Despite a three-game winless streak to end December, the Calgary Flames are coming off an awesome month of hockey.
They hope to continue their surprising rise in the Northwest Division standings when they host the first-place Vancouver Canucks at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Calgary went 10-3-2 in December, moving into third place in the Northwest, just six points behind Vancouver. However, the Flames have been unable to play effectively against the Canucks, going winless in three meetings this season (0-2-1), and going without a victory in any of their last eight home matchups in the series (0-6-2).
The last time the clubs met, Dec. 26 in Calgary, the Flames had a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) snapped with a 2-0 loss to the Canucks.
"Some of our young players couldn't play the pace the Canucks played in the first period," Flames coach Darryl Sutter said after the defeat. "We had a great second period, but by then we were behind the 8-ball."
Calgary finished off 2003 with a tough 2-1 home loss to Colorado. Jamie McLennan made 29 saves in his first start for the Flames in place of Miikka Kiprusoff, who will be out four to six weeks with a sprained knee.
Kiprusoff was 11-3-2 and led the NHL in goals-against average (1.48) and save percentage (.941). He was injured in the first period of Calgary's 2-2 tie with Minnesota on Monday night.
"It's certainly a big blow for us, he's played so well and the team's played so well," McLennan said. "But we've dealt with adversity before. We've dealt with Roman (Turek) going down, we've lost Craig Conroy, we lost (Steven) Reinprecht and you name it right down the line. We'll deal with Kipper going down."
The Canucks had a chance to pad their lead in the division, but suffered a 4-2 loss to second-place Colorado, shaving their advantage to four points. Markus Naslund and Brad May scored for Vancouver, which failed to record at least one point for just the third time in 13 games.
May, a healthy scratch Monday for Vancouver's 3-2 win at Colorado, has two goals and an assist in his last three games after going without a goal in his first 34 games with the Canucks.
Vancouver right wing Jason King, the NHL rookie of the month in November, was a healthy scratch for the second straight game Friday after failing to register a point in December.