The Blues travel south, down the highway to Calgary to face the Flames tonight. It's also a trip up the standings, leaving the worst team in the West to merely the 2nd-worst team in the West. I hope the Blues can adjust to the elevation. The Flames are an interesting contrast from the Oilers. Where they once convinced themselves that they were contenders, they've finally, grudgingly, accepted the need for a rebuild. Gone are the stars like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff - they've bottomed out and are now on the path for future success. The future belongs to players like 19-year-old rookie Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.
In the meantime, though, these Flames are stuck in that transitional hell that we're well familiar with as well. The Calgary rebuild took an interesting turn on September 5th, when they hired Brian Burke to fill the newly-created office of President of Hockey Operations. Rather than replacing the GM, Jay Feaster, as many fans have been asking for, Burke was hired to be "the man behind the curtain". Burke went to great lengths to describe how his role would be to help Feaster improve the team, not just pull his strings. He was just there to provide direction.
Well, that direction was to the door, apparently, because Jay Feaster and Assistant GM John Weisbrod were fired on December 12, with Burke now serving as interim GM until he can hire the next one for the team. Much like the Lord, it seems that Brian Burke works in mysterious ways. The Flames beat Carolina that night, then went on a 5-game Eastern Conference road trip that just concluded. Their record on that trip was 1-2-2, and tonight is the beginning of a 5-game homestand. Only 1 win in 5 games against the weaker Eastern conference cannot sit well with Burke. Their last game was a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh, where Calgary played fairly well, and even out-shot the Pens most of the game. On top of that loss, they lost two players in that matchup - Curtis Glencross and Kris Russell both left the game with Lower Body Injuries. As a result, Calgary has called up defenseman Derek Smith from the AHL.
The leader in overall points for the Flames is Jiri Hudler, former Red Wing (10G, 21A). Next is the goals leader Mike Cammalleri with 11 goals and 7 assists. The next three spots all have a total of 16 points - Matt Stajan (6G, 10A), Kris Russell (4G, 12A) and Sean Monahan (10G, 6A). Aside from the aforementioned Russell, other former Blues on this team include Dennis Wideman (on IR) and Lee Stempniak. Also notable, St Louis native Chris Butler will be manning the Calgary blueline.
As for goaltending, the Flames have been platooning two goalies, Karri Ramo and former Blues prospect Reto Berra. Ramo is 6-6-3 this year, with a 2.79 GAA and a .904 save percentage. Berra has a 4-8-12 record and 3.10 GAA and .899 save percentage. It looks like we'll be facing Reto Berra tonight. Despite Elliott's shutout against the Oilers, JR reports that the Blues will be starting Jaroslav Halak. One would hope that he'd get the same kind of goal support that Elliott got in Edmonton.
The Blues will be missing both Vladimir Sobotka and Alexander Steen, not to mention Ryan Reaves, Jordan Leopold and now Roman Polak. That same tweet that confirmed Calgary's goalie also mentioned Christopher Breen getting to play - he's 6'7" and 224 pounds, so it looks like they are hoping to play us with size and toughness. We'll be missing our Czechs, but I believe we have enough grit in our remaining players to carry the day. There will have to be a balance to meeting that challenge without losing our discipline. It'd be helpful if Chris Stewart continues on his hot streak (8 goals, 2 assists in his last 6 games). There will be a desire to step up and match any physicality, but we must take care of business on the scoreboard first.
Final Verse: Despite being in western Canada, they've decided to do us a solid and start the game at 7:00 PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast is on FoxSportsMW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop shortly before the puck does. Until that time, gather here, celebrate another local kid making it in the NHL, mock the Flames while we still can, and remember the Jackman on Jackman violence from our last meeting: