After five days away from preseason action, the Calgary Flames are back in action tonight when they welcome the New York Rangers to the Scotiabank Saddledome (7:00 pm, Sportsnet 960 The FAN). After a couple of days to rest, the Flames were back on the ice with a smaller group of players after their first round of cuts happened late last week. Head Coach Bob Hartley used the last three days on the ice for some solid teaching sessions, and now the team can put it back into play in game action.
Calgary will finish their preseason schedule on Wednesday night when they welcome the Phoenix Coyotes to the ‘Dome. Following that, the Flames will prepare for a week before starting their regular season the following Thursday on the road in Washington. This is exactly how the team structured their camp, so the extended breaks are very much by design.
Calgary Flames 3-2-0 (preseason record)
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most eyes will be on Monahan tonight, after the sixth overall selection survived the first round of cuts last week. Monahan has been, and will continue to be, given ever opportunity to state his case to make this team. While fellow first round picks Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk have been returned to their junior clubs, Monahan remains because the Flames are very impressed with his maturity level. That maturity affects multiple facets, not just his on ice play. Mentally, Monahan seems more than up to handling whatever pressure comes with playing in the NHL as a high pick. But more than anything else, Calgary brass has really spoken highly of how committed he’s been to training like an NHLer. GM Jay Feaster told us last week his fitness level is what separates him from many other 18-year-old players.
Smith is in a very interesting spot on the Flames blueline, and there is nothing guaranteed right now for him. Smith is one of seven defensemen with an NHL contract right now, but the way players like Patrick Sieloff, John Ramage, and Tyler Wotherspoon have played, he’s certainly being pushed. Smith is a player that Calgary could easily place in the AHL, despite his one-way contract, so a good showing tonight is absolutely crucial.
The Flames remain without Mike Cammalleri up front, and it’s unlikely he’ll play any more games during the preseason as he continues to nurse a broken hand. There’s no word on the severity of the hand injury, but there’s no sense having him play with only one more exhibition game following tonight. Calgary will also be without Jiri Hudler tonight, as he remains sidelined with a lower body injury.
Karri Ramo gets the start in net for the Flames, and he’s expected to go the whole way. Ramo joins Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald as the only three goalies remaining in camp after Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit were assigned to Abbotsford last week. Berra will get the start on Wednesday, and it sure does look like he and Ramo will be battling it out for a spot beside MacDonald to start the season.
New York Rangers 1-1-0 (preseason record)
As you can see, the Rangers are sending a rather top heavy lineup, especially when it comes to their forwards. Fans at the Saddledome will get to see both Nash and Richards, a pair of players who came under siege in the playoffs last year. The two combined for just six points in two rounds for New York, and I’m very intrigued to see what they do under a new coach. Alain Vigneault is running the Rangers bench now and he has a proven history of putting offensive specialists in spots to succeed. I’ll be very curious to see if the point totals go up for Nash and Richards in year one under AV.
Derek Stepan is more than just missing from tonight’s lineup for New York, as last year’s leading scorer has been absent for all of training camp thus far. Stepan remains an unsigned restricted free agent and has held out the first week plus of camp as a result. Reports suggest his camp and the Rangers have agreed upon a two year deal, but the dollar figure remains very much unsettled. He put up 44 points in 48 games last year as a 22-year-old, so getting Stepan locked up has to be priority number one for the Blueshirts.
Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in net for the Rangers tonight and is expected to finish the game as well.