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Flames vs. Red Wings Game Thread

Pengrowth Saddledome
7:30 PM MT
Tonight may not officially be a Game Seven, but the Flames do find themselves in a bit of a pickle at the moment. I didn't expect the Flames to run off 19 straight to end the year or anything of that nature, but last night's no-show first period did come at an unwelcome time, leaving this evening's tilt with the Red Menace with the feel of an elimination game for Calgary.
The situation is fairly simple, of course. If the Flames win, they will be back in 8th with some worthwhile tie-breaker advantages. Lose, and they're 3 points in arrears with only 13 games left. It's a big game, or more accurately, a Big Game™. If the Flames are going to be on the right side of the scoresheet, a few of last night's problems will need to be expunged, and they'll possibly have to do it without a fairly useful gentleman in the line-up.

Last Tuesday saw the Flames start poorly before turning the game in the final 20 minutes with as good a period as a team could expect at Joe Louis. The first line that night went toe-to-toe with Pavel Datsyuk's line, and by the finish looked the better outfit by a fair bit. Last night's first period in Vancouver was the polar opposite for Jarome Iginla and friends. By the time the wake-up call was answered, the game was lost, and their indifferent play was at the heart of the deficit. The end of the game saw some line-juggling as well, with Stajan and Hagman reuniting. Beyond the desire to shake up a moribund squad, an injury may well have been involved in moving a few forwards around last night, and it appears that injury might be more than just a minor boo-boo.

The Herald is reporting that Christopher Higgins was wearing a walking cast after practice this morning, so Nigel Dawes could get an opportunity to return to the line-up. Higgins became a favourite of this blog in short order after arriving from New York, showing tremendous ability to control possession against good players, and adding another skilled PKer to an already solid stable. He and Daymond Langkow were on their way to becoming the sort of dependable pair that could hold another team's top players down, so if Higgins is actually out for any length of time, it's a bad loss.

That noted, Nigel Dawes isn't just some schmo, having been a regular in the club's top six before injury and the trades left him on the outside. Morning skates after an overnight flight aren't usually the place to do a bunch of line rushes, so we might not know how the combos shake out until the game itself, but Dawes should have been playing all along, IMO, and not simply because someone got nicked. Whoever goes tonight, repeating the effort that the Flames put forth against Henrik Zetterberg will likely be a key. Detroit's Swedish star was a non-entity last week, deep in the Corsi and Scoring Chance red. Calgary's bottom six was superior in the last match-up with the Red Wings as well. That likely needs to happen again tonight, because being whipped by the Bertuzzi's of the world just won't do.

The Flames' top two parings had a difficult opening period yesterday, to say the least. Steve Staios looks about like I suspected, unfortunately, overmatched against top-six forwards and beyond the help of Jay Bouwmeester. JB himself has the appearance of a man who could use a bit of assistance these days, which makes me wonder if a reunion with Mark Giordano should be on the cards. If the Flames are content with Regehr and White as a duo, and you asked me who's the most likely to belong as the 4th D out of Staios, Sarich or Giordano, it isn't the two veteran right-shooters. Gio and Sarich are killing the stiffs, as one might suspect, but that's leaving a hole against the other teams' better players a bit too often.

Miikka Kiprusoff got an unwelcome chance to observe the last 40 minutes yesterday, although he was blameless for the hole Calgary dug themselves, making several excellent saves before getting the mercy hook from the boss after the first. He'll go again tonight, hoping that his team mates actually choose to join him at the beginning of the proceedings.

Detroit hasn't lost since the Flames' win last week after juggling their lines to find some offensive spark, but no matter who plays with who, the centers of attention for Calgary will always be Datsyuk and Zetterberg. As mentioned, Zetterberg struggled in the last encounter, but he's responded with four points in the two subsequent games. Detroit will likely give Brent Lebda an outing in lieu of Jonathan Ericsson in an effort to settle their bottom defence pairing, and Jimmy Howard will start in net.

What the Flames need to have happen this evening is fairly clear. The Iginla line can't sleep-walk through the first period, whoever plays with Daymond Langkow needs to give him the support he needs, and the Bouwmeester-Staios pair have to limit their mistakes. Tall orders, indeed. Oh, and stay out of the box, as per usual. This game might not absolutely be the season, but a loss will put the Flames in a hole that they will likely have a very difficult time extracting themselves from.

Game time is 7:30 on TSN.