With the Flames still stuck in 14th place in the West edging ever closer to the halfway point of the season, this is a crucial a stretch as ever for the Flames, who take on the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul this evening (6PM MT, Sportsnet West). With the holiday roster freeze coming into effect last night, the only changes we will see to this Flames' roster before the New Year will come in the form of who has been deemed most worthy of a night off in the press box.
The bizarre motivational strategy employed by the Flames' coaching staff has drawn the frustrations of many a Flames fan recently, as we've seen regular forwards Mikael Backlund, David Moss, Matt Stajan, and Curtis Glencross each take their turns viewing the action from above. Tonight, the rookie Backlund takes a seat alongside Ales Kotalik after the two were benched in the third period of Saturday's game following a poor performance helped along by a series of unfortunate events resulting in goals against.
The 21-year-old Backlund is on pace for 10 goals and 20 points this season, not bad totals for his first full season in the NHL--but he's a lot less likely to achieve them if he's not playing. His ice time has decreased in the month of December to an average of 11:34, and he hasn't been the luckiest Flame on the ice this season, shooting 5.4% and firing an average of just over two shots on net per night, but his team on ice SH% and SV% are fairly healthy. Obviously Brent Sutter is taking it relatively easy on Backlund most nights, his brother and the rest of Flames management were the ones who ultimately decided to give him a chance to stick around this season, and while making him a healthy scratch may temporarily light a fire underneath him, this is still a player who has just over 50 games of NHL experience.
He's still learning and developing into the player he's going to be, and that requires making mistakes--switching him in and out of the lineup in an effort to spark his production isn't going to help that process. Olli Jokinen was allowed to play through a rough stretch without a visit to the press box, why shouldn't the same opportunity be given to Backlund?
You won't find much of an argument against keeping Kotalik out of the lineup, as the veteran has no points in seven games since returning from injury, and the return of Curtis Glencross and Craig Conroy provides an opportunity for the reunion of the once formidable third line of Glencross, Conroy, and Moss who frequently out-chanced and outshot their opposition
last season two seasons ago. For the time being, Morrison moves to wing alongside Moss and Glencross. The Flames have been doing a good job of staying out of the box recently, but the Wild cashed in on one of the two powerplays they enjoyed against the Flames on Saturday night, and the additions of Glencross and Conroy could certainly help bolster the penalty kill. Without last change tonight in Minnesota, it'll be harder for the Flames coaching staff to get the match-ups they want and avoid incidences such as the club's third defence pairing being out against the Wild's top line, but it's the little things like this that the coaching staff needs to more attentive of to do their part to nip this most recent slide in the bud.
Lines and Pairings:
Nicklas Backstrom will counter in net tonight for the Wild after making 28 stops in Saturday's victory, and Kipper will need to be a bit better in the Flames net after allowing three goals on sixteen shots in the same game, but the team in front of him will need to work at limiting the quality and quantity of Minnesota's scoring chances tonight.
Enjoy the game everyone and hope that Kotalik gets quickly accustomed to his new perch in the comments. Go Flames.