BLUE JACKETS (6-15-3) at FLAMES (10-12-1)
TV: FS-O (HD), SNET-CGY (HD)
Columbus 4-4-2; Calgary 4-6-0
The Blue Jackets took their only meeting with the Flames so far this season, a 4-1 win at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 21.
Both Columbus and Calgary sit well outside of the West's playoff field at the moment. If either team is to make a run to salvage its season it'll need to do it sooner rather than later, and Thursday night provides a good opportunity for either one to pick up two points and get the ball rolling.
For a short stretch it looked like Columbus had finally figured out whatever problems had hailed it during what has been a difficult opening two months. The Blue Jackets won three of four games with their lone defeat in a shootout in New Jersey, and a climb up the standings was looming. But since then Columbus has lost two in a row and looked anemic offensively with just two total goals. As a result, Columbus remains a hefty 16 points behind first-place Chicago and mired in the West cellar.
The reason for the brief resurgence might have been goalie Curtis Sanford
, who has filled in for starter Steve Mason
(concussion) for the last seven games. In his first five starts Sanford gave up a grand total of just seven goals, providing some stability at the back end. The bloom isn't entirely off that rose, either. Sanford has only given up five goals in the last two games, which is by no means spectacular, but it's also not so many goals that he appears lost. If the Blue Jackets can start to light the lamp with regularity, there may be another surge in the team yet.
Anytime Calgary has an early-season dip in the standings, the rumors about star right wing Jarome Iginla
getting dealt begin to swirl. With the Flames 10 points back of Minnesota in the Northwest and seven points out of the top eight, those whispers have popped up yet again, but Iginla reaffirmed this week that he has no interest in leaving and a quick look at this past week brings up the question, "Why would he?"
While Calgary is behind the pack, the Flames have won their last two games, including a particularly impressive 5-2 win at division-leading Minnesota on Sunday. As well, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff
has played well all season, giving up more than two goals just once in his last five starts and giving up more than three goals just three times all season. Much like their opponents Thursday night, if the Flames can start to score more, that seven-point deficit might start to evaporate.
After a rough start both with scoring and injuries, Columbus' big offseason acquisition may finally be finding his game. Jeff Carter
has 8 points in 14 games this season, but 5 of them have come in the last six games. ... Iginla has 3 points in the last four games.
While the Flames lost both Anton Babchuk
(hand) and David Moss
(foot) in November, they should otherwise have a healthy lineup Thursday night. … Mason is still considered questionable for the Blue Jackets.
There are plenty of reasons one could come up with for Calgary's rough start to the season, but don't put the blame on Kiprusoff's shoulders. He currently sports a solid 2.32 goals-against average, but that number isn't enough when your team is currently scoring just 2.22 goals per game like the Flames are. Across the League, only the Ducks and Islanders have scored less frequently this season.
If the Jackets can't turn the season around right now, the front office can start planning for the draft in June. Calgary may not be the easiest place to begin an upswing. The Jackets only have one win there in the last four years, and to make matters even worse they are just 1-8-2 on the road this season.