It’s been almost 15 months since Niklas Backstrom last faced a shot in the NHL. Now, after being acquired by the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline, Backstrom will make his first start as a member of the Flames and his first since January of 2015. In the midst of playing three games in four nights, Calgary will give Joni Ortio a rest which allows Backstrom his opportunity. We’ll see how Backstrom fares as the Flames start off a three game road trip tonight in Montreal (5 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 30-35-6, 5th Pacific Division
Backstrom’s last game was with Minnesota all the way back on January 13th of last season, and it wasn’t a good one. He allowed six goals on 35 shots in a 7-2 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins which dropped him to 5-7-3 on the season. The next day was an important one for the Wild because that was the day they acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes. Dubnyk took over from there on out and Backstrom was rendered redundant for the remainder of his time with Minnesota. There was a time when Backstrom was one of the league’s best goaltenders. Unfortunately, he hasn’t posted a season with a save percentage above 0.900 since the shortened 2013 season. We’ll see what he is in store tonight in his first start in a long, long time.
You’ll notice a missing defenceman above as Deryk Engelland is not listed. Engelland will miss tonight’s game after welcoming a second child to his family earlier in the day. The Flames are hoping they can get a defenceman in from Stockton prior to the start of tonight’s game, but because of travel complications, that may not be possible. In the event they can’t bring in another defenceman, Calgary will go five on the blueline and 13 up front. How that all plays out will determine whether Freddie Hamilton remains with the team or not
Because Hamilton is up on emergency recall, his status is very much up on the air. The Flames will welcome Bennett back to the lineup after missing the last four games with a mid-body injury. With his return, the emergency conditions at forward would usually expire but because they might be forced to play 13 forwards tonight, it’s not as cut and dried. Basically, if Calgary is able to get a defenceman in prior to game time, Hamilton will have to be returned to the American League. If not, Hamilton will be eligible to play tonight and his return to Stockton would be delayed a little bit.
With Bennett’s return, the Flames are juggling things up a little bit at forward tonight. After putting up a pair of shorthanded points against the Avalanche on Friday night, Bouma gets bumped to the left side of the Backlund line while Colborne moves down to play with Ferland and Bennett. Calgary is also still looking for a good fit on their top line with Monahan and Gaudreau; tonight they’re going to give Jooris a shot there after Ferland had been spent the last number of games on the right side.
Montreal Canadiens 33-33-6, 6th Atlantic Division
After an incredible 19-4-3 start to the season in Montreal, things have been miserable since the beginning of December. Over the last three plus months, the Habs have gone 14-29-3 and now sit 11 points back of the final Eastern Conference wildcard spot. After winning the Atlantic Division and making an appearance in round two of last year’s postseason, Montreal looked like they were very much on their way to similar success this season. A Carey Price injury and a drop off in depth scoring has sunk them, however, and things have been pointed towards next season for quite some time.
The duo of Galchenyuk and Pacioretty have provided most of the scoring in recent days for the Habs. Galchenyuk enters tonight with 12 goals and 14 points in his last 12 games; that span includes five multi-goal efforts. Over that same 12 game span, Pacioretty has 12 points himself as he continues to lead Montreal in scoring with 53 points in 72 games. Their leading scorer for most of the season is out right now, though, as PK Subban will miss his fourth straight game tonight.
Subban is on the shelf with a neck injury sustained in a March 10th game against the Buffalo Sabres. The good news is Subban is close to returning to the lineup because the injury itself looked very scary. The bad news, though, is that Subban joins a long, long list of notable injured players on the Habs. Those injured players are, among others: Carey Price (leg), Jeff Petry (sports hernia surgery), David Desharnais (broken foot), Tom Gilbert (knee surgery), and Brendan Gallagher (lower body). As such, this Montreal lineup looks almost unrecognizable when compared to how they started the season.
We mentioned the injury to Carey Price earlier and that injury continues to keep him sidelined. Price hasn’t played since November 25th of the season and a combination of Mike Condon, Ben Scrivens, and Dustin Tokarski have done their best to pick up the slack since. It’ll be Condon making his 44th start of the season tonight; he sits 17-21-6 on the season with a 2.61 goals against average and a 0.905 save percentage.