After being recalled from the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League on Saturday, rookie goaltender Reto Berra will make his first NHL start Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.
"He wants to play and I'll never try to hold back a thoroughbred," Flames coach Bob Hartley told reporters after his team's skate Sunday. "I know of Reto because of my Swiss connections. This guy was probably the biggest free agent in the Swiss League, and he didn't even sign any contracts over there, [do] any deals. His mindset was to play in the NHL. He came here for a reason and that's why he's in [this] game."
Berra, the 106th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, was acquired by Calgary last season from the Blues along with defenseman Mark Cundari and a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, which the Flames used to select left wing Emile Poirer.
Cundari, who is currently out of the lineup for Abbotsford with a lower-body injury, played four games with the Flames last season. Berra will be making his debut against the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Hartley said it's not just a cup of coffee. He told Berra the same thing while meeting with him Saturday in Calgary.
"When I sat with him [Saturday], I told him, 'I don't put all my chips on the table right now,'" Hartley said. "He's going to get many starts."
Berra got into nine games for the Heat as their top goalie. He went 4-3-1 with a 2.66 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
The Flames announced Sunday that goaltender Joey MacDonald cleared waivers and was assigned to Abbotsford.
MacDonald played seven games for the Flames this season. He went 3-3-1 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.
Quenneville started the same goalie on back-to-backs four times last year (once with Ray Emery and three times with Crawford). They had 12 back-to-backs last year in the shortened season.
"You look after the game and see how he did and how he's doing," Quenneville said. "We had a light week, so that was part of it as well."
Veteran backup Nikolai Khabibulin, who's struggled in his last two starts (10 goals on 47 shots), will have to wait for another chance to turn things around, despite a career 23-13-2 record in 42 games against Calgary.
"To have confidence, you have to play well," Khabibulin said last week after a practice. "These last couple games I was in, I didn’t play that well. I have to build the confidence somehow through practices, treat it like a game, I guess, go out and stop some shots [and] try to get better results."
He was asked if he'd like to get back into the net quickly to erase the bitter taste, but demurred to the team's best interests.
"I think rhythm is a big part of it," Khabibulin said. "I can say I want to go back out there and find a rhythm. It's not about me. It’s got to be what's best for the team. The coach cannot just [say] 'Hey, go find your rhythm.' We still have to win games. Whatever it is, if I don't get to play much, just try to get better in practice."
After posting a 20-2-2 record in 12 sets of back-to-backs last season, the Blackhawks won all four games in the first two of 18 back-to-backs this season and won the front half of this one Saturday. The Blackhawks have also beaten the Flames in 10 straight regular-season games at United Center.
Here is how the Flames and Blackhawks might line up:
Chris Butler – T.J. Brodie
Shane O'Brien – Derek Smith
Scratched: Michal Rozsival