The Flames have been running into some hot teams lately, and tonight's contest against the division-leading Dallas Stars (7PM MT, Sportsnet West) won't be any different--as the visitors have won five consecutive games--going 7-2-1 in their past ten.
After a drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night, it's hard to believe things could get much worse for the Flames. The last time they took on the Stars, Alex Tanguay was the hero in a 3-2 shootout victory for the good guys despite the combined unluckiness of the various members of the Flames blogosphere watching. It was one of the Flames' better games of the season, as they held the Stars to just sixteen shots in their own building.
Since then, the Stars have managed to maintain a healthy lead over their Pacific Division opponents, with their closest competition being the Phoenix Coyotes with 57 points. The Flames, meanwhile, are still languishing in 14th place, unable to vault themselves past the struggling Blue Jackets and Kings, but still just eight points out of eighth place. That's just the way it's being going for both teams this season, as each squad has experienced varying degrees of influence by the percentages.
The Stars have a pretty good goal differential through 47 games at +17, as they're both scoring more and allowing less goals per game than the Flames, despite a less than star-studded back end, missing defencemen Matt Niskanen. The one area where the team has struggled is the penalty kill, as Dallas has only been marginally better than their hosts while shorthanded this season--operating at 81.4% and 79.8% on the road, good for 20th in the league. If the Flames are on their game with the man advantage (read: they get a few good bounces) they could take potentially take advantage.
Goalie Kari Lehtonen has been red hot lately, with four consecutive wins in which he has allowed just six goals, making an average of 30 saves in each game. The Flames will have to do a better job of getting chances from scoring areas both at even strength and on special teams than they did Wednesday against the Wild, or it's going to be another long night for the home team. Calgary could potentially see backup Andrew Raycroft in the Stars' crease tonight, however, as Lehtonen played last night in a 4-2 win over Edmonton.
Mikael Backlund will be in the lineup tonight despite missing the team's practice yesterday after taking an Anton Babchuk shot in the leg two nights ago, while Henrik Karlsson, who collected the 'W' in his last game out against the Stars, will start in net for the Flames after Kiprusoff had another rough outing Wednesday. Niklas Hagman gets demoted to the fourth line to start this evening's affair as Tom Kostopoulos serves the final game of his six-game suspension before returning to the lineup tomorrow against the Canucks.
Enjoy the game everyone, and feel free to perpetuate the "Jay Feaster is brining Brad Richards to Calgary" rumours in the comments, because it will probably be more entertaining. Go Flames.