Another night, another huge game for the Calgary Flames.
None of the Western Conference teams in action on Thursday night did any favours for the Flames and when they woke up on Friday, they had slipped from sixth to tenth in the conference. As it stands, there are five teams with 70 points and three teams within a four point radius of those five jockeying for position.
The Flames know the importance of their tilt with the San Jose Sharks but are confident they can come out with two points.
"We know they're playing well. For us, we're in the same situation as them," Robyn Regehr told the media after practice. "We're battling in a very tight Western Conference. We know how they're playing but for us, we can't get too caught up in that. We've just got to remember what we've got to do, how we've got to play and I think really concentrate on that."
After a shaky start to the 2010-11 season, the Sharks have been able to pull their game together and climb to the top of the Pacific Division. A huge factor in their surge has been the play of netminder Antti Niemi. In 17 straight starts, the Finn has gone 13-2-1 (with one no decision) and has let in 31 goals.
"He’s comfortable, he’s confident, he knows he’s playing and his teammates believe in him,” head coach Todd McLellan told SanJoseSharks.com. “Those are four pretty powerful factors that come into play. There’s nothing else we can do for him. The rest is up to him. He’s grabbed that opportunity and really run with it.”
Niemi's play combined with the Sharks stellar play both offensively and defensively pose a threat to any team they play but the Flames aren't approaching the game any differently.
"Our game plan hasn't changed. We've got to stick with the mindset that we've got to win two out of every three," said defenceman Mark Giordano. "I think we've done a good job of it. Tonight's a big game for all those reasons: for playoffs, for standings, all of that. It's a big game. They're playing well so we're expecting a good test tonight."
Like the Flames, the Sharks have gotten scoring from not only their top lines but all over their roster.
"They have three lines, four lines that can play really well and play in all situations," Giordano stated. "But we feel like we have the same. We have a good balanced team here and we're confident. We have to stay that way."
"They have good balance, a lot of good players. Couture and Setoguchi are young guys that are playing really well right now. You just have to play the same way shift in and shift out. You don't really have that so-called first line that you want to shut down all night. They have a bunch of lines that can score so all of us have to do a job and we'll be fine."
One big advantage the Flames have over the Sharks is rest. The Sharks have played a mere three games at the HP Pavilion in the month of February.
"I think as a home team, you want a good start," Regehr said. "You want to make it as difficult as possible for them in the game, right off the bat.
"If you do that, hopefully you can get up, get the lead and play from there. It's a little bit easier to play with the lead. That's a big key and any team that is very successful at home, that's usually what they have: great starts."
Over the past six weeks, the Flames have managed to kickstart their offence, jumping up to seventh in the NHL in goals scored, and head coach Brent Sutter feels that production has come from a few factors.
"Just our overall play has been better," he said. "Our power play has been giving us some contributions offensively too. Just our overall play since probably the middle of December has been much better and we've been able to create some offence. A lot of it, personally as a player, is confidence as well. It's an accumulation of a lot of different things."
The Flames held an optional skate this morning and lines are expected to be the same as they were on Tuesday.
Tanguay-Morrison-Iginla Glencross-Jokinen-Moss Bourque-Stajan-Jackman Kostopoulos-Backlund-Hagman
D-Pairings: Giordano-Sarich Bouwmeester-Regehr Staios-Babchuk
Calgary and San Jose have alternated wins for the last eight games. The last time a team won back-to-back games was Calgary's two wins on Jan. 6 & 15, 2009.
Three of the last four games between the two have been decided by one goal yet they have not gone to overtime in three years. The last game that required extra time came on Feb. 12, 2008.
The Flames have earned points in 18 of their last 21 games (13-3-2-3) NS IA 17-5-5 in their last 27.