Steinberg on Flames: Backlund Returns to Flames Lineup in LA

Captain Jarome Iginla (left) will receive some reinforcement in the form of the return of Mikael Backlund (right) to the lineup.

After losing their 16th consecutive game at the Honda Center in Anaheim last night, the Calgary Flames get right back at it tonight when they visit the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings. The Flames fell 4-0 to the Ducks on Friday in a game that probably wasn’t as lopsided as the score suggests. The team got plenty of scoring opportunities as they had Anaheim on the run in their own zone for long spans of time. In the end they couldn’t solve Viktor Fasth, who made 29 saves for his second career NHL shutout.

The Flames are back to the .500 mark with their Friday night loss and play the second half of a back-to-back set. So far this year, Calgary is 1-2 on night two of a back-to-back and as they approach the halfway mark of their season, they can’t really afford too many more stretches of consecutive losses. They’re 4-2-1 over their last seven and can continue to make March a good month with a couple good results in LA. The Flames play at Staples Center tonight and then again Monday night against the Kings.

Calgary Flames 9-9-4, 13th Western Conference

Curtis Glencross-Matt Stajan-Lee Stempniak
Jiri Hudler-Roman Cervenka-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Mike Cammalleri
Blake Comeau-Steve Begin-Brian McGrattan/Tim Jackman

Mark Giordano-Jay Bouwmeester
Chris Butler-Dennis Wideman
T.J. Brodie-Derek Smith

The Flames have made some significant roster moves prior to tonight’s game. First and foremost, they’ve activated Backlund off IR after he missed 14 games with an MCL sprain. This is a big return for Calgary, mainly because Backlund is one of the two natural centers on their roster right now. On top of that, Backlund had been playing some really strong hockey prior to going down, so his return will be a big boost for the team. The lines above are nothing but a reasonable facsimile of what we might see tonight as the team didn’t have a full morning skate today.

Backlund’s return puts Calgary above the 23 man roster limit, so the team has assigned Sven Baertschi to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League. I agree with this move, mainly because of current circumstances. Baertschi hasn’t been bad, in fact he’s been decent for most of his return from a hip flexor injury. That said, with Backlund’s return, the Flames have ten forwards who are best suited to play in their top nine. If you look at the top three lines above, you can’t single out a player that Baertschi has outperformed. As such, let him go play in the AHL in a top role, because that will be far more beneficial for him than playing five minutes a game on Calgary’s fourth line. There’s a good chance Baertschi will be back tonight.

Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start in net for the Flames, which is a tad surprising. He went the entire way for Calgary last night in Anaheim which I thought could have been an indication of Joey MacDonald getting the start tonight. That said, the Flames clearly want to ride their number one as much as they can. He spent a month on the sidelines, so I guess you can make the argument that Kiprusoff is as rested as they come.

Los Angeles Kings 12-8-2, 5th Western Conference

Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Mike Richards-Jeff Carter-Dustin Penner
Trevor Lewis-Jarret Stoll-Dwight King
Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan

Drew Doughty-Jake Muzzin
Slava Voynov-Rob Scuderi
Alec Martinez-Keaton Ellerby

Despite their 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, the Kings are still playing their best hockey of the season. The defending Stanley Cup champions have won seven of their last nine games to help erase what was a slow start to their season. Even though they had an extra four months to get ready for their title defence season, it still seemed like there was a little bit of an adjustment to playing with the biggest target on your back to start.

One guy has thrived so far is Jeff Carter. After taking some time to adjust to the LA lineup upon being traded their late last season, he now leads the team with 16 goals on the year. Perhaps his Cy Young-esque line of 16-2 could use a few more in the assists column, but he’s been of the utmost importance on this team nonetheless. Of his 16 goals this year, six are game winners.

In terms of injuries, the Kings are without two of their defensemen long term. Willie Mitchell (knee) and Matt Greene (back) are both doubtful to return to action this season, thrusting Muzzin and Ellerby into top six roles on this team. Muzzin had himself a great game a couple contests ago against St. Louis while Ellerby has seemingly impressed in his time with LA since being acquired from the Panthers. Martinez is back in the lineup after spending a good chunk of time on the shelf, as well.

Jonathan Quick looks to get the start in net tonight, his 17th of the season. Quick’s numbers have started to progress to what we’re used to, but they still don’t flatter him. After being a Vezina candidate last year, Quick is rolling with a 2.59 goals against average and an uncharacteristically low 0.895 save percentage.