Game Time: 7:00 PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Burkie’s Fightin’ Barn: Flames Nation
For the first time in like 58 meetings or some unholy number, the Flames actually marched into the United Center last November and emerged with two points thanks to Kris Russel’s seeing-eye overtime point shot that eluded Corey Crawford, one too many points left on the table by last year’s Hawks team. Both teams are in similar positions nearly a year later, with the Hawks maintaining championship aspirations, and the Flames still figuring out how to be competitive in the post Iginla era.
While GM/President/Redass-In-Chief Brian Burke has once again built a team under the archaic assumption that might and truculence win championships, mandating his butt-puppet rookie GM-in-title Brad Treliving go out and acquire every knuckle dragger possible, coach Bob Hartley has actually had this group harder to play against than they have any right to be. Hartley’s kind of a meathead disciplinarian himself, but for this group it seems to work in maximizing what they’ve got, which isn’t much. Johnny Gaudreau has produced some electrifying highlights in the preseason, but has yet to crack the score sheet in four games so far for the Flames, which included a victory in Nash Vegas last night. There are some other decent pieces among the forward group in Cow Town besides Gaudreau, even if top choice Sam Bennett is now shelved for the better part of the season with shoulder surgery. Mikael Backlund is a possession driving machine when given the ice time, though his scoring output still remains modest. Mason Raymond still has the wheels despite being hurt over much of the past couple of seasons, and Sean Monahan has plenty of potential to build off a 22 goal rookie campaign. And for some reason Matt Stajan, a fine depth player who presumably hasn’t committed any atrocities that anyone has heard of, is being punished by centering Brandon Bollig and Brian McGrattan.
On the blue line, captain Mark Giordano remains one of the league’s best kept secrets, and even garnered some Norris discussion last year by doing his personal damndest to keep the Flames afloat by taking the Flames toughest assignments and zone starts and consistently flipping the ice. And he’s currently leading the Flames in scoring to this point with a goal and four assists. Giordano just turned 31 and has this year and next left at a $4 million dollar pay rate, which one would have to think that the Flames could parlay into a raft of picks and prospects (COUGH FLYERS) to help expedite a rebuild, but the Flames recent history suggests that they’ll wait far too long to do so. Giordano’s usual partner, TJ Brodie, is a young, solid top four defenseman, but isn’t a cornerstone to build around, however. The rest of the group is downright stupid, with Dennis Wideman’s terrible contract already getting healthy scratched once this year, and it’s not even the worst paper on the team now that Deryk Engelland is now making $3 million dollars a year for the next three years. Ladislav Smid is now here too, doing Ladislav Smid things.
Calgary’s goaltending in the post Miikka Kiprusoff era last year was a flat abomination, and they looked to shore that up by acquiring Ducks castoff Jonas Hiller, where, if he is league average for 50 or so games, it will be a tremendous step up for the Flames. Hiller tends to either stonewall or get lit up by the Hawks with little middle ground in between, and that was with a quasi competent blue line in front of him in Anaheim. He certainly won’t be wanting for opportunities to stop the puck tonight, as the Flames are giving up 33 shots per game so far against the likes of Edmonton, Vancouver, Nashville, and St. Louis.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the lineups will once again remain the same, and the task will remain getting out with two points while ironing out some of the wrinkles in their game, as Calgary will pose at least a slightly more challenging opponent that Buffalo, and assuredly a more physical one.
According to friend of the program Chris Block, coach Quenneville is “disgusted with his third line so far“, though no elaboration was provided. And if Q is indeed disgusted, it’s of his own doing, putting mismatched parts together in Richards, Bickell, and Smith in Kris Versteeg’s absence and opting to continue to play pretend with Andrew Shaw as a scoring center. While not yet denting the score sheet, Bickell and Richards are among a select few on the roster with positive possession numbers in both the Dallas and Buffalo games, so it’s not exactly clear what he’s expecting from such a small sample size.
Once again, it should be expected that the Hawks emerge with two points in regulation from this game, as Quenneville should be able to get whomever he desires away from Giordano with the last change, and the Hawks simply have too much speed and skill for the Calgary defense. And once again, the Hawks opting to not play with their food through two periods would go a long way in limiting the workloads and keeping the ice times from accumulating for Keith, Hossa, Hjalmarsson, etc.
And if Brandon Bollig gets a moment of recognition during a stoppage in his first game back, give him and/or the scoreboard the finger. Let’s go Hawks.