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Flames vs. Ducks Game Thread

Pengrowth Saddledome
Opposition: Anaheim Calling
TV: Sportsnet West
A damaged Flames club returns home this evening nearing the end of its year. I don't know what specific record will get them into the post-season, but if it's much less than 9-1, I think I'd be a bit surprised. The other Western Conference teams have enough cushion that simply getting another 10 points from 10 games puts them virtually out of reach, so absent a significant fall-off from Detroit or Colorado, the Flames are at the point where they need to run the table.
Doing that without an ever-growing number of valuable people is clearly a fairly daunting prospect, and since Calgary wasn't exactly tearing it up when fully healthy, the odds appear insurmountable. As I mentioned the other day, the advent of the three point game makes it difficult to make up ground in a short period, and we've certainly seen other teams benefit from the extra point in recent days. Tonight, the Flames' campaign to prove me utterly wrong resumes against a club they should be able to beat when healthy, but rarely do.

The Flames aren't healthy, of course, with Daymond Langkow's injury possibly signifying the end of Calgary's hopes for the year. His value is pretty clear to anyone paying attention, and his absence certainly requires an elite effort from the first line to act as an offset. Any takers on that happening against Ryan Getzlaf? If the Flames are going to beat the probabilities, Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque and Matt Stajan need to have 10 absolute blinders running, starting tonight. They were pretty decent in Minnesota, but that's not good enough anymore, since the Flames can't count on their depth bailing them out.

Craig Conroy will likely get the seconds this evening, working with Nigel Dawes and David Moss. I like Craig Conroy, but I'm not sure he's up to that sort of workload at this point. He'll likely see a couple of his contemporaries in Koivu and Selanne, which is becoming a rare event for 24. That line needs to be good, given who resides behind them on the depth chart.

Mikael Backlund had a poor afternoon of it in St. Paul, getting abused by Havlat's line a couple of times. With the injuries, he's moving up to center Niklas Hagman and Ales Kotalik. Anaheim isn't the deepest team, and the Flames do have last change, so he might be better off than two days ago. Hagman looked like he was close to breaking out against the Wild, and with Kotalik being what he is, if that line is going to manage at all, it'll be on the back of the Finn.

Brett Sutter's recall really is the final bit of proof for me that even Darryl Sutter doesn't entirely believe in the value of enforcers. Brian McGrattan is available to play, and the team will leave him in civvies so that a guy who's a decent AHLer can dress. Sutter fils will be lined up with Nystrom and Mayers, who got the all clear after a thunderous jolt from Guillaume Latendresse Sunday afternoon.

The D is status quo, and Miikka Kipusoff will start. I really don't care about B2Bs or any other issues at this point, so if Brent Sutter hasn't lost his mind, Kipper has to go every night until the Flames are eliminated. I don't doubt that Saturday's matinee in Boston will tempt the Flames to use Toskala, but a team that can't afford a loss and is missing a number of forwards shouldn't be dicking around with back-ups anymore.

The Ducks are even more finished than Calgary at his point, 10 back of Detroit with 11 games on their schedule. That doesn't make them any less dangerous this evening, largely because Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are such a handful on the cycle. They do have some coverage issues, though, which means that a team will get chances against them. Making something of those chances is another matter, obviously, but they will be there. Saku Koivu hasn't been too bad either by the underlying numbers, but once you get past the top-six, Anaheim is pretty barren. Pity the Flames are as well as of late.

Where Anaheim is at it's most dangerous is up a man. Teemu Selanne can't really do it against good comp at EV anymore, but he's still valuable when his club is up a man, and with the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky to the PP the Ducks are a club that can move a PK around with quality movement. Left Wing Lock doesn't show a guaranteed starter, but unless Randy Carlyle decides to give his sense of the absurd an outing, Jonas Hiller should be in net.

Game wise, this one may well come down to bench management. Randy Carlyle is a notorious line-matcher, and maybe more accurately, he hunts for set-piece match-ups with a rigour that few coaches can equal. If he has a chance to get Getzlaf out against Backlund or Nystrom in a bad spot, like an icing, it will happen, because the Ducks live for that stuff. Brent Sutter hasn't exactly seen fit to counter-act those sorts of moves this season, so that might well be an item of interest.

Game time is 7 MT on Sportsnet West.