Home has been where the heart is for the Calgary Flames. They’ve won seven consecutive games at the Scotiabank Saddledome, including their 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night. The problem is they can’t play all of their games at home. Yep, half of their games have to be on the road, and things have been a completely different story away from the ‘Dome. The Flames have lost nine straight games on the road heading into tonight when they take on the league’s number one team, the Chicago Blackhawks (6:30 pm, Sportsnet 960 and Sportsnet West).
This nine game road losing skid ties the longest in team history, dating back to December of 1985 and January of 1986; funny enough, they went to the Stanley Cup Final that season, losing out to Montreal. I don’t know if many people see that same fate in Calgary’s future this year. The fact of the matter is, the Flames have played totally different hockey on the road and can no longer afford for that to be the case if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
This is the second of three meetings between Calgary and Chicago this year. The first was one of the more frustrating games for Flames fans, when the Hawks stole a 3-2 shootout win at the Saddledome on February 2nd. On that night, Ray Emery made 45 saves to preserve the win in a game where the Hawks were outshot 47-19. They had to use a Marian Hossa goal in the dying seconds just to get the game to extra time. Avenging that annoying loss could serve as good motivation for Calgary tonight. Chicago played last night, ableit at home, so the Flames will look to up their record when playing teams who played the night before. Heading into tonight, they’re 6-2-1 in that scenario.
Calgary Flames 12-14-4, 14th Western Conference
It looks like the Flames will go with the same lineup that won at home to the Blues two nights ago. If there is a change in the forward ranks, it won't be made until game time. Brian McGrattan sat out against St. Louis and there doesn't seem to be much need for him to be in the lineup tonight when looking at the opponent. Cervenka has been a regular healthy scratch in recent games, but his two goal outing on Sunday looks to be enough to keep him in the lineup. The first year Czech product had his first multi-goal game against the Blues and also scored his first NHL powerplay goal in the win.
There won't be any changes on the blueline, but we will see a couple of guys hit some milestones. Sarich will play in his 900th career game tonight, which is notable knowing just how tough a style he's played in his 14 year NHL career. Sarich has made a name for himself playing a hard, punishing, shutdown style and while his effectiveness is not what it's been, it's cool to see him reach this milestone tonight. Butler, on the other hand, will play in his 250th game this evening.
Miikka Kipruosff gets the start in net coming off his best performance of the season. Calgary's number one made 36 saves against St. Louis, keeping the Flames ahead for a good chunk of the game and looked to turn back the clock a little bit. Kiprusoff's numbers haven't been strong at all this year, but a performance like Sunday's shows you what he's still capable of on any given night. He'll make his fourth consecutive start tonight.
Chicago Blackhawks 24-4-3, 1st Western Conference
The NHL's top team is "struggling" for the first time this season. After starting the year with points in 24 games straight (21-0-3), Chicago has now lost four of their last seven games. I don't know if anyone is surprised, mainly because any team is going to start losing games eventually. Factoring in their injuries and it becomes even less surprising. Chicago is without Patrick Sharp (shoulder) and Marian Hossa (upper body) tonight, leaving the team without two of their top six forwards. Sharp has missed six games and is on IR while Hossa has missed the last two games and is doubtful for tonight.
Kane leads this team in scoring with 39 points and is currently riding a six game point streak; that's two games off his season high of eight games. Kane has 12 points over this six game streak and has only gone six games all year without registering a single point. Toews is hot as well thanks to a four game point streak; he also leads the team with a +17 rating. Watch for Saad, as well, as the first year forward is fourth among rookies in scoring with 16 points.
It looks like Emery will get the start after Crawford fell to the LA Kings last night. As mentioned earlier, Emery made 45 stops to beat the Flames last time out. He's likely the best backup goalie in hockey right, having yet to lose a game at 11-0. His 2.16 goals against average and 0.916 save percentage aren't anything to scoff at, either.