The Flames' unlikely win in Washington has given them what might be one last hope for a post-season spot. That game itself was hardly a masterwork, particularly when they went to the full rope-a-dope in the third, but it has permitted at least some small ray of hope to permeate what's been a fairly grim atmosphere around both the club and the fans over the last couple of weeks. The numbers are still weighing against Calgary playing any hockey after their trip to Vancouver next weekend, though, even with the slight slide that Colorado is currently undergoing. Another loss really should be curtains.
Tonight, the Flames continue their battle against the odds with a match versus this year's greatest surprise package. The Coyotes have comfortably settled in the sort of position that most of us would have expected the Flames to be inhabiting with half a dozen games left. Not so, of course, and with that, this evening's affair is Game Seven, yet again.
The Flames opted to use the Conroy line head to head with Ovechkin and survived to tell the tale. Until the third period onslaught, they weren't suffering at EV either, which might make one think that they may have a date with Shane Doan or Wojtek Wolski this evening. No matter, Craig Conroy, David Moss and Nigel Dawes will have their work cut out, since the addition of Wolski has allowed Phoenix to balance their offence.
The alleged number one outfit will still likely see a lot of Martin Hanzal, which is no bargain at all. Iginla, Stajan and Hagman look like a decent second line at his point, which is not exactly what's required, but it is the reality that has to be faced. Hagman did get a piece of nice fortune on his goal Sunday, as I'd suspect that Semyon Varlamov might want that one back. Hagman has been the best of those three as of late, so maybe he did rate a good break.
Rene Bourque, Mikael Backlund and Ales Kotalik will have a handful this evening unless Brent Sutter chooses to use Eric Nystrom against better comp. That line facing Doan or Wolski might be, uh, interesting, even with home ice. Nystrom, Mayers and Sutter Jr. facing those sort of players wouldn't fill me with good tidings either, but it might be a option to sacrifice the 4th line in an attempt to ensure another trio gets a nicer set of circumstances.
The D will continue unchanged, despite the incredible Corsi display that Jay Bouwmeester and Steve Staios managed on Sunday. -49 is a nice winter's morning in Stony Rapids, SK., but certainly not a good combined Corsi for two of your top four defencemen. Steve Staios has one more year at a 2.7 million cap hit. Sigh, sigh, sigh. In net, Miikka Kiprusoff managed to survive everything thrown at him on Sunday, and with two days subsequent to rest, he's good to go tonight.
As mentioned, the Coyotes are this year's hot new thing, and unlike another outfit that styles itself in that fashion, they've earned every plaudit the old-fashioned way: by out-shooting the other team. Novel concept, I know, but there you are. They've been a good EV club all season, and with Wolski coming along after the deadline, they can use the former 'Lanche sniper and Doan on separate lines if need be, leaving the excellent Hanzal to go against the top scorers on the other side. Nice luxury if you have it. The D has been good as well, and Zbynek Michalek will make himself a well-earned pile of dough this summer as a UFA. His Corsi numbers aren't the prettiest, but he faces the killers every night, and begins in the hole most nights in terms of ZoneStart. He's also spent all year making Ed Jovanovski look like a top-two defenceman, so he definitely gets points for that as well. Our old pal Shinpad Aucoin is having a nice year in the Coyotes' second pair, and if you look at which 30-plus right-shooting D-man of Sarich, Staios and Aucoin has had the superior season, it isn't either of the two Flames. Aucoin was cheaper as well. Hmm. Jason LaBarbera will get the start in net as Phoenix comes to Calgary on the heels of a 4-1 loss last night in Vancouver.
Gamewise, Phoenix is good at suppressing offence from the other side, with Hanzal and Vrbata leading the way in that regard. The Flames and Coyotes have played three games that were all tightly contested, and earlier in the year I thought that Dave Tippett's goal was to make every game a one-shot affair. With Wolski in the fold, the Coyotes can stretch a game out now, as Colorado found out over the weekend. The Flames will need a seriously good outing from Iggy and co., as well as Backlund's line. Calgary is the rested club, but that's meant bugger-all entirely too many times this year to assume it will be a factor tonight.
Game time is 7:30 on Sportsnet West.