After collecting a much-needed two points in Friday's shootout victory over the Wild to regain their position of marginal Western Conference superiority over the last-place Oilers, the Flames could find themselves tied with Minnesota for third in the division with a win in Chicago tonight (5PM MT, Sportsnet Flames).
The defending Stanley Cup champions are currently six points ahead of the Flames and holding down the sixth seed in the conference as we near the thirty-game mark, and despite their inconsistencies this season, remain better than their visitors in almost every respect. The 'Hawks are scoring an average of three goals per game with the help of the league's sixth-ranked powerplay, operating at 22.7% and 27.1% at the United Centre. While the Flames will want to stay out of the box against tonight's opponent, this game also prevents an opportunity for a breakthrough on the man advantage, as Chicago's penalty kill is currently ranked 15th in the league, although it has been slightly better on home ice.
The Blackhawks also saw their recent string of dominance against the Canucks come to an end on Friday with a shutout loss to Roberto Luongo and Co., a game in which Marty Turco allowed three goals on 18 shots. Although he ranks seventh in the league with 54 goals against in 19 games played, the thirty-year-old is just 8-8-2 this season with a .911 EV SV%. His mediocre .854 SV% on the penalty kill could be partly to blame for Chicago's struggles in that department, and tonight's starter Corey Crawford isn't much better, with a PK SV% of .887 in ten games played so far this season.
The absence of Marian Hossa due to a lower body injury means one less offensive threat for the Flames to worry about in tonight's game, but the visitors will still have to contend with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp, who recently saw his three-game multiple point streak snapped. The fact that they are the visiting team won't do much to ameliorate things, as Brent Sutter will have little control of line and defence match-ups, and the trio of Iginla, Tanguay, and Stajan didn't fare all that well against the Wild's top line on Friday, which although good, is significantly less talented than one that boasts both Kane and Toews.
For the Flames, forward Ales Kotalik returns to the lineup tonight after suffering a knee injury in training camp, and appears to be displacing Mikael Backlund on the second line, for the time being. His insistence on re-joining the line-up not only moves Jokinen back to centre, but it also throws a wrench into the bound-to-be-a-fan-favourite "Nordic Combined" line of Olli Jokinen, Niklas Hagman, and Mikael Backlund. Now all we have is two Finns and a Czech. Thanks, Ales.
Lines and Pairings (FlamesNation):
Enjoy the game everyone and hope for fewer renditions of Chelsea Dagger in the comments. Go Flames.