion of Gio for two reasons: He has without a doubt been the Flames' best defencemen so far this season and led the blueline and the team in EV and shorthanded ice time the other night, and there is ample evidence that him and Bouwmeester compliment one and other as a pairing. I can understand how a bottom pairing featuring both Sarich and Staios would be an easy target to be exploited by the opposition (as well as a prime example of salary cap inefficiency at work), but I don't understand the convoluted logic in moving your best defender to the bottom pairing to play with a guy who was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season and then putting the guy who was -3 in the team's last game in his place.
Kiprusoff is set to start in net again after a somewhat unimpressive performance compared to his Czech counterpart, allowing three goals on eighteen shots in Thursday's loss--although he likely couldn't have done much to prevent Florida's first two goals--and will certainly need to be better than he was in his last outing against the Oil, although that goes for the whole team. The Flames looked disorganized and disengaged in all three zones on Thursday, and the final shot count (27-18 for Calgary) was undeniably misleading; every pass seemed rushed and appeared to end up on the stick or in the skates of an opposing player, while watching the team attempt to gain the zone, specifically the first line, was indescribably frustrating. Jarome Iginla was pushed off the puck with ease on several occasions, and skated into traffic with the puck, immediately relinquishing possession, on several more. Turnovers hurt the Flames a lot at both ends of the ice, but more so in the offensive zone, as every one all but eliminates a potential shot or scoring chance. The Glencross-Backlund-Jackman line again appeared to be the most involved trio in this game, and Niklas Hagman also looked to be one of the team's more dangerous forwards. On the back-end, aside from Mark Giordano's play, I really liked Ian White's game on Thursday, especially his sliding shot-block to prevent what surely would have been another dangerous scoring chance against, if not a goal.
The Oilers will be looking to rebound from a loss of their own after experiencing a 4-2 setback against the Wild on Thursday as the result of some shoddy penalty killing, and would no doubt love to do so at the expense of the Flames. First overall draft pick Taylor Hall will play in his first NHL game in his hometown tonight, and will undoubtably receive a very special welcome from Flames fans in attendance, while Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser both skipped practice for "maintenance" reasons yesterday, but should be ready to play tonight. It appears that Nikolai Khabibulin, the Flames' old nemesis, will once again start in goal for the Oil.
Flames lines and pairings are expected to be as follows:
Enjoy the game everyone, I may or may not be watching depending on whether or not we get the power back in the TV lounge, but I should definitely be around in the comments regardless. Also, I have my Bourque t-shirt on, which is 1-0 thus far despite his absence, so that must count for something. Go Flames.